Make like a duck: Paddle hard, paddle often

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This is the next entry in our “Best of” series, in which we venture deep into the vault to replay blog opinion and insight that has withstood the test of time. Today’s post hails from May 2009. We welcome your feedback.

By Leo Valiquette

Recently, Francis fielded a question on LinkedIn about the value of running a survey to generate media coverage.

Surveys can be used effectively to position a company, but not if the company is perceived simply as a sponsor of an external survey. Francis cited the example of one IT consultancy that, on inmedia‘s counsel, did away with its external survey of CIOs and instead realized much better media traction from publishing the results of an internal census of its own IT experts. The spotlight was shifted from a group of faceless CIOs to the consultancy’s own knowledge keepers, positioning the consultancy as an authoritative subject matter expert rather than a mere survey sponsor.

As the editor of a business publication, I saw almost daily news releases plugging a survey that, on the surface at least, provided profound insights into one issue or another of relevance to the Ottawa business community. However, the appeal factor quickly evaporated when, upon closer inspection, it was revealed that said survey was sponsored by a major credit card company or software vendor.

This made the objectivity of the data presented, and the conclusions drawn from it, immediately suspect to me. After all, the sponsoring organization would not go to the time and effort to promote survey results that didn’t support its own sales and marketing efforts, now would it? It was this obvious vested interest that made me reluctant to devote even a couple of hundred words of coverage with an online news brief.

When trying to come up with ingenious and cunning ways to engage with the media, there is, once again, simply no substitute for taking the time and effort to understand:

1. Who are the media that are relevant to your organization? Which ones have the clout to move your market and a focus that includes the products and services that you offer?

2. Who on staff specifically covers your offering or the specific markets that you target?

3. What kind of content is the publication looking for and how can you provide it? When you pursue potential customers, you position your product or service as a solution to a problem. Attracting the interest of the media is no different. In Francis’s example above, by putting the spotlight on its own internal thought leaders, this IT consultancy was conveying the value it could provide to a publication in search of expert opinion and insight on pertinent issues and topics.

Answering these questions takes research and the patience and persistence to secure that all-important first conversation with an editor. This is relationship building based upon your ability to offer something that is relevant and valuable. Prove that you’re useful, and your foot is firmly wedged in the door. It is not about flogging today’s news release, though that does present a good excuse to pick up the phone.

Don’t operate under the false assumption that following this process faithfully is a magic bullet that guarantees results, or that great things will happen overnight. It still takes time.

For one client, I have been working to place a leadership piece with a key publication since February. The editor held on to the draft we submitted for almost two months before coming back with requested revisions that essentially gut much of the article’s original focus and content. But he’s still interested. With another magazine that lies at the pinnacle of this client’s wish list, I have been touching base with the editor every few weeks for the past three months and finally hope to garner a firm commitment in June when work commences on a signature fall issue.

Invariably, great results are the result of this kind of furious paddling below the waterline, rather than something like a sponsored survey that can fall into the category of gimmickry. The sooner you take to the water and get to work, the sooner those media clippings will begin to add up.

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