When it comes to releasing your news, timing and distribution channels are everything. Not heeding them could lead to disastrous communications consequences.
To understand why, you need to know how journalists think and what they’re looking for.
Get internal buy-in
Before you release your story to media, make sure everyone in your organization is OK with it, that it is factually correct, that all stakeholders have been informed when it will be released, and that spokespeople are willing and ready to comment on it.
It’s a nightmare to “take back” a story once it’s been published. So make sure everyone in your organization is ready.
Share it with all media at once
Every journalist wants to be the first one to share a story with the public. Don’t expect journalists to cover a story that has already been covered one or more days earlier by another media outlet. By then it’s old news.
To guard against being old news, make sure you share your story with everyone at once, rather than sending it to one media outlet one day and another the next.
If you want further coverage days later, you’re going to have to add to the story by pitching a new angle and/or releasing new information.
Consider the “news cycle”
If you can choose a time to release your story, tell media about it on a day and at a time when they’re looking for stories.
9:00 a.m. on a Tuesday = good. Journalists have just sat down at their desks and are looking to see what’s going on that day for them to cover.
4:00 p.m. on a Friday = bad. Journalists have already nailed down what they’re going to cover that day. Most have already done their interviews and created their stories. They’re ready for the weekend.
On a date when you know other news will be happening (e.g. election day) = bad.
These are the general trends. That said, media will always pick up a great story, and different media outlets have different news cycles.
Have your resources ready to share
If media decide to cover the story, they are going to be on deadline. And if they’re on deadline, so are you.
With little turnaround time, media could ask for any or all of:
Relevant photos and captions, including correct spellings of names, dates and locations for the photos
Interviews with spokespeople by phone or in person
Further factual information
Samples / site visits / concrete examples relevant to your story
Make sure you have your resources internally approved and ready to go so you can provide them easily and quickly.
For the last three days the biggest water cooler topic across the country has been CBC’s firing of Jian Ghomeshi.
Ghomeshi‘s $55-million lawsuit and the numerous allegations about Ghomeshi’s violent sexual behavior, lead many to conclude that he will never work in the media again. Most people are wondering: “Who would hire him?”
While the CBC won’t take Ghomeshi back (ever), I expect he’ll have little problem bouncing back in his successful media career. Here’s why:
Many talented film, sports and media stars have had similar moments of “heightened awareness,” about their abnormal or illegal sexual behavior, yet most have gone on with their careers. I don’t recall Roman Polanski or Woody Allen making apologies for their disturbing sexual relationships. The revelations resulted in a loss of fans, but both continued with their successful careers as film directors.
In 2009 David Letterman issued a preemptive strike to a breaking scandal by using his national talk show to drop a five-minute bombshell in his monologue. He used the platform to talk about his affair with a coworker only six months after he was married. His show and contract with CBS continued like nothing happened and his marriage is still intact.
Ghomeshi’s incident is reminiscent of the Marv Albert scandal in 1997. Albert had charges filed against him for viciously biting and having forced sex with a woman he’d had a relationship with for several years. Marv was a very big personality in the USA at the time. He’d appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” over 100 times with his presentation of the plays of the month. And he’d been the play-by-play voice of the New York Knicks basketball team for 30 years leading up to this incident and had done national broadcasts for Super Bowls, Stanley Cup finals and basketball finals.
Albert lost all his jobs and contracts at the time. His lawyers and PR advisors recommended he take a six-month long ‘time out’. After the court case and Marv Albert’s guilty plea, he did a series of high-profile media appearances. In a one week blitz he appeared on Larry King on CNN, David Letterman on CBS, Katie Couric on NBC’s ”The Today Show” and “20/20” with Barbara Walters on ABC.
The PR strategy was for Marv to tell his story fully and quickly. He overexposed himself for a week. Being an experienced media veteran, he was sympathetic and got a passing grade in the court of public opinion. He then stopped the interviews.
At 74 years old, Marv Albert is still active today, calling NBA and NFL games on American TV networks and he is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
We are still in week one of a drama that hasn’t fully played out. Ghomeshi issued his preemptive strike online. He should now take a ‘time out’ and let the story fade.
Will another Canadian network provide him with a similar platform as the CBC’s? Will he get a gig with NPR who aired Q in US markets? I think he’ll land somewhere. He’s a talented broadcaster with a loyal following. He’ll be back.
A reporter called and started asking questions. I knew the answers and was well into giving information on behalf of the client when it hit me: I’m not authorized to be this company’s spokesperson!
As a communications consultant for this client I was empowered to provide information – send out pre-authorized backgrounders, fact sheets, news releases. But I was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company. I stopped in mid-sentence.
“I’m not a spokesperson for my client so I don’t want to be quoted,” I said, probably too sharply. I caught the reporter cold. He was taking down everything I said and fully intended to pepper his story with Alyn “Edwards said…. According to company spokesperson Alyn Edwards…”
It was almost too late that I realized I had set a trap for myself and I was right in it. I knew better.
During the hundreds of media training sessions I have conducted, I stress that companies must appoint and train anyone speaking for the organization and they should only offer information in areas of their direct knowledge and responsibilities.
I also tell them to negotiate every interview. When reporters call, don’t start answering questions until you know exactly who you are talking to, how to contact them and have asked these other key questions:
What is your story?
What information do you want from our organization?
Is there a focus or angle that you are pursuing?
Who else are you talking to?
What questions do you have?
Only with full information should a company or organization decide that an interview will suit its goals and interests. That’s not always the case.
Several years ago, a call came in from a meat processor in the Vancouver area. It was during the XL Meat e-coli crisis in Brooks, Alberta. The B.C. company was not related in anyway. But it was receiving calls from reporters wanting ‘localize’ the story. They asked to take video and photos of their plant operation and interview managers about food safety.
My strong advice was to thank reporters for their interest, tell them the plant is in full compliance with all food safety standards and explain that no unauthorized persons can enter the plant.
I recommended the company not say anything beyond this because, as soon as the public saw pictures or video of that meat packing operation, the company would be immediately associated with the e-coli outbreak and its business could suffer greatly.
If the interview is a good fit for your organization, negotiate a time and place for the interview which gives the spokesperson adequate time to prepare key messages.
Sending a fact sheet or background information in advance of the interview describing the organization, its products and services along with information detailing the subject of the interview could head off up to 30 minutes of needless questions. That also helps ensure accurate reporting.
That’s what communications consultants can deliver while being careful not to unwittingly become a spokesperson for their clients.
Vancouver, B.C. – (October 2, 2013)– Mason Williams, a leading and independent PR agency in the UK, this week joined the global IPREX network and became the third new partner-firm IPREX has acquired in recent weeks.
Last week, two PR agencies from Brazil and Jakarta also announced their partnership with IPREX.
IPREX is a global network consisting of 60 independent PR firms that operate in 100 cities with more than 1500 professionals.
“We’re happy to welcome Mason Williams to our international network,” says Ross Sullivan, Partner at Peak Communicators. ”As IPREX continues to expand, so does our ability to better serve clients on a global scale.”
Peak Communicators (Vancouver) and The Communications Group (Toronto) represent Canada in IPREX and are linked with 125 other PR-offices globally.
Mason Williams, operating out of London and Manchester with a reputation for its results-oriented creative consumer brand work in toys, hair care, luxury, automotive, wine & beer and sport, with particular expertise in hotels and hospitality.
Established in 1986, Mason Williams has expanded its international work, with companies seeking to market golf resorts, property and hotels in mainland Europe to the UK.
The agency has built a strong digital practice, covering the subject from virtual reality to media evaluation, and also works in crisis preparedness and control, including specialist training to senior executives in handling their business reputations.
Clients include Two Sisters Food Group, Radisson Edwardian Hotels, Schwarzkopf, Henkel, Marriott County Hall and Accor Hotels.
Strategy. Possibly one of the most overused yet incorrectly used terms in business today.
Drop the word strategy into discussions around the boardroom table and people start to listen. Not only does it sound good but it is often associated with seniority, experience and high-level thinking. All very impressive. But over the years, I’ve sat in countless business and communications meetings where the word is thrown around, prodded at, sometimes discussed but frequently avoided when you drill down into the substance of what is actually being said, or not said. Forget the elephant, strategy has become the beast in the room – the one that everyone is aware of but no-one quite knows what to do with.
So what exactly is strategy and where do we go wrong with applying this concept?
I’ve spent some time trawling the internet for the best strategy definitions, examples, videos, common pitfalls and I was surprised to see a mess of content that struggles to define what it really is. I’m not saying I have the best definition either but I do remember attending a training session in London a few years back and our strategic master told us that, every time we struggled to articulate what the strategy of a plan was, think about war. After all, the word strategy comes from the Greek, stratēgia which loosely translates as the ‘art of leadership’, particularly in relation to the military.
To put this into context, the next time you have to define the strategy of a business or communications plan, think about what your plan of action is – how are you going to achieve the goals you’ve set out to achieve? How are you going to bring about the desired future (remember the: Where are we now? Where are we going? How will we get there?)? How would you summarize that high-level thinking?
This is where having a clear idea of your company’s/client’s purpose (mission), goal (vision) and values is imperative. Defining your competitive advantage is also key (undertaking a SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats – really helps too). This is ultimately what will distinguish your business from the rest. If you don’t understand this, your strategy cannot succeed. But once you have defined these points and are confident that you have a high-level plan of action in place that will achieve your end goal, you should quite easily be able to work the other elements of a strategic communications plan out:
Long- and short-term strategic objectives
Roles and responsibilities (accountability is key in executing any plan)
Some of the most common mistakes people make when talking strategy is that they start talking about objectives or tactics instead. It’s also very easy to create a strategic communications plan and then forget about it, or not make anyone accountable. A strategic plan will only be as good as the people who execute it. So you need to ensure that someone is the overall owner of the plan and that everyone else is clear on their deliverables. Communication is vital in the strategic planning process – ideally, multiple stakeholders should have input into the plan and the final plan should be presented to all stakeholders so that everyone is aware of it and understands its importance to the growth of the company.
Equally, progress reports should be shared regularly. And strategic plans do not need to be long. I’ve seen some bibles in my time which, quite frankly, make it difficult to digest page one knowing the long journey ahead. Keep them short, sweet and accessible – they’ll be far more useful this way.
Finally, it’s important to note that strategic plans should be living documents. They should be revisited regularly and updated according to the needs of the company and the demands of external factors.
The cover depicts accused Boston Marathon bomber Jahar Tsarnaev but unlike the 1970’s cover of Charles Manson which showed a demonic killer, this cover shows someone who could be the latest teen heartthrob.
Reaction has been swift and damaging to the Rolling Stone’s reputation, a reputation founded on the cache of being on the cover as much for the often profanity laced articles inside.
The PR mistake that Rolling Stone made was failing to understand that emotions were still raw surrounding this terrible event. The editors forgot PR 101, lesson one, people react emotionally to what they see and not what they read.
What they saw and are fixated on is the picture. The words “bomber” and “monster” don’t come close to balancing that, even in bold, large print.
A picture is still worth more than 1000 words. In this case it’s worth hundreds of thousands of tweets threatening never to read the magazine again, and some retailers pulling the magazine from circulation so as not to offend their customers.
Having created its own “PR Crisis” the steps that Rolling Stone have taken are good ones:
Publishing the entire article so that people can read for themselves that the article does not glorify a “monster”.
Giving away its cover story, so that Rolling Stone is not seen to be benefiting from the controversy
Acknowledging the bombing victims at the top of the article and explaining why they pursued the story
The article is legitimate. TV entertainment shows do this all the time. Sometimes entertainment news just becomes news.
In 1970 Rolling Stone published a Charles Manson cover story, but the picture demonized Manson. This one didn’t. It showed the boy next door or the newest rock star. The public wanted to see the devil and they saw themselves.
It has been 40 years since Dr. Hook released “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” a song which immortalized what it meant to get on the cover. The public hasn’t forgotten what that means.
If Rolling Stone had a do-over they would pick a different cover.
The morning after the much anticipated B.C. election, Chris Olsen, Peak’s Kelowna-based senior consultant, and Bill Tieleman, owner of West Star Communications and political columnist, aired live on Phil Johnson’s AM 1150 Early Edition show to discuss the election results.
Chris and Bill speak about the future of NDP party leader, Adrian Dix, and speculate who Liberal party leader, Christy Clark, will select to join her in the cabinet. They also express their surprise at the astoundingly high number of British Columbians who did not vote and raise the question of mandatory voting to boost voter participation in future elections.
You’ve heard the old adage about the carpenter falling through his own steps. He was so busy taking care of business he didn’t take care of business at home. Reputation managers often overlook their home turf. And it is sometimes at their peril.
For example, there is no such thing as a totally private life when you are a public relations practitioner. Remember that everything you do and say can live on the internet. So if you are going to tweet and blog about a public cause or politics that may not be popular with all your clients and colleagues, remember that this can come back to bite you…hard.
Communicators and public relations practitioners deal with a wide variety of individuals and organizations as clients. They may not always share your views. It is a good idea to remain neutral and apolitical because you could very quickly pigeon hole yourself or your company as being only about one cause or one party. Simply put, this can be bad for business and make it much more difficult to pitch stories to media.
Treat yourself like a brand
As a sole practitioner, a communications manager, consultant or public relations company manager, it’s important to apply the same public relations outreach activities that you do for your clients to build your own reputation.
Look for opportunities to blog about issues. Offer to do media interviews as a communications expert to comment on how individuals or organizations have failed to tell their story in the best way possible. The media is hungry for experts in many fields and communications is a very important element of crisis management.
Look for issues to weigh in on and let the media know you have something to say and are willing to say it. You never get what you don’t ask for and this type of publicity can really draw positive attention to you as a communications consultant, your organization and your services.
If you or your company is offering a new service or have an innovative product, frame the story and offer it up to select media outlets. An ‘earned media’ news feature has much more credibility than buying an ad and can go a long way towards building reputation and profile.
New hires should always be featured in the ‘Keeping Track’ sections of daily and business newspapers with good head shot photos. Again, this is free advertising and you will be very pleased when people comment that they see your organization is progressive and growing.
When you are communicating and doing public relations for others, don’t forget to build, enhance and protect your own reputation with the same communications outreach. It can pay great dividends.