Landing a public relations (PR) article in a top media outlet such as The New York Times or Forbes can be a game-changer for companies, particularly in down markets. It boosts brand awareness, increases credibility, and drives valuable traffic. But landing that coveted placement takes strategy, effort, and an understanding of the media landscape.
But first, let's bust a few prevalent myths surrounding public relations.
Public Relations Myths Debunked
Myth: Who you know results in coverage.
Busted: Senior PR professionals have spent years developing long-term relationships with journalists. However, that doesn't mean it will result in coverage. A journalist's job is to write stories that their readership will care about. You may think you have a great story, but it doesn't matter who your PR team knows if it doesn't hit the mark. PR professionals can't trade friendships for coverage.
Myth: Press releases secure top-tier coverage
Busted: People tend to assume that submitting a press release to a wire distribution service will automatically secure coverage. Press releases are just a tool that offers a structured and formal way to share news, increase visibility, and shape the narrative surrounding an organization. They are multipurpose and multifunctional documents journalists use to gather facts while researching a company or writing a story.
Myth: PR is only about spin and manipulation.
Busted: Good PR is based on transparency and authenticity. Building trust is essential; misleading or manipulating information can have negative consequences. Ethical PR focuses on honest communication and building positive relationships.
The Anatomy of a Tier 1 Media Placement
Ok - let's dig in. First, we start with crafting a story. It is the most important element in the process.
1. The Story
We get ideas from various sources, including our client's executives and sometimes their engineering teams. In one case, we were interviewing a technical subject matter expert (SME) when he casually mentioned that the company's cameras were the eyes of the Mars Rover. This offhand comment turned into a media goldmine – we partnered with NASA during the landing of the Mars Rover and offered journalists an inside look at how the Rover could "see" and take images of the Mars landscape. This resulted in over 80+ media placements in Tier 1 and industry media, and the campaign secured a prestigious industry PR award.
We also research current technical, economic, political, and social trends to ensure our story fits the current world landscape. Since most of the readership is consumers, we always look for an angle on how our client's offerings change how we work, live, and play.
Every story requires validation. We need to prove that the story is real, that there is a sense of urgency, and that our client has what it takes to be a visionary leader. Validation comes in the form of illuminating data, customers, and revenue.
2. The Target
The next part of the process is finding a journalist who will care about your story. So many factors go into finding the right person, including current events, timing, and overall interest. Finding the right journalist will make or break the campaign. Here are some factors we consider: Is the reporter relevant? Does the reporter regularly cover your client's industry or topic? Are they known for their specific expertise in the area we are pitching? Has the reporter covered similar topics or interviewed similar experts recently?
Once we find the right reporters, we create a short, personalized, informative pitch to gauge their interest.
3. The Journalist
If a journalist is intrigued by the pitch, they rarely get back to you before doing their research. And this is where all your hard PR and marketing work during the past year pays off. The journalist will check out your website, look for customer testimonials and case studies, read through leadership bios, your trade press coverage, and contributed articles, and look for any funding and partner information. They will thoroughly vet the company before responding to the pitch.
The only instance in which this step is expedited is during newsjacking, which involves swiftly responding to breaking news with an expert opinion or spokesperson. This approach is necessary when time is of the essence, and immediate action is required.
4. The Offer & Acceptance
The journalist will likely offer an interview, executive Q&A, a customer interview for a bigger story, or a contributed article. At this point, you need to decide whether or not you will accept the offer. Can you meet the deadline? Are your spokespersons available? Do you agree with the story angle? Just because one story was pitched doesn't mean it won't morph into something else that may be better suited for their readership.
5. The Interview
Most journalists want what everyone wants – a good story. But so many things can go wrong during an interview. For example, the spokesperson shows up unprepared, cancels, or tries to reschedule at the last minute, or veers off-topic into something that isn't relevant to the story. Sometimes, your spokesperson may not be perceived as credible, and the journalist doesn't buy into the story. In most cases, you only get one chance, so media coaching for your top spokespeople is critical for success.
The process doesn't end with the interview. There is a lot of follow-up, fact-checking, and monitoring for coverage. And once the coverage comes out, social amplification is critical.
"The best PR pros make this process look easy. But trust me, it is not.
Celebrating the big client hit is awesome, but the daily grind of securing coverage in trade publications, contributed articles, podcast appearances, news, and social amplification makes it possible to get the big hit. This is why start-stop PR programs don't work.
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