Strategy of Answering Questions – Three Spokesperson Rights and Three Ways to Answer a Question (All Involve Answering Honestly)

BARBARA WALTERS, JUSTIN BIEBER

In the first post of this series on the Strategy of Answering Questions, I provided an overview on how and why the strategy and tactics used in “spokesperson training” for a media interview can be applied to any business meeting, presentation or conversation. I also made it clear the PR professionals’ job isn’t over after the interview is booked and the training occurs.

In this post, we will talk about the rights you have when you agree to an interview and the three ways to answer a question.

Our spokesperson has three rights we – as PR professionals – need to be aware of:

The Right to Be Prepared – A spokesperson should never enter into an interview without a clear understanding of what the interview is about.

The good PR professional is going to provide a briefing sheet. This is a given. But, know your spokesperson. The purpose of the briefing sheet is not to prove your existence or worth. More may not be better. You don’t want your spokesperson to overanalyze a reporter or try to be too clever by referencing some obscure fact you found about the reporter.

It should include basic information on the outlet and why it is important (our target/real audience reads it, etc.). Same for the reporter. If there are relevant stories, you may want to include.

Part of making sure your spokesperson is properly prepared is letting him/her know that it is okay to conduct an interview with notes in front of them. Whether over the phone, in-person or – in many instances – on television. Work with the spokesperson in determining what they prefer – – note cards, etc.

The Right to be Comfortable – It is important to be comfortable for two reasons.  First, when you are physically comfortable, you will be more confident. Second, you should be thinking about your message, and physical comfort will allow you to do that.

The good PR professional will not only make sure the spokesperson is comfortable, but aware of the task at-hand. For example, if conducting an interview over the phone, make sure the interview is on a landline or on a cell where there will be consistent, good coverage. No speaker. No driving. No distractions.

The Right to Be Treated Fairly – Common courtesy is not always common in an interview. Part of our role is to make sure our spokesperson understands who he/she is talking to – – a reporter/anchor is allowed to ask tough questions but should “call it down the middle” while a columnist/commentator is getting paid to offer up an opinion.

If a media outlet has the reputation of being off-color or irreverent, go in with your eyes open. If the topic you are discussing is explosive, the interview may be.

When it comes to answering a question, there are three ways:

Direct, Immediate Response – Whenever possible, this is the best way to answer a question. You definitely want to convey your willingness to answer tough questions.

Sometimes people ask non-questions like:  “Tell us about your company,” or “Describe your strategy with this new move.” These “questions” are simply an invitation to start talking.  The interviewer is “handing you the microphone” and asking you to communicate.  Take this opportunity to define your company or cause.

After Thought – There are some questions that require you to think before you answer.  Since you don’t want to stare at anyone in stunned silence, these are techniques that will give you time to think:

  • Ask the questioner to repeat or rephrase the question.  The question will always be easier the second time.  Even if the question is repeated verbatim, it buys you some time to think about your answer.
  • Repeat or rephrase the question yourself.  “If I understand you correctly, what you’re asking is” or “The key point you are raising in your question is” or “What is important for the audience to know is…”
  • You can also think aloud to buy some time.  “That dates back to the a few years ago” or “Let me just provide a perspective to that…”

Try not to overuse these techniques. Save them for those situations when they are really needed.

Not at All – There are questions you don’t have to answer…well, sort of. You do have to give a direct response explaining why you are not going to answer the question.  These responses include:

  • “That’s personal.”  Questions about your salary, voting record, hobbies, personal opinions.
  • “We consider that competitive information,” “Our competitors would love to know that.”  Questions about corporate strategy, profit margins, expansion plans, new products or services are proprietary.
  • “I really can’t talk about it while it’s in litigation.”  There are legal reasons for not answering questions.
  • “Negotiations are in progress.”  You don’t have to reveal the progress of ongoing negotiations or private discussions.
  • “It wouldn’t be smart to give a blueprint to our security.”  You don’t have to answer questions about these precautions.
  • “I don’t know the answer to that question.” The best reason of all not to answer a question is that you truly don’t know the answer. Abraham Lincoln said it best – – “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

One of two things will happen:  A question is asked and since you have agreed to the topic, and you’ve prepared ahead of time, you will concisely answer that question and “bridge” to your message points. Or, a question is asked and you don’t know the answer. Tell them that and wait for the next question.

You may have heard people complain that a reporter took their words out of context.  Odds are, the reporter didn’t do that. Odds are that person went off his message or tried to answer a question he wasn’t prepared to answer. The same could be said if someone “misinterprets” something you said. Never try to guess the right answer to a question.

Now that you know how to answer and what you can and cannot answer, the next post will talk about the process you should go through when preparing your messages and the technique of bridging, or transitioning from your answer to your message.

Prepping Your Spokesperson is More than Just How to do an Interview

tony-stark-threatens-mandarin-in-iron-man-3

Few weeks back I talked about the Four Ways to Make Sure Your Spokesperson Isn’t ‘Taken Out of Context’ by the Media. It was a much-abridged version of media training; something that is near and dear to me and a topic I was asked by several people to expand upon.

Before I do anything, I must credit the late, great Ken Fairchild who I was lucky enough to spend time with, learning this craft. Many consider Ken the “Godfather of Spokesperson Training” for he started this “take” on media training in the 1970s. Ken was a good man and is dearly missed.

Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I dislike calling these training sessions’ media or spokesperson training. The fact is, while these sessions are designed to prepare an individual to handle the toughest of interviews from 60 Minutes, 20/20 and the like, what is being taught is a strategy of answering questions that can be applied to conducting new business meetings, presentations to clients or vendors, or any conversation where you are wanting to get your message across. Works with everyone except my wife.

Another little secret. If our spokesperson goes through training and we stop our work after we secure the interview and review key messages, we are just as much to blame if an interview goes wrong.

Without the proper training, most people when confronted with a media interview surrender their right to be an equal participant in a two-party conversation. An interviewee often behaves like a witness under a subpoena and not an active participant with a message to convey to a larger audience.

Remember, a media interview is more than just an agreement to answer a reporter’s questions. You participate in an interview because you have a message you want your real audience to receive (that said, and I cannot stress this enough – – you must answer the question).

Prior to the start of the interview, the PR professional should restate to the interviewer the purpose of the interview and what the spokesperson is going to bring to the table. If the spokesperson is by him/herself, he/she needs to do this.

Sometimes things get lost in translation between producer who was pitched and anchor/host who is doing the story. Doing this level sets, addresses any confusion and provides you or the spokesperson to possibly “test-drive” a key message you want to get across. This should be done with all interviews, not just broadcast. It reinforces what you are wanting to talk about.

As an interviewee, you have certain rights. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss what those rights are, and how you can leverage them to make sure you not only answer the questions, but do so and get your messages across.

Managing My (Now) 8 PR Pet Peeves – – All I Need is Love

Beatles - All You Need Is Love

Earlier this year I wrote about my five PR Pet Peeves:

#5: Client or prospect says, “I want to hire someone that has a good Rolodex” insinuating that the relationship we have precludes the story we are pitching.

#4: Those who want to send the pitch out to everyone and see who picks it up.

#3: Let’s spin that. Put a positive spin on that. Go do some PR on that.

#2: There’s no such thing as bad PR.

#1: I didn’t say that. The reporter took what I said out of context.

Apparently, I have more peeves of the pet variety:

Sending out a news release without following up – The caveat here is if you are sending out a release over the wire (PR Newswire, Business Wire, PR Web, etc.) for the sole reason of getting ranked higher on Google searches. Go for it. May want to consider writing a blog instead, but have at it.

However, if you are thinking the Good Morning America producer, the education reporter at the Washington Post or the business editor at the Chicago Tribune are waiting to receive your release sent out over one of the PR newswire services, forget it. Not going to happen. Major media. In the United States.

If you are a publicly-held company reporting your earnings, yes, the business wire services (Reuters, Dow Jones, Bloomberg) may use parts of the release – including a quote – but for the average company sending out a release over the wire thinking that major media (and a live person at the major outlet) will see and use…Not the case.

Relying on the vehicle more than the message – Many people are enamored by the myriad of touchpoints available to reach their real audience. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the book of face, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Companies should be absolutely taking advantage of these different ways to get what they want out to the right people. Those not doing so are not only missing the boat, they are missing opportunities to increase revenues, better public perception, etc.

The challenge occurs when the proper care is not used in developing and crafting the key messages. Empty and/or inappropriate/irrelevant messages do no good whatsoever.

Throwing marketing, advertising and PR under the same umbrella – While we are all communication professionals we all take a different approach. You wouldn’t want a podiatrist to perform heart surgery (trouble would be afoot). Asking an advertising agency to write a release is not the best approach. Ideally, you’d want the three disciplines to work together…wait a second, what am I doing….

I love public relations. Why am I focusing on some of the challenges we face on a daily basis? Here are three of the many aspects of public relations that rock:

Creating the story – The full story. Taking what we need to get across and developing around it. Looking at the story a different way. Going out for a walk and having “it” come to you. Bouncing your idea off of a colleague. Getting it to the compelling stage.

The chase – Knowing “that outlet” is the right one to reach the real audience and doing whatever it takes to get a hold off the reporter/producer and making it happen. Finding answers to possible hurdles.

Seeing the fruition of my efforts – The day I don’t find myself getting up early to get a copy of USA Today, looking on with anticipation at the local 5pm news or waiting – not so patiently – for the story to load on my laptop is the day I’ll be hanging it up.

What are your “loves” with public relations? Whatever they are, hold onto and embrace them – – they will help you manage and deal with those pesky pet peeves.

Five Must-Do’s Before Talking to the Media about a Crisis/Negative Story

peanuts1970s2-16

Last week I blogged about the questions I ask myself and the reporter when confronted with an unexpected “crisis” call (or email). Truth is, the real work comes into play before you ever enter into a conversion with the media.

This includes:

  • Getting the lay of the land – What is your industry and what are the potential issues? Are you in sales? Professional services?  Environmental? Engineering? Understand who your real audience is and what is important to them. Based on this, determine the main issues that may arise and those internal touchpoints responsible for those areas.

For example, if you are in a sales organization, get together with the sales leadership and discuss the types of issues – – poor sales experiences of customers; bad product – – and the reasons why they occur. Understanding every situation is different, start thinking about some broad stroke responses.

Ideally, you want to get to the point where key people are reaching out to you before something happens. For example, Legal and HR telling you before a large layoff is going to occur.

  • “You Talking To Me” – Develop a process in which all media roads start and end with you. Make it clear that if someone gets a call from/is approached by the media that the media should reach out to you. Identify all of the realistic groups within the company that may get approached.

A few years back I received a call on my cell from the head of our security. Our office was closed because of a health scare and the media were at our front door (apparently an employee leaked the internal memo to the media). Security told the reporter he wasn’t authorized to talk, but gave the reporter my name and number. He called me before the reporter did and gave me a heads-up. When the reporter called, I was prepared and was able to provide information ensuring “outbreak” would not be used in her segment.

  • The buck stops… – Be clear as to who needs to see and approve responses. Less is more. Explain to Legal and HR the deadline nature of the media and the negatives of not responding in a timely fashion.

Get on the same page on the way to answer questions or situations surrounding security, competition, court cases, etc. – – “we aren’t going to talk specifics because our competition would love to know that.” The more you can agree on the better.

  • Talk to third-party groups – This can be helpful when the story in question really isn’t a company story but more of an industry issue. Reach out to trade associations, industry analysts and see what topics they are comfortable in answering.

If the story is about how nobody is using your product anymore, tell the media it is one thing for me to say it’s not true, but here’s an analyst (or trade association or customer) who covers the industry and will tell you the facts.

  • Don’t answer calls from people you don’t know – Paranoid? Yes, maybe a little – – what do you mean by that? Fact is, the media will leave you a message and may provide some insight as to why they are calling. This allows you to quickly get the facts from the appropriate parties.

Try to manage the expectations of all the appropriate people by providing an email overview of what the story is going to be, with our response and reasoning behind the response. Be the first to see/read the story and provide the same group a recap (we want to be the one to frame the message/tell the story).

Arguably, the most important part of this occurs after the story runs and the recap email is sent – – whenever possible/appropriate,  making sure whatever the issue was, is addressed and fixed to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Keep notes. Show reoccurring trends. Hold people accountable. The best response to the media means nothing if the problem(s) persist. It will hurt the company and it will hurt your reputation.

Six Questions to Determine Whether You Give an Interview, Provide a Statement or Send the Media to Someone Else

broadcast airplane sweat

Last week I talked about media misperceptions some people have and how to go about conducting a positive interview, free of “I was taken out of context” and other concerns.

But what do you do when you receive a call from the media regarding a less than spectacular topic?

Perhaps your client/company has an unhappy customer and the dreaded “consumer advocate” reporter reaches out to you. Or, an email asking for an interview regarding your recent office closing in which XXX employees (fill in your own amount; whatever it is, it is too many) were laid off. Can I interest you in “nobody is using your wasteful product” or maybe “we are outside of your office right now because we heard…” for your viewing pleasure?

Good times, I know.

First, the bad news. We need to respond to the inquiry and “no comment” does not count. Think about it. These days “no comment” or not responding is French for “I’m guilty” and immediately hurts our reputation.

Now, the better news. There are ways to respond that will allow us to best tell our side of the story. To get to that point where we can best tell our side of the story, let’s take a step back.

I get an email or phone call from the media. Couple of things I want to know and some things I’m asking myself:

  1. Who is the reporter (what beat/type of reporter) and what is the story?
  2. Deadline?
  3. Am I/is my company a direct part of the story or are we a piece/part of a different story?
  4. Who else has the reporter spoken to/is part of the story
  5. How is the story going to impact my different real audiences? How are they going to feel about us?
  6. Are there any relevant positive messaging?

Answering these questions will help me determine:

  • Am I or my appropriate company spokesperson conducting an interview?
  • Will I provide them with a statement?
  • Is there, legitimately, a better entity/person/company than is more suited to comment on the story to make it better?

Interview versus Statement versus Someone Else

No matter the vehicle we use for the response, the response itself is going to be the truth. That is – as they say – non-negotiable. Anything other than the truth is going to bite you in the long run. If we have done something wrong, own up to it, be contrite and move on.

Reality is, in most instances the reporter already knows what he/she wants us to say. This premise is reinforced if you learn that the deadline is very tight and you are the last piece of the story (meaning the reporter has already spoken with X and Y).

If we have something positive to say and have the time to prep a spokesperson, use a spokesperson or do the interview yourself. Like any interview, what are the things we want to get across; what are the questions that are going to be asked; and can I answer those questions and bridge to the messages.

If you don’t have the time or we don’t have anything positive to say, use a statement. Short and to the point. “That shouldn’t have happened. We are working directly with our customer to make this right. We are also taking the necessary steps to make sure this never happens again.” Remember, you don’t have to get into every detail and certain topics involving security, competitiveness, etc. don’t have to be addressed.

In certain instances, there may be a chance to have someone else answer the question for you. A couple of years ago, a reporter called saying she was doing a story that afternoon on how nobody uses or benefits from my wasteful product. Do I care to comment?

She was wanting the corporate suit to defensively respond. Instead I offered an alternative. “What if I get you a business owner who relies on my product to feed his family,” I asked. Sold! A segment that started out as a negative turned into a neutral or, dare I say (I dare, I dare) a somewhat positive.

The overall moral of this story (or blog) is to always be prepared. Know the questions you want to ask and be attune as to how the media presents the situation to you. Be clear on how your company is impacted and what your real audience will think. Doing so will prevent massive cases of flop sweat (and you were wondering how I would tie that picture together).

Four Ways to Make Sure Your Spokesperson Isn’t ‘Taken Out of Context’ by the Media

alfred_e_neuman

How many times have you heard, “The media are out to get me” or “There is no such thing as a good interview” from a client or executive? Or maybe something like, “I didn’t say that” or “they took what I said out of context” from a CEO who is unhappy with a quote he/she sees in a story.

For the most part, the media are not out to get us. It hurts their credibility to get something wrong, which translates into declining numbers and loss of advertising.

I look at it this way – – the media are not going to force the black cowboy hat on you, but if you grab it and put it on your head, the media will help fit it.

The CEO, C-Suite executive, manager or appointed spokesperson who doesn’t properly prepare for an interview is doing a disservice to themselves and the company they represent. As PR professionals, we are doing a disservice to our company and ourselves if we allow this to happen.

If your spokesperson is not amenable to some form of spokesperson training (which you don’t have to call “spokesperson training”) and/or isn’t willing to have a “get prepared” or “review what is going to be discussed” meeting 20 minutes before the interview, rethink why you are talking to the media and what you are wanting to accomplish.

For the 20 minute prep, it is as simple as:

  • Reviewing why we are doing the interview. Illustrate how it is going to benefit us, who we are wanting to reach and what we are shooting for as far the desired effect. This is important for both proactive interviews and reactionary interviews (media contacted you about a subject and you determined an interview was more appropriate then a statement – – choosing interview or statement is the topic of my next blog).

The idea here is to make sure we are on the same page as our spokesperson and we manage his/her expectations.

  • Having your three to five key messages agreed upon,  ready and in front o’ your spokesperson. Ideally, we will have worked with the spokesperson on the messages so he/she feels true ownership.

More is not better when it comes to key messages – – muddles what you are trying to get across. Staying on message is going to help prevent being “taken out of context” or saying something “you didn’t say.”

Each message needs to be to be compelling, meaning it affects the heart, head or wallet of your real audience. Follow each key message with examples supporting/proving the accuracy of your message.

Use your spokesperson’s personal experience, experiences of others, facts/statistics, and analogies. These examples shouldn’t have to be complete sentences; just enough so the spokesperson remembers the example.

  • Addressing the questions and bridging to prepared messages. We know what the majority are going to be. List them and make sure your spokesperson can answer them. The key is to be short and sweet and to understand that while we are going to answer every question (maybe not the answer the media wants to hear), we are doing the interview to get our key messages across.

Our answers may very well not be our key messages, but the key messages will relate to the question since the question will be about the agreed upon topic.

I like using a three column approach – – left side for the questions (my preference is not writing out a word-for-word question since a reporter may not say it exactly the same way), right side for our messages and narrow middle column for the answers – – narrow to remind short and sweet.

Answer the question and bridge to your messages that relates to your question. If you don’t have a relevant message, answer and wait for the next question. Don’t go off message.

  • Talking about trap questions and questions you don’t have to answer the way the media wants you to answer. Questions like, “what if you don’t succeed” or “was it poor planning or lousy execution” or “why is your competitor saying” are nothing more than great ways to quickly get to our key messages. For example:

– I don’t speak in hypotheticals, but we are going to succeed because…

– Neither, what happened is…

– You’d have to ask them, what I can tell you is…

There are also questions that are asked that may be competitive, personal, in litigation or involve security issues. Explain why we can’t answer those questions.

During the actual interview, I like to be present. In the room, over the phone. My role is to introduce our spokesperson with the reporter by reiterating the topic, listen to the questions asked, provide “nudges” when necessary to our spokesperson (a note, pointing to a relevant message, mentioning in the interview), take notes, provide follow up materials/information  and review the interview with our spokesperson.

What works for you? What obstacles have you had to overcome?

The Good, the Bad and the Shades of Grey in Popular ‘PR, Then and Now’ Infographic

Last week I started blogging about elements of an infographic created by InkHouse Media + Marketing, examining the ever-evolving role of public relations. While much of the “that was then is now” approach is spot-on – – especially the last part – – it is important to note that we don’t live in a world of black and white. There are few absolutes, but many shades of grey.

Media Tour and Phone

At first blush this may seem like a no-brainer (some would a strength of mine). Not the case. For some reason, the analogy of a hand-written thank you note comes to mind. The note will most likely have more of an impact on the recipient. It is more thoughtful.

There are absolutely times when an in-person media tour is appropriate and necessary. When determining this, think about:

  • Who is the spokesperson? Is it a CEO who is charismatic who rarely has face-time with reporters?
  • What is the topic? Is the topic sensitive in nature that a face-to-face is appropriate? Are you introducing something – a product, solution, idea – that warrants more of a hands-on approach?
  • Can you piggy-back the media tour off of an existing trip? If you do, make sure your spokesperson makes the time specifically for media interviews.

The phone call has its place. When you are responding to something or are a part of a larger story. However, you must remember:

  • Call – whenever possible – from a landline. Marginal cell phone service is an unnecessary distraction. If you are using a cell phone, be in an area with good reception.
  • No speaker phone. The reporter should think you are 100 percent engaged in the interview.
  • Quiet area. Again, distractions are bad. Don’t do an interview while driving. Not smart or safe.
  • Have your notes/key messages in front of you. See driving bullet.

2nd Day 2nd Hour

Now more than ever, PR professionals need to be buttoned-up. Deadlines are real-time and “citizen reporters” are just 140 characters away. Crisis communication plans need to be fluid and reputation management 24 hours a day.

From a proactive media relations standpoint it remains the same as it always has – – what outlet is most appropriate/relevant for the compelling message or story. The outlet of choice may change but the idea of making sure you are getting the right message to the right outlet remains intact.

Impressions and Influence

In many ways, social media is the vehicle. The content used in social media will be the driver of influence and that content is going to consist of owned and earned media.

Owned media is the content you develop and post on your blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, etc. You are in total control of your messages and the messages should be more about your real audience seeing you as a trusted source of a particular field/industry, and less about hitting your real audience over the head with your latest product or solution.

Earned media is the use of the “fourth estate” – – news outlets that cover/mention you in an article or segment. Positive coverage carries the benefit of third-party credibility. “It isn’t me saying this is great, it is your trusted news source.” Whenever possible/appropriate, earned media can and should be used on your blogs, Facebook pages, etc.

Always

The infographic goes into other comparisons but the most important part about the evolution of PR is in the last part of the infographic. No matter how we – as PR professionals – get there, these elements (listed above) will ALWAYS be the most critical. We are the voice of reason, the conscience and the face of our clients. We are gatekeepers and problem-solvers. Time and technology aren’t going to change that.

‘PR, Then and Now’ Analysis: Reporter Begot Blogger, Press Conference vs. Twitter, Media Kit or Content

Earlier this year an infographic created by InkHouse Media + Marketing examined the ever-evolving role of public relations. With your permission, I’d like to take the next few blogs to review some of the elements of the infographic.

Reporter Blogger

The media landscape has absolutely changed, as has how we get out our compelling messages to the appropriate audience. Frankly, it is overwhelming. The number of blogs is staggering, providing many opportunities and challenges.

My thoughts:

  • All bloggers are not created equally. Some will follow the “reporter’s handbook” while others…not so much.
  • In many ways, bloggers are much like newspaper columnists. His/her take on things. More opinions.
  • Whether pitching or responding, consider the reach and influence of the blogger. Frankly, very similar approach to a traditional reporter.

Press Twitter

Well, I’ve never been a fan of the staged press conference. That said, there are still instances where they makes sense. Reactionary, crisis situations where you want/need to answer a variety of questions. I believe what is trying to be illustrated here is, the days of a company having to “call a press conference” to get the message out are over. Today, companies should be interacting with their real audience regularly and, according to this, more and more are doing so.

Critical with these interactions is to not be over-the-top promoting your company. Similar to pitching a news story, most times we are part of the story – – not the entire story. In any social interaction, your real audience is fully-aware of who you are and don’t need/want the hard sale. The idea should be to position your company as an expert, someone your real audience likes and respects.

Kit Content

Along the same lines, this graphic illustrates the migration from press kits to the content I referenced above which, in addition to content on Twitter feeds, includes content on company blogs, Facebook pages, Pinterest pages, etc. All of which, again, are less promotional and more about how the company fits into their real audience’s “puzzle of life.”

We shouldn’t forgo the press kit. Thinking that media are going to go through a company’s content to find a story is a mistake. Part of our job is to act as a gatekeeper and content-editor of sorts and provide the media (here it comes) with the most compelling aspects that make a great story.

As PR professionals, we are now responsible (or should be) for both earned (traditional) and owned (social) media – – making sure those compelling messages are being delivered to the appropriate audience. And we use traditional and social media to do so.

Next week, more insights and perspectives off of the infographic.

Media Relations Best Practices: 20 Points Guaranteed to Make You – Yes You – a Better Pitcher (or Closer)

Mariano - Enter Sandman

Many pitches are developed during a brainstorm where every possible idea should be thrown out to see if it sticks.  They say no idea is a bad idea in a brainstorm and that is true – – a seemingly marginal idea can spur a great thought. I would add a caveat to that though – – go into these meetings knowing who you’re real audience is and what media is important to them.

As ideas are being flushed out, consider:

  • Timing – Is your subject topical?  When are you planning on pitching this?  Are you competing with a holiday, anniversary or big news event?  Can it be tied into this event?  Have you built in enough time to develop it correctly? What are your target outlets deadlines/closing dates?
  • News peg – Why would a reporter want to cover your topic?  What makes your topic different, better, more appealing than similar topics?  What is the headline/sound bite you want the media to use?  Has this topic/angle been covered before?
  •  Call to action – What do you want the reader/viewer/listener to do? Who is your real audience and how do you want to interact with them?
  • Heart, Mind or Wallet – Does the story affect one or more of these?
  • Key messages – Start thinking about what they would be. Do they resonate? Think specific types of media.  Will your messages be told?  Can the story be told without your client?  If so, rethink your pitch/angle.

Each media has some different “rules of engagement” to be thought of:

For print/online:

  • Is your pitch long-lead or short-lead?  Is this best for national outlets?  Local?  Trade? Bloggers? What about verticals?
  • Do you have an interesting spokesperson?  Trends/issues/statistics to leverage?
  • What photos/artwork can you leverage?
  • Can you tell a story the client’s competitors can’t?
  • Is this a straight product pitch or do you have an interesting lifestyle angle?
  • Are you working with a reporter or columnist? Reporter is supposed to be “just the facts ma’am” while a columnist can pull in his/her perspective. Bloggers are columnists who may very well not follow the same rules as reporters.

For radio:

  • Is your story simple enough for radio?  The listeners are typically distracted in a car, so the reporters keep the items short and simple.
  • What format works best for your topic? News/Talk? Oldies? Does the morning show do interviews?
  • Are you going to be interviewed by a reporter or a personality? Personality can be more engaging, but more dangerous.
  • Does the format provide an opportunity for a client mention?

For TV:

  • For a talk show, can you provide an entire panel of spokespeople vs. a one-off product?
  • How long do their segments last?
  • What is important to them?  Localized, visual?
  • Is this a good kicker segment?
  • Is the pitch hard news or better suited for the noon news?

Until somewhat recently, this “earned media” was the sole sweet spot for the PR guru/professional/practioner (we really need to get a better name for ourselves). Those days are over.

The advent of owned media – – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, YouTube, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, etc. – – has provided additional avenues for PR folks to distribute compelling messages to appropriate audiences. Much has written about the evolution of public relations; I will take the next few blogs to provide my thoughts.

Developing the Compelling Message for the Appropriate Audience: Part Two – Five Questions to Determine the Role of our Real Audience and the Media (They Are Different)

Waiter

Media relations. Proactive pitching. No denying – – I love it. Also no denying, many in our field go about it the wrong way. In my last blog we talked about the one question we should always ask as we develop the pitch:

  •  How will the pitch reinforce/support the company’s or person’s vision/mission or goal?

Doing so is going to act as a litmus test.  Making sure we are aligned with the overall company vision/mission/goal and serving as a way of managing expectations for those pitches missing the mark.

As we start thinking about developing the compelling pitch for the right audience, some may ask, “which do we address first – – the compelling pitch or the right audience?” Really think it is a chicken/egg situation. Many times we are looking at both at the same time.

No matter how we start, one element critical in determining and learning about our real audience may seem counter-intuitive. We must embrace the fact our real audience is not the media. We are using the media – and the inherit third party credibility – as a way of telling our story to our real audience.

We should be asking ourselves:

  • What is the story for my real audience?
  • What is most important to them?
  • How do we fit into the story/can the story be told without us?
  • What does the media need to tell that story?
  • How can I best work with the media in telling that story?

Ideally, by understanding the reading, watching and listening habits of our real audience, and understanding what is important to the different outlets and formats, we should be able to match our pitch to the right paper/blog/site, television news/talk show, and radio outlet. We should also be able to determine if the pitch is best suited locally, nationally, for the trades, etc.

This means, if we do our job right, we are equal parts reporter/producer and PR professional. We are working with the media in providing our mutual real audience with the right story.

For those who know me, know I’m fond of saying, “the goal should be that we find ourselves on the same side of the desk as the media.” Part of our job is to make covering the pitch as easy as possible for the media, meaning there may be times when we are offering aspects of the story that may not seem right to our client.

Wine for Table Seven

I was working with a publisher and two authors (both doctors) on a book about the health benefits of drinking wine. One of the chapters focused on the premise that if you were pregnant and routinely had a glass of red wine prior to being pregnant, there were no health risks associated with having a glass during your pregnancy (throughout the book, the doctors mentioned to always check with a physician before doing anything).  This was the chapter we decided to focus on in promoting the book.

Publisher and authors wanted to go after national television. To do so, we said, we would want to finish the story for our real audience who would want to know the other viewpoint. We explained, for a national segment, the press will want/need to get the other side of the story and if we could give them that side, all the better.

We asked the doctors what groups would have some strong feelings about their chapter. They mentioned an organization whose cause was Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) awareness and said they have had conversations with the organization’s spokeswoman.

To make a long blog short (too late), we reached out to the organization, provided their spokesperson with an advance copy of the chapter and got her to agree to make herself available for interviews.

Part of the results were segments on Larry King Live and Today.

Both producers used our people exclusively for their segments because we did their homework for them. Larry King was first and Today was the following morning (we had the better looking doctor do both interviews and flew him into the Today Show from DC while the woman did the Today interview via satellite – – whenever possible I’ve found it better to do interviews, especially controversial, in-person). We didn’t spokesperson train their person or give her insights we came across from talking to the producers, etc.

Suffice to say, the segments went very well. Publisher and authors were pleased, producers thanked us for helping with the segments and the opposing organization was happy to be included and felt they got their messages across.

Reality is, the fourth estate is strapped for time and resources. A good pitch including all sides of the story is going to be a tremendous help and can speed up the process of getting the story published/on the air.

In my next blog, we’ll talk about the specific questions to ask as you develop the pitch and breakdown things to consider outlet to outlet.