Like most of life, media relations – also called publicity or earned media – has grown more complex in recent years. The good news is that this activity has become more scientific and focused over time. And media relations is still extremely important to public communication despite the decline of the newsroom everywhere. Since there are fewer opportunity to get media coverage now, you should ensure you engage in strategic media relations campaigns that directly support your organizational mission and goals.
Media relations or publicity are the terms for activities that involve liaising directly with the people who are responsible for producing the news and features in the traditional print, radio or television news media. The goal of media relations activity is to maximize positive coverage in mass media outlets without paying for it directly through advertising.
The challenges of liaising with the media are in knowing what the media want, and in helping them to present images, ideas and information accurately and fairly. The news media can’t be controlled – they have the ultimate control over whether the news angle you put to them is of interest to them, and in turn, to their audience. Therefore, you need to make the most of your opportunities, and ensure you have a strategic purpose for your media relations activities, not just an ad hoc approach.
Earned media enters the PR scene
US consultant Gini Dietrich developed the PESO model of media coverage, which includes digital communication channels. She is very accomplished and energetic as the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, and the lead blogger at the Spin Sucks website.
Image: Spin Sucks.
The PESO model merges the four media types — paid, earned, shared and owned — together for an integrated and measurable strategic media relations campaigns
- Paid Media. Paid media for a PR program is social media advertising, sponsored content and email marketing. It doesn’t refer to big, fancy commercials and highly creative print ads.
- Earned Media. Earned media is what you know as either publicity or media relations. It’s getting your name in print. It’s having a newspaper or trade publication write about you. It’s appearing on the noon TV or radio news to talk about your organization, its actions, or its products. It’s what the PR industry is typically known for, because it’s one of the few tangible things done.
- Shared Media. Shared media is also known as social media. It’s evolving as well, and continues to build beyond just marketing or customer service teams using it. Organizations have begun to use it as their main source of communications internally and externally. It includes social networking, community, partnerships, distribution and promotion.
- Owned Media. Owned media is otherwise known as content. It is something you own, and it lives on your website or blog/newsletter. You control the messaging and tell the story in a way you want it told.
When you integrate the four media types, you may find you also have influencer engagement, partnerships, and incentive programs that extend beyond your internal walls.
Earned media has earned its name because we have to earn coverage on the merits of the news value or interest it contains. Earned media is the most credible form of media because it has third party validation. In giving coverage, the journalist or broadcaster or television presenter is in effect giving their support to the item of news.
Four elements of media relations
Gini Dietrich believes media relations has 4 elements:
- Awareness. How it fits into lead generation.
- Search engine optimization (SEO). This SEO involves working with journalists and influential bloggers to build ethical links to your website. This kind of SEO helps to build up your search results and domain authority.
- Lead generation. Your efforts to drive qualified leads to your website so you can show PR is an investment, not an expense. Lead generation can be related more directly to sales, than mere media coverage.
- Measurement. Showing that media relations is an investment that generates ROI for your company or client – and therefore is not just an expense.
Further PESO information
Advantages of news coverage over advertising
The two main advantages of news coverage over advertising are:
- There is more credibility in positive news coverage than with paid advertising due to the implied third-party endorsement of the journalist or quoted person.
- The cost of coverage in the news media is substantially lower than the cost of advertising. The cost is mostly in the time taken for an inhouse PR staffer to research and write stories, plus seek approval for a draft and decide on the publicity strategy and select the distribution of the material as a media release – or appoint a consultant to do this.
The media are fundamentally in the business of sales. They sell their audiences to their advertisers and program sponsors as potential buyers of their products and services.
Newspapers package the news into the blank spaces that are left after the advertisements have been placed. They want the news material you supply them to be sufficiently interesting to help them increase their circulation. They stand to gain financially from the price paid by the people who buy their newspaper as well as from the advertisers who have bought space.
Television, radio and news websites use news as a drawcard to attract a bigger audience. In turn, this makes them more attractive to potential advertisers and program sponsors than alternatives.
Obtaining news media coverage is not easy. There is a lot of competition for the media’s limited space and air time. And at the same time the number of journalists employed is plunging everywhere. As shown in the above image, newsroom employment declined 23% from 2008 and 2019. Therefore, your media relations role is to make the task of covering your issues and your organization as easy and attractive for the media as possible. It is a percentage game: you do the things to maximize the possibility of creating news interest in your issue, product or organization. And one of your priorities is to understand which media are most relevant to your business, and who their relevant reporters are. Therefore, you can decide the best individuals to build a relationship with. This is the subject of other articles.
Aim of publicity
The aim of publicity is to make something or somebody known through the media. Publicity is a strong but not overwhelming influence – it doesn’t sell products, raise funds or win elections. But it can convey ideas and information that can shade (frame) people’s interpretation of what they see, read or hear – and therefore it can influence opinions.
More often, publicity can set an agenda of issues for discussion rather than change attitudes or behavior because people don’t change easily from their existing attitudes and behavior.
Positive publicity, through the implied third-party endorsement of the journalist or a quoted source, can strengthen the credibility of your organization. The credibility-building role of publicity helps your organization to strengthen its customer and employee relationships.
In an era of increased accountability, more managers are beginning to understand the interrelationship between effective media relations, good corporate reputation and sales performance – especially with the development of the PESO model. They recognize that good media relations activity can get your target audience to accurately perceive your organization’s policy or performance.
Media activity should be part of a larger business plan, with every communication directed at a specific audience. This, of course, requires a clear understanding of your organization’s mission, including its sales and marketing objectives. This will enable you to develop a strategic purpose for your media relations campaigns. The following factors also shape the media relations function:
- Type of organization
- Whether your organization is from the public or the private sector
- Potential media interest in your products and services
- Potential media and investor interest in your corporate performance
- Your senior management’s expectations of the media relations role.
Too often, communicators try to create good news coverage for the sake of creating good news coverage just for its own sake, without any real thought about the strategic potential of the news coverage. There is no doubt that for you to be successful with these activities you need to develop strategic media relations campaigns rather than chasing ad hoc media coverage. The Muck Rack website for journalists runs a monthly segment on some of the worst PR pitches for individual reporters to nominate, as this example, below:.
Above image: Some sarcasm from this reporter in response to a disastrous PR pitch. Source – Muck Rack.
‘Spray and pray’ media pitching tactics just won’t work – you need to focus on the most suitable journalists to approach.
Above image: Muck Rack survey, 2020.
Above image: Muck Rack State of Journalism survey 2019.
Best-practice media relations activity involves a clear, strategic link to your organizational mission and goals. Essentially, this means you should have a strategic purpose for all your media relations activities. Key elements of strategically based media relations are:
- Your media strategy is documented and implemented according to principles agreed between public affairs and senior management.
- A media policy is drawn up with responsibilities, profiles and positioning as defined and agreed between public affairs and senior management.
- Media activity is planned to reach target audiences in direct support of your organizational mission and goals.
- Media contact is broadly divided into proactive (planned) and reactive (opportunistic and defensive) activities.
- Systematic use of consistent messages is made (eg. about organizational performance, issues, use of new technologies and corporate behavior including environmental policy, corporate governance and corporate social responsibility);
- Spokespersons’ roles are documented, communicated and supported (training, advice, background information).
- There are clear triggers for engagement as part of the issues management/stakeholder relations process.
- Decisions are agreed beforehand on the follow-up activities after media coverage (interview, survey, discussions with key opinion leaders).
Some further thoughts
You can read some further advice on media relations activities in my article, “Tips on writing an engaging media release.” This supports the fact that strategic media relations activities are vital for successful results of communication campaigns.