You just never know where a story is going to stick

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By Leo Valiquette

Last week, I spoke about how many PR practitioners fear to pick up the phone or otherwise attempt to engage with media beyond simply hitting “send” on a media release.

I want to follow up by emphasizing that, for a PR program to be effective, it must be consistent, persistent and applied over a period of many moons and fiscal quarters. Because, frankly, there is no telling where a story may stick or when a notable journalist may come out of the woodwork asking for the perspective of your organization’s brain trust on some timely and relevant issue.

Public relations or, to be more precise for our purposes here, media relations, can be broken into two general categories. First, there is the transactional effort, where the goal is to get media to pick up on a breaking news item that doesn’t have much of a shelf life. The second is building a rolodex factor by positioning your organization, or key individuals within your organization, as go-to resources the media can rely on for comment and insight on specific subjects.

These two categories are not silos. Every time you reach out to a journalist the effort contributes to building that rolodex factor, even if the justification for your call is a news item that will be as stale as month-old bread by tomorrow.

A data point with a hook

This was evident recently with one client of our affiliated inmedia Public Relations practice. This client puts out an annual fact book with all sorts of interesting data points about Internet usage in Canada and how Canada ranks compared to other industrialized nations. The latest edition went out with no great measure of media relations support.

Among its data points was the fact that Canadians are the heaviest internet users in the world. This wasn’t news – the same data point was in last year’s fact book. Nonetheless, a host of media, including talk-format radio stations that typically pay little attention to this client, bit and bit hard on this factoid. The result was about a half dozen inbound interview requests to speak with the client’s CEO.

Last year’s edition of the fact book, which featured the same data point, had been largely ignored by the media.

Why the difference? Since last spring, the client has been engaged in a much more aggressive media relations effort than in the past. On an almost monthly basis, there has been a fresh story that we have taken to the media on this client’s behalf. We kept the client on the radar of key media and fostered the correct perception that this organization is a reliable resource for its sphere of influence. Based on the media interest in the latest edition of the fact book, we can only conclude that the effort to build that rolodex factor on this client’s behalf is paying off. The result of a consistent and persistent effort over time.

No media list stands still for long

And while we often evangelize the need to base any PR effort on a media list that has been researched and validated, something will always slip through the cracks. The media market is huge, especially if you are including Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., fractured between daily, weekly and monthly publications in a host of industry verticals and markets, with print and online formats. And let’s not forget the high-traffic blog sites that have become media properties in their own right.

That’s why when you do hit “send” on a media release, you need to do it through multiple channels. First, there is the email list of media your PR practitioner has created (if they are worth their salt) from first-hand research to target the journalists and editors who should have the most interest in your story. Then there is some form of wire service, which broadcasts far and wide and gets picked up by the automatic feeds at hundreds of media outlets. Lastly, there is the handful of outlets that will demand that you reach out to them individually through some kind of online submission form with that tedious little CAPTCHA to ensure you’re human.

I recently did a launch for a client where a key target group was health and wellness media. But one of the first pieces of coverage came instead from a magazine for individuals recovering from substance and alcohol abuse. I hadn’t come across this magazine in my research, so it wasn’t on my email list. But its editors had obviously stumbled upon the release on the wire service and deemed the news relevant to its readers. Next time, this magazine will be at the top of my contact list.

What’s the moral of these stories? Even if you do everything right to prepare for, and execute on, a PR launch, there are still many variables beyond your control that make it difficult to predict where a story will stick and when. The best approach is to consider PR a marathon, not a sprint or a series of sprints, that regularly requires small course corrections.

Image: Digital Journal

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