Four ways to get your client mentioned and one to get yourself in trouble

This post was inspired by one written by Kevin Dugan on my favorite blog.

There really isn’t anything that can be done when it comes to getting your client mentioned in a story.

Journalists have their own agenda: get people to read their story. They want it to be original, informative, funny, emotional, heartfelt-anything that will make readers continue to the jump page. If your client isn’t the most important part of that story or they don’t play in to where they’ll fit, they might just get left behind and that could mean your job.

But here are a few things you can do to increase your clients chances at a leading role in a story, including one that is a sure way to be forgotten next time.

Make us a priority and we will pay you back

When you have an event coming up, a new product or any change in the company’s management, tell the people who matter first. Don’t tell the radio station, the college newspaper or even your dog. Plain and simple we want to know we are the most important and we want to be there for our viewers or readers by giving them the information first.

I wrote a story today about an organization that will go unmentioned that has no real concept of public relations. They called everyone they could think of. All those places they could think of didn’t include our 199,524 daily and 334,422 Sunday circulation newspaper.

We didn’t run their story for four months, holding on to it until some new information surfaced and until the organization understood who had priority. The story is running now, but maybe your client won’t be that lucky.

Make sure we at least know when you’re going to be unveiling something, even if we don’t get sole rights or priority when running it. We don’t want a surprise when we see the competitions piece just as much as you don’t want to be shocked when we don’t write the article about with your client.

Be prepared to talk to us

You wanted us to call, right? Then know what to say when we do.

You know journalists want info, but more importantly we want to talk to someone who is going to give us colorful quotes and memorable anecdotes. If the client is just giving us information, that’s not going to fly. We might attribute that information, if it can’t be found online (which isn’t likely) but we’d rather they just know what to say. It’s another win-win situation. The journalist won’t have to search out a different source and your client will be in the story.

As a journalist, I talk to a handful of people for each story but can only use the few who are most interesting and lend themselves to the hook of the piece-which my editor decides. My advice? Spend some time on media coaching. We don’t want the source to sound fake or rehearsed because that’s a sure sign they won’t be included, but the key is to have the right information and know what to expect in an interview and how to handle questions.

Don’t expect too much

Just because we interview your client and you spent lots of time and effort making sure they are front and center, doesn’t mean the story is going to be all about them. If the story really lies in some other aspect of the event, it’s the journalist’s job to report that.

Reporter taking notes

Even if we're taking notes, doesn't mean we're taking quotes.

For example, a few weeks ago I was working on a preview for an event. I interviewed someone who showed me around and introduced me to other sources. I ended up centering the entire story on someone he introduced me to as an afterthought, leaving the original main source to be secondary with one quote. He and his company weren’t happy because it was hosting the event and I didn’t mention it at all.

Writers try to think of the most creative way to tell a story, not how to fit your client in. Because of this, sometimes we determine your client might not necessarily be what audiences care about.

In a news story with a same-day turnaround, it’s likely that the source you provided will end up in the article along with the client’s name. But if it’s a feature story that has a few weeks to be written, this is when you should pay attention most. Features stories are longer and provide more space to fit your client into. The name will at least be dropped, but maybe the focus will be on something else entirely. Instead of marketing your brand or a particular person, try to sell the journalist an idea.

For example, if you are working for a charity or cause, instead of telling us about the event, tell us about the project. We will mention the charity, but maybe it’s about the work that’s actually being done that we want to write about.

Don’t overload us with information

If you think giving us tons of facts about your company or corporation, or coming to us with more and more sources after we’ve already talked with you is going to get your client more publicity, don’t bother.

Sometimes you can be offering us valid information, but most of the time we have enough. It’s our job to ask questions, and when we don’t get the right answers or think of something while writing, we will call you-trust me. We will call you more times than you (or we for that matter) want us to by the end of the process thanks to nitpicky editors.

If you do actually end up giving journalists tons of good stuff, the story risks losing focus. While it is your client and you know more than we ever will, follow our questioning and what piques our interest about the conversation and you will be able to tell where our story is headed. This will make it easier for you to offer up only the information we want and need.

Don’t EVER encourage us to do a great job for your client

There’s nothing that will bring us back to reality after you’ve swayed and awed us for the last hour than you saying you want us to help your effort, get the word out about the cause, get more people interested in your product, get more people to come to an event, [insert any PR or marketing objective here.]

When journalists hear those words, it brings them back to the real reason we suffer through countless deadlines, looming layoffs and ever-expanding work weeks: the truth.

Superman cartoon of Lois Lane

Journalists have bigger fish to fry.

When we graduated from J-school we had dreams of being reporters at metropolitan dailies or broadcasting on the station with the No. 1 market share. We didn’t go through all that education and work two jobs to get the experience we needed to be a concert promoter, a non-profit advocate, a product spokesperson or a cheerleader.

We’re not going to win a Pulitzer Prize for covering your product launch, campaign or bake sale but we do it because we know people in the community care. So we’ll finish this story and file it by deadline because we know it’s important to someone out there. But next time we are looking for a story, we’ll look for a source a little less patronizing who understands what it is we do.

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Finding the funds and assessing the value of PR

As I’ve pointed out in nearly all my blog posts, newspapers are a dying trend. When my assistant started working as a correspondent, she made $200 more than she does now, nearly four years later and numerous steps up the totem pole.

Now $200 dollars doesn’t seem like a lot to lose from a salary, but when you’re making pennies per hour, it does. Correspondents today don’t even get paid!

Our advisers have discussed making our staff an entirely volunteer one. But some people spend close to 40 hours per week in the newsroom between meetings, editing, planning and supervising.  While we don’t do what we do for the money, but rather the experience, it makes it difficult to live when you’re working full time for free.

The situation is no different at regular daily newspapers.

While reporters aren’t working for free, they are working for the same amount of money but are expected to do more. The Record-Courier in Ravenna has four full-time news reporters who cover news all over Portage County.  They can each write more than 50 stories every month and usually work six day a week.

Finding a solution

There are a few potential solutions to this problem. However those are also problems.

Advertising is a big problem. Instead of selling banner ads or rail ads that no one looks at, we should be selling them space that acts as content. For example, have a renter’s guide that allows the advertiser to update the page with new information daily if there are specials or announcements.

Another example could be a city guide where restaurants could update offers or have print-our coupons.

But when people aren’t coming to your website as I have mentioned is also an issue, do these ads even matter?

The only way to save these jobs is to get more exposure and more readers. That takes money.

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AFinding a reason

Some might ask why newspapers need public relations. When they are failing, why would they spend money on jobs they don’t understand, much less think they need. But while PR professionals cost money in the form of wages, their work costs us nothing.

PR professionals are prize communicators. They spread the word about the paper and they can be social media moguls. They have been taught in the ways of changing peoples attitudes and behaviors. All of this is priceless.

So the next time newspapers or magazine employees wonder why I stress the importance of PR as a journalist so much is because it is an invaluable asset that we couldn’t accomplish with the most well-written story or the juiciest breaking news.

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Finding the media in social media

When fires broke out on College Street last spring, student journalists sprung into action. Within minutes they’d gotten the scoop on what started the College Fest riots and shortly after, they updated the converged news website. That wasn’t the only thing they updated. That night alone, what was then the KentNewsNet Twitter feed gained more than 200 followers. Students wanted to know what was going on, who was getting arrested and why police were shooting pepper balls.

That’s when social media works best for a student audience. The breaking news situation created on College Fest provided a great opportunity for the student media staff to flex its social media muscles. Twitter allowed for direct communication with students who had questions about what was going on. In the days following the riots, reporters used YouTube to find sources for follow-up stories about students had posted their own videos to the site. Partiers submitted their own photos to be posted to KentNewsNet and shared their stories.

Social media has been a priority since. Granted, we don’t Tweet about everything the way we tweeted about College Fest, but we’re sure to consider social media with every story. Our Facebook Fan Page continues to be a source for news for those students who don’t regularly visit our news website. We Tweet headlines each day and continue to live Tweet breaking news stories. We’ve live blogged every football and basketball game for the past three years.

Drawing the line

Deciding what to tweet and when has always been an issue with both student media at Kent State and at local newspapers.

When there is so much pressure put on newspapers to be the first to get the news out. Twitter is a great way to do it, but jumpProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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g the gun is also a problem.

Once, KentNewsNet.com tweeted about someone overdosing in the dorms — that wasn’t the case. While it was true, the student had committed suicide, the facts weren’t completely there followers were not happy.

Most of the time, we don’t know what to tweet. If we tweet all the stories we post then our followers would just be bombarded. But at the same time, if we just tweet breaking news that 1.) Wouldn’t happen often and 2.) Would ruin our chances of being the ones to have the exclusive in the paper the next day. That itself leads to the question: Is it even possible to have an exclusive story anymore? Should we just start trying to scoop one another via Facebook and Twitter instead of the next day’s headlining story?

Finding the source

While deciding whether to delve into social media or not and the consequences of our choice, there are some great benefits to it for our stories.

Celebrities and public officials who have Facebook and Twitter pages who update them regularly can be great sources. They are difficult to get a hold of, but at the click of a button, we can have a quote form them.

Does that make us, as journalists, seem lazy? Is Twitter the Wikipedia to the social networking world as far as credibility is concerned?

Only time will tell. But for now, we’re going to keep trying to figure out what the heck it is we’re supposed to do with social media that represents an entire organization.

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Creating an Identity with Attitude

Last week, I gave a presentation for a public relations tactics class. It was a pitch to the class to get the students to support my client KentWired.com, the new converged student media Web site at Kent State University

Everyone in the room knew right away what Kent Wired was when I began my presentation by asking for a show of hands if they had visited the site—But my class was in Franklin Hall, the home of the school of Journalism and Mass Communication, and KentWired.com.

 Before giving the presentation, I set out to do research to find out what people liked and didn’t like about KentWired.com’s content. I ended up asking people who worked for the site with me because every random Kent State student I asked, had no idea what Kent Wired was.  

 Getting people to buy an actual paper is difficult enough thanks to the Internet and all its citizen journalists and free news. Despite web news’ popularity, add a new Web site to the aforementioned mix and it makes getting the news out seem downright impossible.

 Exploratory methods

 Kent Wired was launched the first day of the spring semester this January. It was created from KentNewsNet.com, the first-ever converged student media Web site that was composed of the Daily Kent Stater, TV2 and Black Squirrel Radio. 

There weren’t nearly as many people looking at KentNewsNet as we had hoped, and advisers were concerned that the Web site’s name was turning people-mainly students-off. Changing the name to Kent Wired and making the Web site more visual was the strategy we thought would lead to more viewers.

 We’ve planned events, given out free things and even hired a marketing team but nothing seems to be working.

 Can bringing PR and it’s mostly free methods of spreading the word be a saving grace for the misguided journalists trying to market a web site? 

We needed our audience to get to know us and realize we were fun — not just about news. Right now, we’re working on a “mocumentary” called “The Newsroom.” It is a twist on the popular show “The Office.” We are launching it on YouTube in the next few weeks, but will it be enough?

 Some other tactics we have planned include an event in Acorn Alley, free give-aways for signing up on the site and contests at sporting events. The question always is: will people actually come to KentWired.com or will they just take the free stuff and go?

Well, we can measure it by checking our daily hits, but that might not be enough. Our biggest problem isn’t hits, because we have our loyal readers. We simply want to be known on campus.

 Consumer attitudes

PR is all about changing not just attitudes but behavior. People can think all the great things they want about Kent Wired and all of campus can know about it, but if they aren’t logging on, what good is our exposure?

My colleagues and I passed out Kent Wired bottle openers and beer holders that will no doubt be used by at least a handful of people during this year’s College Fest. But, will those said students think to log on to KentWired.com for information when the riot police break up the party?

As journalists and advertisers, those who work in a newsroom can only do so much in between the work they do every day, which is why it’s vital to bring PR into the mix. I can come up with as many events and exposure possibilities as those who would work on the PR team, but realistically, I’m not ever going to act on my ideas despite my best intentions.

New concepts

I think bringing the marketing concept, the knowledge and passion of the journalists who work for the paper and the PR team together would be the best decision.

The ad department doesn’t seem to understand that selling ads online is gold mine. There is unlimited space and so much more can be done online. It seems to me selling an online ad that can be clicked on by users or updated by the creators with up-to-date information themselves would be easier than selling a stationary, black-and-white add in print. But instead, they continue to push for paper sales and wonder why our ad revenue has decreased by more than 30 percent in the last four years.

The marketing team consists of one paid marketing student, the Kent Wired adviser and volunteers. These volunteers consist of reporters and editors, myself included. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got tons of ideas to promote Kent Wired and I came into the new year hoping to use my PR knowledge to round out the mix, but with all my other jobs it just wasn’t possible to carry out all of my concepts.

The other volunteers are a lot like me, and any event that is proposed by the marketing director never seems to pan out thanks to lack of involvement from team members.

If the ad department would sell ads, they could afford to pay a few more marketing students, and an actual PR team. Even five or six people would help. 

But it won’t happen until we give Kent Wired the attitude it takes to stand on its own and its creators become more open minded to new concepts.

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Where do you belong? Finding a place in the newsroom

There really is no place for public relations in the newsroom.

I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t this blog about doing just that—getting the two to work together?” My answer is “absolutely”, but there should definitely be SOME lines drawn before bringing any new department into an office.

We will never be like you (even if we secretly want to)

This is where I have had trouble with my original concept of integrated convergence. Public relations promotes the product (our paper) — we aren’t ethically supposed to have an opinion about anything.

Journalists are all about being objective. When the PR department volunteers at an event to get the word out about the paper, the reporters can’t be there. Being a reporter means never attending functions or openly supporting a candidate or cause in the community you work and may live in. It sometimes means not cheering as your favorite team wins a big game you’re covering or fighting back the urge to ask for an autograph from a celebrity you’re interviewing.

A reporter’s work is testament to their objectiveness and ability to be informative and fair and to public relations a story is the best form of publicity—third party endorsement.

That’s where the problem comes into play. If a public relations firm is representing a client, those on the case always become the client’s best friend.

A journalist should never act cold or disinterested to their sources, but to the outside world, people shouldn’t know that you spent the first 10 minutes of an interview talking to governor about March Madness to ease him into a difficult conversation.

We will hate you at first

We will not understand what you do all day.

What are you getting paid for? Is it quantifiable like my story count? Said questions are brought up in work places all the time, but the PR versus journalism feud is a bit more complicated thanks to the lack of concrete definitions for what PR really means and what professionals in the field do.

PR professionals can hold many different titles: Event coordinator, media relations specialist, adviser, publicist, etc. In every organization these employees in the PR sector are given a different title, but are all under the PR umbrella. This can be confusing for journalists of all kinds. We are writers, broadcasters, editors, reporters, columnists, chiefs, etc. Maybe those things seem self-explanatory because our stories are viewed, read and heard throughout the world everyday, but PR work often goes unnoticed.

We will learn to play nice (and maybe even actually like you)

Working in a converged newsroom at Kent State is difficult enough and we’re all technically journalists. We’re still not used to the fact that journalism reaches beyond what we do as writers every day.

One of my favorite co-workers is a broadcast journalism major. While we all still make jokes at his expense on a daily basis, we will always invite him to lunch with us, so we can at least do it to his face.

This is no doubt how PR will get its shot in a news organization. It won’t be easy getting there though and it will take some endurance.

It’s worth the dramatics and feuds in the end when we all still have our jobs. Because once you get to know someone and care for them, it’s not about what their job title is, you just like having them there.

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The Trust Factor

“Trust, but verify.” –Ronald Reagan

Journalists trusting PR

Whenever I go to a press conference, I always allot extra time after to get in touch with someone who can speak on the issue at hand.

Public relations professionals are probably wondering why I would have to do something like that, especially when your team has provided the best possible sources for my convenience.

These sources are always exactly what a reporter faced with a large crowd dreams of finding. They are eloquent and don’t just answer “yes” or “no.” They relate closely to the topic and are almost always well-educated on it.

Just because this perfect person has been handed to us doesn’t mean we will always take advantage. This is simply because of trust.

We don’t trust that the person is the best for the story. Instead we treat them like used car salesman or lawyers—people who are out to take us for anything they can.

This may not be the mentality to have but we know that you have selected and prepared these sources, so we are just a little bit weary of the quality and usefulness of quotes we might get.

PR trusting journalists

In today’s New York Times, there were 10 corrections. The noteworthy newspaper has even had corrections of corrections.

Newspapers I’ve worked at don’t come close to those kinds of numbers or mix-ups. However it could have something to do with the nature of those papers.

When something is printed wrong in the Daily Kent Stater or the Record-Courier, not many people care to complain. They just laugh it off. But does that mean that they still think we’re credible? Probably not. Does that mean they’ll stop reading our paper? Probably not. Well, at least right away anyway.

Using the New York Times may not be the best example because there is about five times more information, if not more, than a small local or college newspaper. This may be why it’s so easy to find errors; or maybe because NYT is the most respectable newspaper in the country. That might make people complain for the simple fact that they expect them to be right more than they expect it from the Daily Kent Stater where students are learning.

Regardless, the question begs to be asked: Just how much can you trust journalists to get the facts straight?

I know in my last post I explained that sometimes it’s not always the reporter’s fault when the wrong information gets printed, but one can easily tell by the nature of the correction where the error was made. Unfortunately most of the time the error occurs in the reporting or researching process, but there are the times it is because the wrong information was reported to them that way or was in a quote (see this sports correction).

That isn’t just a problem for journalists who are fighting to sell papers and keep their jobs, but also those who rely on newspapers to spread the word about their products or events, aka media relations professionals.

Finding mutual respect

So the journalists are skeptical about sources hand-picked and prepped by PR advisers, but will their names even be spelled right when they are quoted.

Something must be done.

That could mean inviting interested parties to press conferences instead of inviting people who fit criteria and who have been overly briefed on the subject, so be it.

It may mean journlists asking twice how to spell a name or taking the extra two minutes to check online or make a phone call to clarify a fact they think they know off the top of their head.

It may be difficult for journalists at first to trust PR, but it shouldn’t be any stretch to ask reporters to triple check their facts.

PR professionals will actually have an easier job because they won’t have to lead an extensive search for a specific person who will make their client look good.

Either way, if the two professions ever were to come together they would have to gain respect for one another. But that respect can’t automatically be earned. Oppositely, it must be gained as well.

“When people honor each other, there is a trust established that leads to synergy, interdependence, and deep respect. Both parties make decisions and choices based on what is right, what is best, what is valued most highly.” –Blaine Lee

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Communicating During a Crisis

Recent natural disasters in Haiti and Chile illustrate how chaotic the scene of such events can be. There are families in mourning and people who need to be helped. There are also stories that need to be reported.

If bringing the military in to deal with looting and killing that has erupted after the earthquakes in Haiti wasn’t enough, fill the streets with volunteers to help the wounded and clear the ruble and imagine tents for media looking for any new information they can get.

For this scene to come to life, facts must be reported. PR professionals provide journalists with this information that will eventually spark thousands of stories and broadcasts across the world.

Reacting to a crisis

I have heard it before: The day after a story runs about a crisis, the initial problem is no longer the issue. Instead, it’s about the crisis PR team dealing with all the wrong information that was reported.

This is where my journalist side is going to have to show—It’s not just our fault. It really falls on the part of the PR firm just as much, if not more in some cases.

Anyone who even watches the nightly news or reads the daily paper should know that journalism is all about getting the facts into a project as quickly as possible. This can be difficult, especially in crisis situations where rumors are flying and assumptions and theories are made. As soon as someone makes a statement, usually from the PR camp or the client, reporters and their editors are ready to send it to the presses.

Wendy's Chili-sans the finger

March 22, 2005, a Las Vegas woman found a severed finger tip in her Wendy's chili. On April 26, 2005, it was discovered the woman had placed it there herself.

Exxon logo

An Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince Wiliam Sound in Alaska on March 23, 1989.

A crisis communications person might deal with a plane such as Flight 3407 that crashed in Buffalo; a finger in Wendy’s chili or an Exxon Valdez oil spill, it’s important to keep in mind that these situations are just as nerve-racking and hectic as those that have played out during natural                                                               disasters.

In public relations classes, we learned that each company has (or should have) a strategy in place in case a crisis occurs. Plans usually have a hierarchy of how information will be presented about the situation.

This is how PR firms generally rank publics:

1.)  Inform the family if it is a fatal crisis, inform top CEOs ofthe company involved

2.)  Create a press release, key message and appoint a spokesperson

3.)  Alert the news media, and begin an internal communications program

This is a reporter’s hierarchy of priorities when news of a crisis breaks:

1.)  Get any and all stories that can better inform the public about this event as soon as possible.

That’s why you should keep journalists in mind. As soon as someone makes a statement, especially in a press conference setting where they know they will be on the record, it will go to print. Comments may even be broadcast live on radio or TV where no fact checking can occur.

This was likely the case when there was a discrepancy about how much pilots on the doomed flight 3407, which killed 50 people, were paid. An official with the wrong information was casually answering questions from reporters when a way-too-low number was given as the co-pilots salary and the reports started from there.

Reporters questioned why someone who was so low on the pay scale and was barely awake because she had to work two jobs to supplement her income, should co-pilot a plane. The salary estimates were way off, but it was too late to clean up the mess by the time people had read all the media reports.

Part of the crisis strategy should be telling spokespeople that if they don’t know the answer—say so!

Dealing with a crisis

Once the crisis has been communicated, continue to keep media updated. In a high-profile situation, reporters are trained to stand for hours, even days and mill around the scene until something piques their interest for a story.

Make sure it’s the information you want audiences to know by providing as much to them as you can. I know it’s important to make your client seem to not be at fault and we would never expect you to say they were — even if it were the truth and we plan to expose it anyway. Just give us the facts and say you can’t reach a conclusion yet.

Once the crisis begins to clear up, you can always play up all the good things the company has done to remedy the situation.

Maybe we can make a game out of it. Who can uncover the possible cause of the oil spill or the plane crash first, journalist or crisis communications team?

Resolving a crisis

If the journalist wins, you’re going to have another crisis to deal with that you may or may not have been prepared for.

I know it’s not your job to tell the media everything, and it’s not our job to take a PR spokesperson’s word on everything.

Just don’t leave us standing on the scene for days trying to uncover things ourselves. This will save us time, and you a call or two when the story isn’t exactly what you had hoped for.

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