What is news? For those of us who have to, or want to create publicity for our products and services, it can mean the difference between getting into print or hitting the delete button.
Putting it visually, it's the "dog bites man and vice versa debate". If a dog bites a man there's nothing newsworthy in that, but if a man bites a dog we have an element of newsworthiness!
Let's look at a few basic guidelines for news.
News is: unusual, interesting, important, informative (in that order!), or UIII for short.
Your story angle must meet these criteria, so: "XYZ Company is pleased to announce its new Web site, blah, blah, blah . . ." won't make the front page (or the back page). After all, what is so unique about that?
One of my clients called me the other day annoyed that their announcement of a major vendor award was only covered by two trade publications. Why wasn't it picked up by the business pages of dailies? My response ran along the lines of: "With respect, your win is great and you need to promote it heavily internally and to your customers. But to be blunt, this is NOT important technology or business news." There was no UIII in the announcement.
Ask yourself what is it about your story that is unusual, interesting, important or informative - to the audience, that is! If it's only UIII to you or your employees, then you may want to question if issuing "shotgun" releases is the most cost-effective approach.
With this in mind, put yourself in the editor's and the audience's shoes, and try to give them a story that they will find "newsworthy".
Because we all agree that the role of the media in building professional visibility and reputation is immense, we need to be reminded of some simple steps to stay in tune with the media.
Get the editorial calendars for your target publications and propose articles tied to scheduled special topics. Do not get too ambitious and select 20 to 25 publications - it is too difficult to keep up with them all. Focus on five to seven publications as a maximum.
Offer commentaries related to current news stories, especially for weekly trade publications that cover industry news. Just remember to move fast on these. News dates very quickly. This is a matter of picking up the phone and speaking confidently and authoritatively about your area of expertise - a time-saving way to communicate.
Offer yourself as a source of expertise to relevant editors and reporters. Write letters to the editor agreeing, disagreeing or amplifying upon articles published. If your contribution contains some element of a controversy, so much the better. Also participate in industry discussion lists on the Net in ways that show off your expertise. Editors and journalists often refer to these lists.
These activities cannot be seen as merely opportunistic exercises. You need to be committed to a strategy, read those publications in which you want coverage and continuously work on developing good relationships with the media.
It doesn't happen over night. It takes perseverance, discipline, study of the latest techniques, refinement and the belief that you have something unusual, interesting, important and informative - UIII!
Also remember that to really understand the true effect of public relations work, we need to treat media coverage as just one component of the overall picture of successfully profiling your organisation. More on this next time.
Dolores Diez-Simson is managing director at Rivers of Communication. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org