Making the most out of the media
Hornbeam recently held an insight lunch to discuss the best ways of approaching the media. It was good to share experiences, and whether you work with the media on a daily basis or less frequently, best practice remains the same.
I have worked with the media across a wide range of sectors, products and services for the past 25 years. Much has changed over that time, especially in terms of where consumers go for information, but one thing that remains unchanged and in fact has become more important over time, is that people want to gather information from sources they trust.
Marketing Week (1) says:
When an unaffiliated expert speaks positively about your brand, significant credibility is attained that is difficult to achieve in almost any other way.
When you launch a product or service, one of the keys to success is validating that your offering does what you say it does. It's common for brand managers to speak about features and benefits; however, when a third-party influencer speaks positively about your product or service, it validates it within the consumer marketplace. This endorsement can be utilised in all of your marketing materials, including, POS, packaging, advertising, etc.
One of the key benefits of gaining coverage, via any channel be it online or in print, is that it receives third-party endorsement. This article addresses journalists as key influencers, but there are many other influencers too, such as peers, celebrities, social media influencers, bloggers, and the list goes on.
Many would argue a positive write-up by a favourite journalist is far more influential than any paid-for advertisement, as the readers ‘trust’ the journalist as an independent source. According to Nielsen (2)
“only 33 percent of consumers trust for example, online advertisements.”
For you to be successful in communication with the media there are some fundamentals to put in place. It may sound basic but the first key questions to ask are:
What am I trying to achieve from my communications plan?
A higher profile personally?
Repositioning my company brand?
A change in public perception of my company?
Before you embark on the tactics, consider your objectives. You would be surprised how many companies want to promote a conference, sponsor the favourite sport of the managing director, or hold a press briefing before they really consider the ‘why’?
It may be worth considering appointing a media ambassador within the company to question your proposed story – a new colour for your packaging, or a reorganisation of your sales team, may be big news to you, but won’t necessarily excite any external audiences. Before you get started, make sure you have a story, and if what you want to say doesn’t have one in its current form, brainstorm ideas on how you can bring it to life.
Consider the different types of media you want to target, broadcast, print and online such as:
And within the publications consider the different sections available such as:
Some publications you can approach in advance to find out their planned topics and features so that you can supply relevant, tailored information in good time to be included in that edition.
If a news story hits the headlines, which you think is relevant to your company or your product, you can proactively seek to comment or offer a spokesperson.
For example, when it was announced that Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment, was going to extend public access in the countryside, we approached BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to offer our MD Rebecca Dawson, a trustee of the Ramblers, to comment. Rebecca went into the studio and was interviewed about her thoughts on the new legislation, but was also able to promote Hornbeam, and talk about some of our clients and their links to the countryside.
The key point here is that one story does not fit all. Do your research, decide which types of media would work best for you and read the different sections. Nothing irritates a journalist more than being rung up about a story that is irrelevant to their section. On the flip side of this, if you mention other articles you have read that the journalist has written, and explain why you think your story would work well, this is generally very well received, as like all of us, we like to feel our work is appreciated.
Once you have identified your key targets, your communications should be tailored accordingly.
Do you have a news story, do you want to be included within an existing feature, or are you looking to achieve some profile raising for new or senior personnel? Match what you are trying to sell-in to the requirements of the publication/ journalist you are approaching. Find out their deadlines and avoid contacting them at that time.
Good imagery also helps, particularly with lifestyle media – no one wants to look at a person standing at a podium with the backs people’s heads in the photograph. A good photographer can bring energy, and tell a story through pictures; again, it’s worth thinking what you are trying to communicate in advance. Some of the best headline-grabbing stories are supported with great images.
The guests at our recent lunch backed this theory by recalling memorable news stories and the images that accompanied them. Examples were given of the Twin Towers after 9/11, and the ‘starving girl’ of Yemen whose image appeared in the New York Times symbolising her country’s desperate plight.
Most of the time we are trying to gain coverage in targeted media channels, but sometimes, if a negative news story breaks, we aim to keep our products and companies out of the media.
Before committing to be interviewed on a radio or television programme, be prepared to ask some searching questions, who else will be on the programme and quiz the researcher about the kind of questions that will be covered. You can then decide whether you feel it is appropriate to take the hot-seat.
All companies should have a crisis management plan in place in case something goes wrong, which includes internal and external communication. Make sure that there is an identified person within the company, or externally, who is responsible for communicating with the media and that everyone in the company knows whom the person is, particularly those who usually answer the telephone. Journalists will often ask for a comment from the company when they call and you need to make sure that the person who comments is equipped to do so.