|No more fax machines . . .|
When I started in media relations in the early 1980s, things were pretty simple.
The media landscape was less cluttered. The only media I had to think about were newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. Nobody had heard of the Internet.
The news cycle was much slower. Nobody worried about covering things right this second. You had time to think about what you wanted to say.
Technology was simpler. We mailed press releases, and still got things to the media in time. If it was really urgent, we faxed it.
The audience wasn’t as fragmented as it is today. Almost everyone read a newspaper or listened to one of a few radio stations or watched the TV news. It was easy to reach lots of people with less effort.
Or, to put it another way, a long time ago there was a magazine called Life. Then came People, followed by Us. Today the most popular media channel is called Me.
These are huge changes. And change keeps happening. But some things have not changed in the world of media relations. This includes:
A nose for news.
How we send stories may have changed, but one thing that has not changed is knowing what makes for a good story.
You can be technologically savvy, but if you don’t send news to the media, your press releases won’t get used.
If you are not curious, you will not be a good media relations practitioner.
This is sometimes called “thinking like a journalist.” Journalists are among the most curious people on the planet, always wanting to know how things work, how it happened, what makes people tick.
You need to be like that, too, so you can find the kinds of stories that will attract the media’s attention.
I like to tell workshops I lead that I can teach you to write, but I can’t teach you to be curious. You can do the job if you aren’t curious, but you won’t do it well. Curiosity is what separates the great communicators from those who are just good at their jobs.
The ability to tell a story.
When you get right down to it, the essence of media relations is being able to crisply, cleanly and briefly explain the who, what, when, where and why about an issue, cause, product, even or person.
This can be done over the phone, in an e-mail, or during a conversation with a reporter. But it is most commonly done through a press release.
However it's done, it has to catch the media's interest. And to that, you need to give them a good story.
Building relationships with reporters.
When it comes to media relations, the most important thing is the story—if your story sucks, it doesn’t matter if the editor is your best friend.
That said, it’s important to get to know who’s who in the media. Which reporters are interested in your issue? Which media outlet is partial to your kind of stories? Which one is hungrier for news?
When reporters learn to know you as a source of good, valuable information, you can see an increase in media coverage. Your calls and e-mails are less likely to be ignored.
There have been a lot of changes in the world of media relations and communications. And there will be more changes to come. But some things have not changed for those who want to make the news.
As famed CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow put:
“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.”
Murrow said that in the 1960s. He was right then, and he's right now.