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journalists

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The 24-hour News Cycle… always on, but not always good journalism

The 24-hour news cycle arrived with the advent of television channels dedicated to news, and brought about a much faster pace (i.e. live) of news production with increased demand for stories that can be presented as news, as opposed to the day-by-day pace of the news cycle of printed daily newspapers.

More media, more space, happier PR people.

But occasionally we have to step back (even as PR people) and look at what is making it as news.  Particularly alarming is when news becomes the news.

Of course most of the journalists we know abide by ethics and standards of good practice as applicable to the specific challenges they face while they do their job.  But occasionally things spiral out of control. 

If you didn’t know the various existing codes share common elements including the principles of — truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability — as these apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public. Journalism ethics include the principle of "limitation of harm." This often involves the withholding of certain details from reports in case they harm individuals or the public.

One of the joys of having our head offices in California (and news on TV all the time) is that we are privy to police car chases through Los Angeles… as they happen.  Why else would there be all those news helicopters over the smoggy city?

Click the image to view the live coverageThis month a particularly bright team of (alleged) bank robbers were making their get-away and while law enforcement officers were in hot-pursuit, we were watching the chaise unfold.  The clever ‘unconventional banks withdrawal’ lads decided it would be advantageous if they could get some innocent bystanders between their speeding vehicle and the police… so they started throwing cash out of their car window while they sped down some of the poorer streets in South LA.  And as a reminder, this is on live TV.

The live coverage and reporting is classic.  The eye-in-the-sky even giving out the address of where the cash is being thrown!

Needless to say, the NettResults team won’t the only people watching this live, and many good (or not so) folks in that area raced out of their homes to retrieve (no doubt with the intent of returning) the bank notes.  The report later that day on ABC wraps it up nicely.

How necessary is live news reporting?  We understand there are multiple news channels and they compete to bring the news to us as quickly as possible… but perhaps news organizations may consider slowing this to a tad below real-time to provide themselves time to actually think about the content and add some intelligent commentary that doesn’t endanger the public. 

Just a thought.

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Why PR is Easy

As Jeremy Porter wrote in Journalistics, “If you work in media relations today, and you’re having a hard time getting coverage for your news, you’re doing something wrong. Journalists exist to write about news.  If you have a legitimate news story, you shouldn’t have a hard time getting coverage.”

‘Straight from the horses mouth’ as they say from where I come from (OK half my family made their living as journalist – the others as bookmakers).

If a journalist can tell you that they want to cover news, why are so many companies not getting the coverage they want?

Basically it comes down to two things: either your story isn’t actually newsworthy or you are not speaking to the right journalist. Here’s a little help:

1 - Speak to the right journalist. 

OK, this is the back-office stuff that needs to be right.  To sum it up, do your research. 

Who covers your news? Which reporters write the most about the topics related to what you do? You should know who they are off the top of your head.

Then you actually need to read what these journalists are publishing.

Next up – get to know these people.  You can do this through regular communication and networking. Don’t just contact a journalist when you’re pitching a story. Provide them with tips throughout the year when you come across information that’s of interest to them – even if, especially if, it’s not related to your organization.

They’ll quickly start to value you as a source – and they just might call you the next time they’re working on a story. The trick is to get yourself inserted into their Rolodex or whatever “trusted source” file they use.

OK, so I’ll admit, in the world of cross boarder, multi-language communications, this is far simpler if you have a professional PR team compared to one person trying to hold all the relationships.

So, that was easy right?  Now on to the second, and possibly the more complex element.

2 - Make your story newsworthy

First up – not everything is newsworthy.  Whether you take directions from a client or from a CEO, not everything they think is going to be newsworthy is actually newsworthy, so one important talent is managing expectations.

What makes a good news story? Your topic should be timely and relevant for the audience of the outlet you’re pitching. Even if your story is timely and relevant to the outlet you’re pitching, it might not be a fit for the reporter you think writes about that stuff. Sometimes newsworthiness is merely a factor of how you package the news in your pitch. You have to adapt the pitch to each journalist and outlet.

To help you adapt your pitch to the right journalist or outlet, NettResults offers seven golden tips for refining your pitches:

Localize – is your story not a fit for national news, but a good fit locally? Get strong local coverage in the outlet with the widest coverage. If your company is hiring 20 new employees this year, it’s not a fit for The Wall Street Journal. If you’re hiring 2,000 employees this year due to a big contract you just landed, it might be. Find local angles and see your placement success go up. And more often than not we’re looking at not local and national newsworthiness, but also country and regional newsworthiness.

Timeliness – if your story has a time element to it, you need to be able to act fast. If the world is talking about unemployment figures and you represent the company that is about to open a new office and hire 1,000 new staff how can you capitalize on news coverage? To capitalize on current events like this, you need to have the right reporters on speed dial.

Numbers – Journalists love numbers. Pretty numbers are even better – which is exactly what a good infographic offers. You’re probably sitting on a bunch of recent facts and statistics about your industry you could package as an infographic to support your news. Not only will the infographic help you break through the clutter of competing pitches, but it also provides the journalist with a potential visual to use with their story. We often work with clients to develop their ‘top 10’.  So, for example, an anti-virus company may know the top 10 viruses this month, which could be interesting.  Then, as you delve deeper, start comparing month-to-month and individual penetration rates to quickly produce stories.

Seasonality – What seasonal events create PR opportunities for you? Right now, we’re in the midst of spring. Which means Valentine’s is done with, Easter is right on us, a plethora of mother/father days and soon enough the school holidays will be here. Considering that a lot of these days are locally/regionally/nationally specific. You need to build out a years calendar of relevant days. Next you need to back out about 6 to 8 weeks so you can actually pitch the right seasonal news story when the journalist is writing it (and not when it is about to be read).  Yes, I’m sure there are journalists working on 2012 Christmas issues right now…

Bounce-backs – What do you do when a reporter writes a great story about your industry and leaves your company out? Do you ignore it and take the abuse from your superiors? Do you write a scathing letter, lambasting the reporter – asking them how they could have possibly overlooked you? No, you educate them on your organization and the value you could bring to the table on future stories. Start by acknowledging that the story they wrote was on-target – in some cases, it might be appropriate to highlight some elements that you felt were left out. Journalists like to get reader feedback in most cases. It’s okay to share your side of the story. Even if it doesn’t get you in this article, they’ll think of you next time around if you’re polite and professional.

Name-drop - if your story is related to well-known organizations or people, get that stuff in the first paragraph of your pitch. While it’s not a guarantee for coverage, the better known the players are in your news story, the more likely you will break through the filters. Look, about 1% of the world’s brands, companies, organizations and celebrities actually get 90% of the world’s coverage… so be aware of who’s in the news and use that.

Copy Success – Look at the coverage in the target publications you are going after. If you start to analyze the news, you can start to identify the formula for how coverage happens with each outlet – and each reporter. From there, you can develop strategic approaches to getting your organization or experts included in the mix.

A lot of the tips above will seem old-school to seasoned PR pros, but you know what, while many things in the world of PR are changing quickly, the ability to pitch well hasn’t changed much in years.

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PR pros and journalists - conjoined twins that constantly squabble

Public relations and journalists have always had a love-hate relationship; simultaneously relying on each other for their professional livelihood while at the same time holding untold (and sometimes voiced) resentment.

They are like conjoined twins that constantly squabble.

Both professions are miss-understood by the general public, but well understood by the other.  Today, the facts are that there are becoming less professional journalist and more public relations professionals. And the trend is getting more dramatic.

In their book, The Death and Life of American Journalism Robert McChesney and John Nichols tracked the number of people working in journalism since 1980 and compared it to the numbers for public relations. Using data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, they found that the number of journalists has fallen drastically while public relations people have multiplied at an even faster rate. In 1980, there were about 45 PR workers per one hundred thousand population compared with 36 journalists. In 2008, there were 90 PR people per one hundred thousand compared to 25 journalists. That’s a ratio of more than three-to-one, better equipped, better financed.

Oh, and that was 2008 – in the USA.  One can only imagine how those stats have multiplied in the past 4 years taken at a global level.

The researcher who worked with McChesney and Nichols, R. Jamil Jonna, used census data to track revenues at public relations agencies between 1997 and 2007. He found that revenues went from $3.5 billion to $8.75 billion. Over the same period, paid employees at the agencies went from 38,735 to 50,499, a healthy 30 percent growth in jobs. And those figures include only independent public relations agencies—they don’t include PR people who work for big companies, lobbying outfits, advertising agencies, non-profits, or government.

Traditional journalism, of course, has been headed in the opposite direction. The Newspaper Association of America reported that newspaper advertising revenue dropped from an all-time high of $49 billion in 2000 to $22 billion in 2009. That’s right - more than half. A lot of that loss is due to the recession. But even the most upbeat news executive has to admit that many of those dollars are not coming back soon.

So, do PR folks and journalists even need to play friendly.  My father was a serious journalists having worked in several countries and eventually settling in the UK writing for The Times and The Sunday Times.  I’ve been involved in public relations (both client and agency side) for over 15 years, so maybe my view is bias, but even in the day of citizen journalism and hyper blogging, the scope of a PR pro and a professional journalist rely on the skills, contacts and reach of each other.

Assuming they have to play in the same sand box, how do PR and journalist folks reconcile the difference in number and budgets to hand?

Well, the number game is not so difficult.  With the ever-increasing efficiencies of technology, there is not only the ability to communicate with multiple people at once (it was only 15 years ago when the best way to do this was to print and envelope stuff your press release), but we can use these tools to understand and build stronger relationships.

One of the age-old truisms for a PR pro is to understand the media and the journalist’s contributions before pitching.  Only ten years ago a PR agency would have piles of newspapers and magazines going back at least a year.  Of course there in no reason for this any more.

So we can speak quicker, to more people, with more meaning and at a deeper level then ever before. This goes for PR pros and journalists equally.

What has caused the budget differences?  In other words why the increase in PR?  I think that is relatively simple.

1 – Globalization.  More companies are conducting business outside of their home city, so need to have a PR strategy in place to speak to their potential and existing customers.

2 – The cost to offer PR services has decreased.  Therefore more PR agencies can offer the service (it’s still a relatively low cost business to start) and more companies can afford to use these professionals (or carry the function in-house).  The fact that there are less traditional media outlets doesn’t really matter – the fact that are so many non-traditional media available just increases the requirement of the PR agency.

3 – Those larger companies that were already implementing an integrated marketing program have spent the past 10 years shifting their expenditure within the marketing functions – money coming from the advertising line item and flowing to the PR and social media line items.

4 – More media is now consumed by more people.  So what if there are less newspapers in existence? How many people did actually read multiple newspapers who were not directly involved in the industry? If you were the type of person who read a newspaper in yesteryear, there are still plenty to choose from. And the number of people logging in online to news / views from newspapers, blogs, twitter, facebook etc etc far exceeds newspaper subscription rates in the past. Oh, the fact that so much media is actually free to consumers doesn’t hurt either.

 

So yes, the PR pro needs the journalist, and for a journalist to act professionally and profitably (they are of course producing and writing more stories, quicker, than ever before) they need the PR pros.

The technology allows for greater communication and sharing of knowledge.

Now all we need to do it get the remaining children to stop squabbling in the name of better media for all. 

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12 Media Interview Tips for 2012

A media interview is a critical opportunity to convey key messages about your company to customers, key stakeholders and the public. To assure that the final printed, online or broadcast story is accurate and includes your messages, here are twelve guidelines for 2012...

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Social Media, Journalists and Public Relations Agencies

Our friends at Cision have just released their  2011 Cision-Newhouse School Digital Influencers Survey. It has some interesting findings and you can read the full research here.

Now, much as we love research and its findings, we do have to identify that Cision's research is often heavily skewed to the bias of selling media lists and the Cision services.  That said, we all benefit from understanding exactly how to use social media with the media.

The 2011 digital influencer survey shows that social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (with the impact of Google+ soon to be felt) continue to revolutionize how those who create digital content do their jobs: how often they post content (“file stories”) and how they identify stories and trends, cultivate and qualify sources, and share information.

But – perhaps even more importantly – it is apparent that social media has empowered anyone with a voice that resonates with a community to build influence and vie for the same attention and audience as traditional media.

These “other content creators” may not be connected to an established news organization or blog, but their “social capital” is so significant that they have a direct impact on consumers and other influencers.

Those who define themselves as journalists tend to have very different (and less positive) perceptions about the usefulness and accuracy of social media.

Yet all respondents agree that social media is a superior way to share stories, connect with communities, and make their voices heard.

Bottom line - what does this mean to PR agencies and organizations that use agencies?  Well, PR agencies need to use social media tools to inform/converse with journalists and those writing materials that customers are reading.  But they can't rely on them - social media needs to be integrated into journalist outreach.

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