Media Layoffs and the Future of Public Relations

medialayoffs

Guest Post by Sangeetha Sarma, Account Supervisor at Vanguard Communications in Washington, D.C.

More than 1,000 journalists lost their jobs recently as Verizon Media, BuzzFeed and Gannett announced deep cuts to their newsrooms. HuffPost’s entire Opinion section. Cut. The national desk at BuzzFeed. Cut. Dozens of local journalists at Gannett newspapers across the country. Gone.

It’s a blow to journalism and a shame for the reporters who lost their jobs. While this round of layoffs is the latest in a trend of newsrooms scaling back and realigning their structures to stay in business, it likely won’t be the last.

The effects of these layoffs and this evolving media landscape have an undeniable impact on public relations. And as newsrooms adapt to stay in the game, communications professionals, especially those in media relations, should do the same.

Here are a few tips to navigate these inevitable changes and set yourself and your clients up for long-term success:

Emphasize quality over quantity.

It’s not how many reporters you can send a release to — it’s who you know. (By the way, if you’re still sending a bunch of press releases, stop!) Identify a few outlets that reach your primary audience and focus on developing relationships with reporters covering your issue at those outlets. Three reporters who consistently answer your emails and calls are far more useful than 300 reporters who never respond to your releases.

Foster new relationships.

Now is the time to develop relationships with new reporters who may start pulling double duty to cover a wider range of beats. It’s also the time to consider media outlets and types of media (such as podcasts and smaller trades) you haven’t previously pitched.

Step up your Twitter tracking.

If you have existing relationships with reporters who got laid off or who were key players covering your issue, track them on Twitter. They may get hired at another outlet, and just like that, you have a contact at a new media outlet that you may not have had before.

Expand your communications strategy.

While media relations will always be an important part of PR, it cannot and should not be your only method of communication. Start expanding your communications strategy to include different digital platforms, partnership development and potentially conference attendance. A good communications plan should include multiple channels for conveying your message to your audiences.

Set realistic expectations of success.

Everyone wants a story in The New York Times or one that gets picked up by every major outlet. But, now more than ever, it’s important to manage expectations and set realistic measurable objectives. For example: Aim for developing at least two strong relationships with reporters in outlets that reach your audience, step up your trade media relationships, and track the quality of your hits instead of quantity.

Finally, if you know a reporter who has lost their job, reach out to them. Ask how they’re doing and how you can help.

Public relations can’t survive without media. And the best journalists know that publicists with integrity add tremendous value to their stories. Applying these strategies will enable you to continue to thrive in your career and bring value to your organization or client, even in the face of an uncertain media landscape.

 

 

 

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Client on a Roll? Help Them Slow It.

I’m talking about a spokesperson being on a roll during a press interview with relevant and tangible information being rapid-fire peppered at a reporter.  Most people in leadership and subject matter experts can talk for days on their given topics, right?

That, however, doesn’t mean that they should.  In fact, it’s often counterproductive and doesn’t allow for a natural back and forth in the interview process.  As public relations pros, we need to prepare spokespeople for media interviews.

I recently interviewed a CIO for a freelance article I was writing. While he was knowledgeable and well-spoken, he truly never stopped talking.  I was struggling to keep up and capture the good points he was making in quote form.

I even asked him to slow down and repeat a key point, which he then couldn’t remember.  Not only did he not slow down his pace of speech, he also kept shooting words out fire-hose style which only made the exchange more difficult and annoying.

Effective spokespersons are true story tellers who are adept at speaking in sound-byte form – leaving time for the reporter to take good notes and either follow up or move on to their next question.  All of this takes practice AND preparation – as well as timely reminders from PR folks like us.

Not every client wants or even needs full-scale media training. If you are the one prepping a spokesperson then you can showcase your added value by some quick, ad-hoc interview prep reminders prior to an interview so they are top of mind.

Agree to get the client on the line about 10 minutes before the interview and first do a quick review of talking points and pivots for possible tough questions.  Then set them at ease and get their media “game face” on by reminding them they need to be as human as possible to maximize this opportunity for good exposure.

Basic interview tips to share:

  • Talk much slower than normal – if it sounds unnatural or strange, you’re doing it right.
  • Try to speak in three sentence increments when answering questions.
  • It helps to repeat the question to buy time to formulate a strong and concise response.
  • REMINDER: dead air is ok and don’t feel obliged to keep talking just because there is silence.
  • Avoid language like, “First of all” or “As you know…”
  • Steer clear of industry jargon and acronyms.
  • DO NOT add a new thought if a reporter asks, “Is there anything else to add?” Either emphasize your most important point or you’re all done!

If you are on the phone staffing the interview, you want to remain on the sidelines as best you can. You can interject at the end if there is something you think needs clarifying or defining if some jargon creeps into the discussion.

Securing the interview is the hard part but prepping the source so they can shine in the process is crucial to actually generating positive coverage – the ultimate goal.

By Scott Frank, President, ARGO Communications and former Senior Director, Media Relations for the American Institute of Architects

Communications Can’t Cure the Current Chaos

Reflections on a thought leadership event.

by Samantha Villegas
Samantha Villegas, APR, is President of SaVi PR, and currently serves on the PRSA National Board of Directors. She was the 2013 president of the National Capital Chapter.

I don’t know about you but as a communicator, my optimism is at an all-time low, and my cynicism is at an all-time high. Though fake news (or lies or propaganda or whatever phrase you prefer) is nothing new, it’s now being created and disseminated at rates and volumes beyond what we’ve ever experienced before. And thanks to today’s sharing technology, it proliferates at warp speed. Couple this with the apparent loss of respect for facts and science – scientific method and critical thinking – and what is a professional communicator to do? It seems we can’t win for trying.

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Courtesy: Pexels/Stokpic

The science, data, and peer-reviewed study behind such important issues as climate change, vaccinations, and gun violence, for example, is indisputable, and yet, here we are, every day, forced to engage in insidious conversations about whether sea levels have risen or fallen (they’ve risen); whether vaccinations cause autism (they don’t) and whether having more guns and easier access to them makes us safer (they don’t). Each one of those facts, whether someone likes them or not, can be definitively defended, because there is ample data, peer-reviewed studies and science to back them. I know them like I know hot food will burn my tongue and the sun will rise tomorrow morning. Despite that, people are disputing them, with points that are irrelevant, not fact-based or just wrong. And they dig in and stay put.

The scariest part is this behavior is not confined to a small group of naysayers or even only the uneducated. This behavior can be seen in Ivy League graduates, serving in some of our country’s highest leadership positions, who are using it as a tool to push political agendas. It’s used by leaders in business and government to relax regulations that were grounded in science and put in place to protect public health, just so they can pad profit. This adherence to misinformation and disinformation, whether involuntary due to ignorance or purposeful for politics, comes with tremendous consequences. It has me feeling a bit paralyzed, frankly, as if the only firm ground I’ve ever known has suddenly crumbled away.

So I was glad to have the chance, recently, to attend a panel discussion about fake news and its impact on journalism and the public relations profession. A lot of agreement on the state of things, and very sound advice for dealing with our new normal was offered, such as:

  • Use non-confrontational language, even when challenging those who present ideas based on false premises
  • Be advocates for teaching the next generation critical thinking skills, how to interpret, analyze and evaluate information
  • Invest in market research to understand your audience’s wants
  • Speak plainly and in an authentic voice
  • Don’t jump in without first understanding context and having a strategy
  • Keep messages short
  • Build partnerships and alliances rather than challenge misinformation, disinformation, lies and false “facts” alone
  • Be vigilant in advocating for truth in communications

This is all, undeniably great advice. But here’s the thing: all those bullets apply to any communications professional at any time in history. All of this represents some of the very basics of savvy communications. Granted, not all of us can practice all of this all of the time. Budgets get in the way of conducting meaningful research. Deadlines prevent us from building the critical partnerships. And sometimes, the arrogance of a decision-maker stops us from being able to say the exact right thing in the exact right way we should. I get it, we can’t always be on our game. But, if most of us are doing most of this, most of the time, how is this chaos still happening?

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Courtesy: Gratisography/Ryan McGuire

Someone on the panel said truth is now a differentiator. Truth, as a differentiator. Let that sink in for a second. On the one hand, I can’t contain my sheer despondence if that’s the case. And two, at a time when facts don’t matter and he who lies best wins, how does truth set you apart, let alone set you free? Whose truth? Which truth?

Fellow communicators, we’re facing the challenge of our careers right now. I don’t have any easy answers for you. Of course we must follow the panelists’ advice, as I hope you always have been. We shall endeavor to seek first to understand before being understood. We shall strategize first and write truthful pithy copy in snack sized bites, and we shall seek common ground and partnership with different minded but similarly missioned (or is it similarly minded but different missioned?) groups. We shall continue to do as I think we have all been endeavoring to do, with added vigor and purpose.

But please forgive me if I tell you that I don’t believe these approaches will cure what ails us.  So while I am grateful for the sage reminders, I don’t think these issues – this lack of critical thinking, self-control, or basic understanding of science, can be fixed by upping our communications game. We need to stay focused and bring our best every day, but I think we just need to let this stink bomb dissipate.

As one colleague put it so well, “The flames of emotion are being fanned at such an alarming rate that I have no sense of how to encourage critical thinking in so many people who form opinions about policy and events from tweets.”

Another I spoke to about this said she “fear[s] for what happens when too many among our citizens fail to reason rationally and logically, and fail to think independently,” and I couldn’t agree more.

So, we must do all these things the panel said. Do your best work. And bide your time, because we can’t change crazy but we can outlast it. I predict that in a few years, after another election cycle or two, we will look back at this and shake our heads. We may even get a chuckle. We will have volumes of remember whens and memes and footnotes and stories. And we will snap back to reality, where facts are facts, truth is truth, lies are lies, and love is love. At least I hope that’s what will happen. See you on the other side.

Michael Smart delivered a solid repeat performance on June 29 of his two half-day workshops: Pitching Bootcamp and Building Media Relationships

Session One – Pitching Bootcamp: by Ana Pinilla, BusinessWire

Michael SmartThe Morning Session “Pitching Bootcamp” started with Michael talking about the problems PR practitioners can encounter when pitching journalists and went on to offer his “pitching playbook” where he discussed several examples of how to do it right – starting off with turning a press release from boring to glowing – making it into something newsworthy that journalists will want to use as part of their reporting.  It’s also about finding the angle for the story – one that could be holiday or seasonally related, a story with human impact, or even proximity to where we live and work, as well as other ideas. Michael went on to discuss the anatomy of a perfect pitch that included appropriate phone and/or email introductions and how to deliver the story with speed and interest. But with all this being said, success also depends on knowing the journalists – what they write about and knowing their style. What was particularly helpful was that Michael provided audio and video examples of pitches – with lots of do’s and don’ts – that made it all so much easier and real to attendees.

 

Session Two – Going Beyond the Pitch: Why Relationship Building Matters: by , News Generation

Michael SmartAs PR pros, we know the importance of building and strengthening our relationships with reporters. This was the focus of PRSA-NCC’s recent series of workshops with media relations expert Michael Smart. During the workshops, Smart offered participants hands-on, practical tips and social media suggestions on how to engage and build relationships with members of the media.

The most important theme he stressed is that you must invest in your relationships with the media. Invest the time and brain space. It is a critical component of your job and helps us be more effective at what we do.

Also, pay attention to what journalists are covering. Engage with their material. Show them that you are following them, that you genuinely care about what they’re reporting. Doing so will help separate you from other PR pros. Learn their style and pitch them in a personal, customized way, and become a credible resource to journalists. When pitching, it’s equally important to show that that we’re respectful of a journalist’s time and deadlines.

(*re-published from News Generation: http://www.newsgeneration.com/2016/07/01/relationship-building-matters-michael-smart-prsa/)

Media Relations in the Age of the Mobile Device

By Ailis Wolf, Van Eperen

media-mobileOn Thursday, Nov. 19, the Professional Development Committee hosted an exciting media panel at the Navy Memorial to discuss what the rise of the mobile device means for the future of media relations campaigns and for the outreach being conducted now by media relations professionals.

The panel consisted of Lisa Stark, national news correspondent for Al Jazeera (@LisaStark); Lenny Bernstein, fitness and health correspondent for The Washington Post (@LennyMBernstein); Eric Lichtblau, justice department correspondent for The New York Times (@EricLichtblau); and Andrea Shalal, defense industry correspondent for Reuters (@andrea_shalal). The panel was moderated by Aaron Cohen, president of Aaron Cohen PR, LLC (@aaroncohenpr).

The panelists shared insights into what the changing digital landscape has meant both for how they work and for the level of their workload, which informs how best to reach them when pitching. They also offered a variety of useful information about the changes going on within their organizations in order provide content optimized for mobile platforms, both phones and tablets.

On Al Jazeera America and what she does, Lisa Stark shared that she loves PR people as they give her a window into items about which she would not know otherwise. But for her, the worst thing is individuals who try to “pull the wool over my eyes.” She said the most important thing to her is that PR professionals are honest. She says, “You want me to be straight with you, and I want you to be straight with me.” Lisa said, and other panelists agreed, that it is important to know the audience of the media outlet you are pitching and know the types of things they cover, particularly when pitching a journalist who has a specific beat. She noted that Al Jazeera America, for example, is focused on covering stories about inequality, social justice, immigration, gender issues, and pioneers. They think of themselves as the “anti-Kardashian” network. They tend to do larger pieces and their pieces run longer than most found on other networks. Their network is also on social media across all platforms and she has been told the big issues for them on social media are gender and race. And unlike some of the other speakers, Lisa said 60 percent of Al Jazeera’s online traffic is from desktop, with 40 percent coming from mobile.

Last month (October), 80 percent of the online traffic for The Washington Post – 51 million out of 66 million – came from mobile, either through phone or tablet. That statistic, reported by Lenny Bernstein, is indicative of a major trend affecting changes at all media outlets with the goal of optimizing online traffic. What changes are being made at the Post that have allowed them to recently beat The New York Times in unique page views? Bernstein reported that the big difference between what is seen on mobile versus on a desktop has to do with design. The Washington Post has a team of people focused on redesigning content to make it shorter, punchier and grabbier to appeal on mobile. Other Washington Post statistics the audience was interested to learn include:

  • Forty percent of mobile users are millennials.
  • The top levels of traffic come from (1) Facebook, (2) Google search, (3) other sites. Direct site visitors fall fourth or fifth when it comes to overall online traffic.
  • Many readers only read through the fourth paragraph of a story.

Bernstein also said he gets 200 emails a day and he does try to read them all. Therefore, it is key that you have a compelling subject line and a short, interesting pitch. You don’t need to put all of the information in your pitch email, just the key points – you can always send additional details later if he contacts you with interest. If you have a health pitch for him, he said not to call unless you know him – just send an email. He is interested in health and medical trends, particularly topics he would have a hard time finding himself.

Eric Lichtblau said about mobile: “It’s all about the delivery.” As with the Post, The New York Times is also seeing a lot of traffic “coming in sideways” – from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile platforms. Only about 20-30 percent of their online traffic comes directly to the website – the rest is all from mobile. He said as the focus shifted to delivery, there was initially pushback from reporters who wondered about why content wasn’t the focus. But the change had to be made to stay competitive as the digital landscape continues to shift. Regarding how to pitch him, he agrees with Bernstein – if you don’t know him, email him. The only exception, of course, is if you have something that would be a page 1 exclusive. Eric also added that while he is not as involved in Twitter, as is the case for many reporters over 40 years old, the younger reporters often do everything on Twitter so PR professionals should do their research. And younger reporters don’t only use Twitter to share their own stories, they use it to track news, competitors and even to find sources for stories.

At Reuters, the world’s largest wire service, reporters are always racing against other newswires, newspapers and all other media to be first to a story so PR professionals need to keep in mind that the pace is incredibly fast. Andrea Shalal told the audience that she gets a daily report showing scores for how fast they were on the daily headlines as compared with other media outlets – down to the millisecond. She said the average length of a Reuters story is 400 words – for PR pros, that means pitches need to be quick, pithy, honest and to the point. The short length also changes what she is able to do with a story, even a really good one.

Across the board, the panelists agreed that a pitch with visuals was better than one without. Even better – if the reporter can bring a photographer or videographer with them to film it themselves. The speakers also agreed that they are all open to an introduction to a good source, given that source is easy to connect with when needed. Also, the speakers said it is fine for a PR pro to sit in on a call with a source that they have coordinated, but they should make the call happen as fast as possible and stay out of the way so as not to clutter up the process.

Top 5 Tips for Pitching Multimedia Newsrooms

Jennifer Nycz-Conner of the Washington Business Journal and WTOP

Jennifer Nycz-Conner of the Washington Business Journal and WTOP

Why didn’t they respond to my pitch? Why doesn’t this reporter care about my client? Sending out generic pitches to reporters is not only a waste of your time, it also won’t get coverage for your clients. Jennifer Nycz-Conner, an editor at Washington Business Journal and a business reporter at WTOP, knows first hand what goes into pitching the right story to the right reporter. During this month’s IPRA Luncheon, Jennifer provided her top five tips for successful pitching in today’s multimedia newsrooms:

  1. Get to know your prey. Reporters receive countless numbers of pitches every day, so you need to make your pitch worthwhile. Reporters often get emails that read “I see you have written about X, so I assume you will like this story.” Jennifer recommends researching the reporters you’re pitching to determine how often they’ve covered a particular issue. Was the topic covered in one story or several?
  1. Pitch stories that are interesting. Nine times out of ten, sending pitches with photos of your client holding a giant check or giant pair of scissors at an event is not going to generate coverage. There is no true meat behind those stories and nothing that really interests readers.
  1. Choose the best subject line. When you’re emailing reporters, it’s all about the subject line and it will make or break your pitch. Try equating your subject line to a good headline – it should grab the reporter’s attention. “If you can’t put your pitch in a headline, then it’s not a good pitch,” says Jennifer.
  1. Know if and when it’s appropriate to attach files. Reporters don’t want multiple files attached to an email. Opening multiple attachments creates more work for them, so skip the file attachments. Instead, send a brief, two-paragraph pitch with a link to the full press release. If you have photos or videos to include with the pitch, add a link to a Dropbox folder with the files. These steps will save reporters time and help you get straight to the point with your pitch.
  1. Be prepared for a response. PR professionals are used to pitching so many reporters in a given day that they can forget to be prepared when the reporter responds sooner than expected. If you’re pitching a great story, then you and your team needs to be ready for the story to be picked up.

The next time you start to pitch a reporter, keep these tips in mind and make sure your pitch is tailored to the person you are pitching. It should be easy for the reporter to understand the point of your pitch – and if they don’t, chances are your pitch won’t turn into coverage.

Erin White is the vice president of the George Mason University Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. She is also an intern with the Independent Public Relations Alliance and PRSA-NCC.

6 Tips for Working with Today’s News Media

By Angel White

Washington Post Media Blogger Erik Wemple and IPRA Membership Committee Member Robert Deigh of RDC Communications. Photo credit: Sabrina McGowan

Washington Post Media Blogger Erik Wemple and IPRA Membership Committee Member Robert Deigh of RDC Communications.
Photo credit: Sabrina McGowan

Washington, D.C. is considered the news capital of the world and a great place from which to observe big changes in the media industry, so it should come as no surprise that our hometown paper follows the changes closely – reporting on big players and rising stars alike. In a May 7 Independent Public Relations Alliance program, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple discussed ways that PR professionals should be engaging with reporters and focusing on the new reality:

 

  • PR people are a growing part of the press industry. News organizations are becoming similar to corporate America by creating their own PR departments. Often, you have to go through a PR person in order to speak to anyone at the news outlet. The result is the media has become more regulated by the people we are trying to talk to which can result in frustration for reporters.
  • Beats are fragmentary and boundaries are disappearing. Reporters are expected to cover a lot more news these days trying to feed multiple platforms. So, don’t give up if one reporter isn’t interested in your story – share it with another reporter.
  • Deadlines are obsolete. Reporters are working in a 24-hour news cycle, always writing and always on deadline. This reality changes how and when we approach reporters.

Here are Erik’s six tips for creating the strongest relationships with reporters:

  1. Pick up the phone. PR professionals tend to overlook the value of making calls to reporters in order not to interfere with deadlines. Ignore the adage of “don’t call a reporter on deadline” – if you have a reason to communicate with a reporter then do it and be direct.
  1. Write letters. Another effective but underutilized tool is the handwritten letter. Yes, snail mail still exists and reporters pay attention to it.
  1. Use Twitter. PR professionals should be using this tool to message reporters on Twitter – a simple “Have you seen this?” can be an effective way of reaching reporters you know and those you want to know. Reporters also monitor their mentions on Twitter more than email and voicemail.
  1. Pay attention to bloggers. In the past, journalism standards didn’t always apply to news blogs. But, today’s news blogs are held to the same journalism standards as other media. PR professionals should work with bloggers in the same way they work with traditional reporters.
  1. Maintain trust. Don’t ask a reporter to do something considered un-journalistic. It’s expected that they will talk to your competition for a story, so don’t ask them not to. That will only erode their trust in you and make you look defensive.
  1. Engage early. There’s no excuse for a reporter not getting the facts straight, but there are also areas of judgment, interpretation and nuance that go into writing a story. These are areas where you need to engage the reporter early – it will be too late to do so after the story is filed.

The state of the news media today is being driven by the rise of social media and the consolidation of traditional media outlets that affects the way in which we regard reporters. PR professionals who understand these changes will ensure they have the most beneficial relationships with reporters.

 

Angel White is a May 2015 graduate of George Mason University where she received her bachelor of arts degree in communications​. She is a former vice president of the Public Relations Student Society of America at GMU. Connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/angeldwhite.