Notes About Working in PR (from my talk with University of Notre Dame students in 2009)

In March 2009 I was invited to speak to a PR and Journalism class about my experiences working in PR in media relations. The lecturer is a journalist with whom I had (and still have) a good PR/Journo relationship with so I was more than happy to oblige. I stumbled across my notes the other day and thought they may provide some insight for those thinking about getting into the industry.

I’ve picked out some of the notes still relevant – please bear in mind they are from over a year ago but most of it still stands today despite the rapidly changing communication landscape.

Good Things To Do

  • Build relationship with media, get to know the journalists – what they like in terms of work and personal – e.g. Editor if Dynamic Business mag likes chilli hot chocolate
  • Tailor pitches and press releases to the person and publication you are pitching
  • Do be yourself – have personality, don’t just be a pitching robot
  • Do be honest with clients, media and yourself – if you can’t make a deadline when you say you can, tell the journalist asap so they have time to pursue another option
  • Be realistic about prioritising and working out what you can get done in the day/week/month – under promise, over deliver!
  • Proof read everything for spelling and grammar. Even emails. Get someone else to proof. Spell check is not enough.
  • Do be creative and think about all the possibilities when coming up with story angles for your client aside from main publications and newspapers. E.g. Business angles, health and wellbeing, parenting, bridal, niche and trade publications, regional papers may be interested in a local angle

Things Not To Do

  • Never get the journalist’s media outlet wrong – don’t confuse Sun-Herald with Sunday Telegraph or Vogue with Harpers Bazaar
  • Don’t follow up the same / next day and always have something else to offer such as images

Good Personal Attributes to Have in PR

  • Be determined and patient – it may take 50 pitches before you get one hit but that could be the make (or break) for your client
  • Be resilient – you will be rejected by journalists but don’t take it personally
  • Be creative – it only takes one great idea – brainstorm with your colleagues, peers, people from outside the industry, at the pub
  • Be efficient and deliver when you say you will
  • Be honest
  • Be diplomatic
  • Be prepared to work to deadlines which may mean putting in extra hours
  • Be flexible – your clients and media can changes their mind about things at the most inappropriate of times but you have to remember the client is paying you and the journalist is your way of getting results so stay calm and work with what you’ve got
  • Be professional – always start an email with Dear and don’t include kisses or smiley faces unless you would normally kiss person when you see them!
  • Be calm when you need to be such as when speaking to media and clients – you can swear and have a stress tantrum in front of friends and family but not your clients or boss
  • Look professional – be well presented and tidy in front of media and clients – they may be the CEO of their company. You can swap your heels for slippers in the office at your desk
  • Do your research and know as much as you can about your client + why and what you are pitching + the journalist and media outlet you are pitching to
  • Be yourself – there is the rumour that PRs are ruthless and will do anything for a story/angle, word ‘spin doctor’ is used…
    • Don’t do anything you don’t morally or ethically agree with because ultimately, you are the one who has to publicly deal with it
  • Be polite – don’t forget basic communication skills – please and thank you goes a long way

This is a selection from the 7 pages of hints, tips and anecdotes I prepared and I’m more than happy to chat with budding PR and Comms students about what it’s like to work in PR. It’s something I would have liked to do more of.

Twitter: @KimberleyL or Email: kimberleyjlee@gmail.com

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NOTES: How to Get the Media to Notice You – an event from SourceBottle #sblive

Tuesday night brought together about 300 small business owners and PR professionals together for the very first SourceBottle networking event, a panel discussion about ‘How to get the media to notice you’. This was very well run, and well organised by the delightful Rebecca Derrington of SourceBottle fame with help from the team from Handle Your Own PR, Creative Cats, Leonda By The Yarra, The Templar Group and The Woo.

The panel was introduced by Tom Gleisner who is also founder of the charity benefiting from the evening – Learning for Life, for children with autism. On the panel was:

Tom Fahey – Producer on The Circle, Channel 10

Tim Verrall – Breakfast Producer, MixFM

Leo D’Angelo Fisher – Senior Journalist, BRW

Janice Breen Burns – Fashion Editor, The Age

Their insights should have been nothing new for PR professionals and I was concerned there may have been too many practicing PR people learning way too much for the level of knowledge the panel was imparting. It was all 101 stuff and a refresher can’t do any harm but definitely all things a PR practitioner should already be doing.

The key thing is (and always has been) to know the media – media relations is all about relationship building with journalists: know them, know their space, know why they would want to cover your news.

So, these notes will be good for those wanting to know more about the workings of media relations:

  • Most effective way to contact media is via email – only call if it’s to radio and it’s something urgent/timely, and if you do call breakfast shows the best time is 11am
  • Pitch a story that is news – don’t just pitch your client/product and expect the journalist to come up with a story (help them help you!)
  • Make sure you know the media outlet you’re pitching to – know where your story would fit in their publication/program and identify this for the media; know how the process works for their section
  • Know media deadlines and work to these
  • Get to know the journalists – topics and issues they cover, their style of writing (do they like pics?), how they like to be pitched to, what they like … developing good relationships with the media is so important and this is one of the best ways to get them to notice you: notice them first and know what they want
  • Journalists won’t always respond: they will respond if they want the story, file the email for later reference or delete (although Leo will always respond with a thank you; Janice doesn’t think PR people expect a response anymore!)
  • Quirky media send-outs are losing appeal – if you do go down the inflatable thong path, make sure it’s relevant and adds value to the pitch
  • Get straight to the point of your pitch – bullets in the email body preferable: you don’t need to attach the release if it’s all in the body of the email
  • Really personalise your pitches and know WHO to pitch to – don’t send the same release to different people at the same media outlet without advising them
  • Write the release with media in mind, not your client – too many releases ‘blow smoke up the client’s ass’ rather than writing for what the media want to know/need to know –> give them what they need
    • what is the story? what does your client do? why should X write about it?
  • Leave out the jargon and the ‘boilerplate’ if it’s irrelevant corporate speak
  • Give as much of the story as you can (help them help you!)
  • DO NOT FOLLOW UP CALL TO SEE IF THEY GO THE RELEASE – so many PR people are obviously still doing this because there was a bit of commotion and even an audience member who asked ‘then why does our boss make us follow up call?’ (PR FAIL, right there)
  • Some journalists prefer to deal with PR people … GOOD PR people who know what they’re doing; Leo doesn’t mind giving a ‘fair hearing’ to business owners if they have the guts to call him personally; Janice wants to be put in touch with the source

Leo also brought up an interesting point – everything and anything has their own PR person. When getting clients on board you need to ask ‘why’ are they going for PR and is it really something with PR value?

One thing I’ve learned along the way working in media relations, aside from the value of good journalist relationships is the importance of good client management – they need to understand what PR is, how it works and what they can expect.

Thanks Rebecca and team!

NOTE: I had a Kimberley Fail and switched from the #sblive hashtag to #sbevent at one stage – so you may like to track them both! Thanks Fran for bringing it to my attention!

P.S. Apologies for the quality of my photography – sneaky pics from the front row not as good as I hoped they would be!

Why telling the truth is usually the best option: PRIA Breakfast with Stephen Mayne

I attended my first PRIA VIC breakfast this morning at the RACV Club for a presentation from well known media identity, journalist, and political and boardroom activist Stephen Mayne. His topic for discussion was ‘Why telling the truth is usually the best option’ exemplified with themes about transparency and accountability (note the term ‘usually’ in that header!).

As an activist Stephen points to the poor accountability of boards and puts pressure on companies to raise issues and affect change. Annual General Meetings are his weapon of choice for asking the ‘big’ questions. He calls one of his PR tactics.

Stephen set the stage with his presence as a former press secretary in Jeff Kennett’s media unit, a position that prompted his career as a governance activist and where he learned his first lesson:

‘Don’t pick fights with the media. They are thin skinned and they never forget.’

Stephen criticised the media today as sensationalist where negative stories, celebrity and sex sells. The focus is on being first out with news that is sensationalised beyond the credibility news deserves.

In 2000 he launched www.crikey.com.au, an independent ezine that aimed to put more information into the public domain to empower the public by giving them as much information as possible. ‘News’ is based on tips and information people send in and it is run as ‘from the source’ and not via journalistic editing. Of course this means a robust correction policy is in place. The aim is to generate online debate to end up with the facts.

Stephen greatly values traditional mainstream media and used the ABC and other radio networks to push and plug his cases/content on Crikey. He advises partnering with mainstream media and using it to hit a mass audience as the most effective way to operate.

Another tactic leveraged by Stephen was running for board election. There was a time when things were not looking good for the future of Crikey and Stephen needed to get his name out there and push traffic to the Crikey site. So he put himself forward to be elected to as many significant boards as possible.

And it worked. When you are up for board election your name and bio is sent to every member and stakeholder for each company and organisation. This meant Stephen and Crikey managed to get in front of hundreds of relevant people and his business was drawn out of the doldrums.

Today he is interviewed often and offers his commentary and research, news he generates himself such as ranking directors of boards using peer review. Stephen builds relationships with board members and asks them who they rank as the best/worst directors to get his result.

STEPHEN MAYNE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

‘Social media is overblown in terms of power. If anything matters it needs to have mainstream outplay and end in the mass media.’

These were his words which followed his description of Twitter as a one-way push out of information, a tool where he was yet to see a reaction and where he doesn’t see much engagement coming back.

But what he should have said was NO engagement coming back. Because I checked out his tweet stream and it is indeed all one way push from him with no engagement by him with any of his followers who don’t seem to tweet Stephen because he doesn’t tweet anyone else.

Before I continue I must emphasise and acknowledge his point about traditional mainstream media – it is indeed very powerful and relevant. Never underestimate the power of 10 seconds of TV or the front page of the newspaper.

But it is worth acknowledging when news from the online communities and social media is the content that makes it into the mainstream and when news breaks in the online space to audiences that equal or exceed those of traditional media.

I feel we must now look to where the online and the traditional cross-over and how they can work together, in sync to benefit the other medium.

So I asked him: do you think you’ve given social media a fair go? You said you don’t see much engagement on Twitter but you don’t engage any of your followers so how can you expect them to engage you?

Yes I was a bit scared to ask him this and his words about journos being thin skinned and never forgetting were in my mind when I approached him. But I’m glad I did. He was most affable and admitted himself to be a luddite when it comes to social media.

He also said, in a somewhat condescending manner, that it is more prolific for under 30s … I wanted to tell him the average age of social network users* is 37 but I kept my stats to myself.

I took this as my opportunity to push the case for the online community as a powerful community and resource where he would no doubt be able to gather support and advocacy for his own crusades, such as more women on boards.

Stephen described his role of playing in the upper echelons as ‘influencing the influencers’,  as if it were some kind of reason for not engaging the online space. So I explained the influence online communities are having when it comes to forcing change and making mainstream traditional news. I decided not to mention Obama but perhaps I should have?

I also asked if he knew what kind of push along the online community gives to his site, blogs or articles and he didn’t know.

Stephen expressed concern for the effects social media is having for journalists, specifically those who get information and data from Facebook, and citizen journalists. I wanted to hear more about these concerns but time was marching on. To his credit, Stephen did acknowledge the value of the online space for smaller, niche communities and the influence of social media for their decision making process.

MY THOUGHTS

There seems to be a disconnect between what Stephen has done/is doing/stands for and his views of the value of social media, something else I bitched out of asking raised with him.

For starters Crikey is an online news portal, its existence enabled by its online community and following. And now the Mayne Report is an online resource. The content is there for the social media using! Yes he has a strong presence in traditional media but I can’t help feel he would be pleasantly surprised at the level of noise he may be able to generate in the online space if he were to get in there, participate and engage at the grassroots level, his potential online following. So I told him that too.

Something else that baffled me: Stephen strives to achieve greater transparency and accountability from big corporates and ‘closed’ companies and organisations. This is often the same goal for online communities using the power of social media to publicly voice their concerns, raise debate and gain support. It is part of the proverbial ‘rules of engagement’. And companies and organisations that achieve this are rewarded with teams of their very own brand advocates.

The very nature of social media revolves around transparency, accountability and empowerment from sharing knowledge and information.

And here’s something I didn’t ask: are you deploying the very tactics you evade when it comes to avoiding the ‘tough’ questions? By not fully engaging the online community, is there an underlying fear of what they might say/do/cause for you? In the same way as board members and politicians try and evade your questions? Why are you not embracing the potential power of the people you’re crusading for?

Not sure if I cut through with any of my activism for new communications but I did manage to get the parkyoung business card into his jacket pocket (he put it there, not me!) and also revive his faded connection with my boss.

So, is this engaging enough for him, do you think?

*thanks for the stat Brian Solis