In lieu of a relationship, reporters want three basic things:
A. what they (not clients) consider a good idea for a news or feature story;
B. instant access to quotable experts while they are working on a story; and
C. someone to do their homework/legwork for them.
Meet any two of these conditions, and you will obtain media exposure for your clients. Continue to meet any two of these conditions, and you will have journalists coming to you.
On occasion, it's not difficult to meet Condition A. Sometimes companies actually have news in their news releases. A real estate client recently sold an out-of-town property for an impressive sum. The client naturally would not disclose the sale amount in the news release.
No problem. Since the price was virtually the same as a sale that took place about six months earlier and was a matter of public record, I made sure that every reporter I contacted knew the earlier sale amount. I satisfied the first and third conditions and obtained coverage in three dailies.
Unable to meet Condition A? The next best way to gain media exposure is to offer a top company executive an expert spokesperson.
Condition B can be a quagmire, however. Most business executives are woefully ignorant about trends in their industries and shy away from potentially controversial big-picture issues. They are also inarticulate and unaccustomed to fielding penetrating questions. Specific training in how to handle interviews can be helpful, but it goes only so far.
Aloof executives who do not have any insights or opinions simply should not be paraded to reporters as interview candidates. Their lackluster performances will do their companies more harm than good, and they undermine the PR person's credibility.
Although clients may not know much about their industries, that doesn't stop PR people from doing some research, finding experts who do, and then pointing journalists in the right direction. This is meeting Condition C. Make a reporter's life easier and get favors in return.
I once gave the web addresses of a client's two major competitors to an editor who asked me for them. It saved him a great deal of time and aggravation researching an important trend that was new to him and that he needed to get up to speed on quickly.
My client most likely would have been angry had she known what I did. Instead, she was delighted when her company was prominently quoted in a cover story of a major trade magazine read by her ideal target audience. The editor never would have run a cover story solely on my client, so I did some horse-trading.
Really good high-level dealings with the media are a lot like sausages. It's best not to reveal everything that goes into them. It also helps to think like a reporter instead of a businessperson. Above all, spare the journalist the company line and just get down to how you and your client can help the person at the other end do his or her job better.
About the Author:
A business journalist for more than 30 years, Candace Talmadge is a writing and communications consultant based in Lancaster, Texas. She has helped her clients obtain media exposure in numerous outlets, without ever "doing lunch."
Have a question for the author? Write her at email@example.com.