Seeking publicity is a percentage game – a matter of providing the media with the information you wish to convey in a win:win:win way – a way that benefits you, the media outlet and your target audience. This article explains how to generate street-smart publicity.
As a communicator, another way to look at the media is to consider yourself a wholesaler of news. You prepare and package the news commodity for the media, which are retailers. They rework your material into a form that they feel they can best sell to their customers – their readers or viewers. As a wholesaler, you depend on the marketing competence of the retailers. The best you can do is to make it as easy as possible for the media to sell your material to their audience. This is a good mindset to adopt when you set out to generate ‘street-smart’ public
Contact your key audiences directly if you can
When you supply information to the media, don’t forget that the traditional media are only an indirect avenue, a conduit, for you to reach the people you really need to communicate with – your customers and your staff in particular. However, if you are able to communicate directly with your key audiences, do it. This saves all the angst from having to go through the traditional news media, in which we are totally at the mercy of the journalists of the day.
Reaching out directly to digital audiences
When you plan to reach out directly to digital audiences, Hootsuite say you should:
- 1. Know your audience. Before joining a new social media platform, you need to find out where your potential audience is, and go to them where they already go.
- 2. Understand how your audience is using that platform. What type of content are they looking for? Which types of accounts do they follow? Are they passive consumers or content creators?
- 3. Align to your business goals. Which platforms best match your business goals best? For example, if one of your goals is to increase awareness about a new product or service that would benefit consumers by showing video tutorials, you should focus on video-only platforms, like YouTube and Vimeo, or video formats available on the sites you’re already active on, like Instagram Stories and Reels, Facebook Live, etc.).
Channels through which you can directly contact your audiences include newsletters, news websites, blogs and all the main social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and TikTok.
In addition, you can use social audio platforms and formats like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify, in which you can:
- Host industry panels.
- Broadcast news and big announcements.
- Host interactive sessions (such as AMAs) with your audience.
- Record interviews during a live Clubhouse/Twitter Spaces chat and upload them as a podcast (example: The Social Media Geekout show).
- Build your business’ thought leadership through a 30-60 minute show.
Video social media platforms and formats enable you to use, for example, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram Stories and Reels, Facebook Watch
for watching videos in short and long formats.
Plenty of options to generate street-smart’ publicity’!
Email contact effective
Since you already know your opt-in customers and your staff, the most efficient way to reach them is direct contact through email. Therefore, build your database lists of customers and staff well in advance of any public announcement so that you can alert them directly of your news. But first get their permission for you to add them to your list. Privacy laws require organizations to allow people in their target list to opt-in rather than just be added in without their knowledge or permission.
You may also be able to establish an email list of potential customers. Try to list them separately from existing customers so that in the future you can contact them as a specifically segmented group. Don’t forget to update the email list continuously. Get someone who is reasonably smart to do the updating. The problem with most lists is that any updating work is usually delegated to the most junior person in the place – and then you find they have made all sorts of basic mistakes with the contact details. Those mistakes are disastrous because people hate it when they receive emails with their name incorrectly spelt plus mistakes with other aspects.
Owned media are a powerful avenue to reach target audiences
Of course, owned media options are powerful as well. As well as using email, you can inform people of news and information via your website, Facebook page, blogs, text messages and Twitter feed, etc.
Journalists are always complaining about the unprofessional behavior of PR people. Tales abound of PR people doing silly things in their media contact, and then they complain that it is difficult to get good media coverage. Some of my other articles in the media relations section offer good advice about dealing professionally with journalists. You can also read the monthly exposes of PR blunders in pitching stories to media in the Muck Rack website and the Muck Rack daily newsletter/blog, which contains their column, “This month in bad PR pitches.”
Be available all the time!
Journalists complain that PR people squander opportunities handed to them on a plate. They talk about PR practitioners who set up an interview, but fail to check first that the executive to be interviewed is actually available. They talk of media officers who fail to return calls or who return calls only after the journalist’s deadline. And there are the PR staff who aren’t available after hours – at the very time journalists need to urgently check facts close to deadline time. This problem applies especially to international companies that only allow contact from the media to head office, which is in a different time zone.
When a reporter may seek further information, some PR people don’t bother to follow up the question for them – they just ignore the request. Some online newsrooms make it compulsory for reporters to register before they can access the content, when all the reporter wants is something minor like a contact phone number. Some online newsrooms don’t make phone numbers of media officers available – they just provide an email number. How useful is that as a deadline looms? Hardly a way to help generate street-smart publicity.
I vividly recall finding a company announcing on www.prnewswire.com that its annual meeting would be held on Good Friday! I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt – it may have been sloppy scheduling rather than a ploy to hide from the media.
Don’t waste journalists’ time
Despite the growing presence of web news sites, traditional media still reach a lot of people and need to be approached in a professional way. The first consideration is to ensure your news angle actually has news content. How to do that is the subject of another article.
However, assuming your idea has news merit, target the news media – don’t just spray your release indiscriminately via www.prnewswire.com to hundreds of news media who immediately throw them out because your item is irrelevant to 99% of them. Perhaps you find comfort in being able to tell your management that you have sent your release to hundreds of outlets, but this is no excuse for indiscriminately wasting journalists’ time. Unless you use your common sense, you won’t be able to generate street-smart publicity.
Do your homework
Image: Muck Rack State of Journalism report, 2020.
If you are seeking coverage in a particular news outlet, do your homework first. If it is a newspaper, read at least several issues so that you understand its stance towards news. The same with television programs – at least watch the program in question so that you understand their priorities and can pitch your creative idea so that it fits the style and format of the program. Ideally, in this background work on news items, you will find the name of a relevant reporter who you can try to contact directly by phone or email. This is a successful way to generate street-smart publicity.
Many PR people allow themselves to be manipulated by marketers into using the same product jargon in news releases that has been used in marketing material. The problem is that much of the marketing jargon is unintelligible or uses the same clichés used by other companies.
Here are some examples of media release rubbish received by David Meerman Scott, an online writer:
“…provides the most complete toolset to deliver interactive video experiences to global audiences using its content delivery network…”
“…a leading global developer and provider of performance-based marketing and commerce enabling services…”
“…provider of appliance-based URL filtering, web-use reporting, IM and P2P control and bandwidth”
A quick look at www.prnewswire.com on any day will reveal a multitude of news releases that don’t contain news, that contain unintelligible jargon or have been vetted by lawyers to the point that they contain nothing useful. I suggest you spend some time reviewing the home page of prnewswire regularly because much of the material is an object lesson in the things to avoid doing!
Instead, the news releases should be written in understandable English with a worthwhile news element. And you should be relentlessly insisting that marketing material contain understandable descriptions of the products being promoted, particularly descriptions of product uses and benefits rather than the product features.
A useful source of information on this topic is my article, “Create more ideas for publicity campaigns.”
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.