Packaging the News

Despite what many public relations firms and companies appear to think, news simply is not anything and everything that happens everywhere: News is what the media believes to be news.

Peddling news that’s doesn’t approach that criteria serves neither the interest of the client, nor that of the journalist or the corporate media relations function, internal or external. That’s not to say that pitching a story about the world’s greatest deli sandwich isn’t news; it may well be for the appropriate venue, or with a remarkably compelling hook.

The competition for relatively small amount of space allotted, the news hole, by the print media and on air time by the electronic media is keen. Consequently, there is as one can imagine, a preponderance of news that never reaches the public through these traditional channels.

The astute media relations practitioner understands that it is critical to ensure that what is disseminated has not only a compelling angle, but at least minimally qualifies as “hard news.”

While the client’s objectives must be foremost and served, the core strategy of media relations is to develop news with that compelling angle that serves the reporter’s agenda. In order to develop that angle, a target audience must be discerned. There are countless numbers of publications; each with a clearly defined audience. Virtually every news item has its own media receptacle.

Many public relations firms pitch “the development of target audiences,” but most simply gather large lists of virtually all media outlets that are at least marginally relevant to an organization’s business. A comprehensive more list is important; however, more critical is the discernment of specific targets for each release.

Before issuing a news release, in addition to addressing the developments at hand, the ramifications of the release, the questions it might drive, must be addressed. At Stern And Company, we try to answer the most challenging questions that might arise from a news development in the news release. The result is “asked and answered;” more importantly, it’s cast on paper, making the reporter’s job easier and reducing his margin for error.

It isn’t possible, of course, to incorporate every answer to every reporter’s question in a release, it is possible to have the most challenging points covered. That which isn’t covered in the news release, must be anticipated so the follow up queries can be answered with alacrity.

If the story is clearly unique, whether positive or negative it is often advantageous to encourage interviews, or break the story in one media outlet, as an exclusive, with broader dissemination following publication. If this tactic is selected, it is critical for the corporate spokesperson, the CEO, CFO, etc., to be fully prepared.
Stern And Company’s preparation comprises, among other elements, a bio of the reporter, recent stories he or she has written, an assessment of the thrust the reporter’s likely to take and of course, an anticipated list of questions with associated answers. We also try to background the reporter prior to ensure that all the information required is available to conduct a comprehensive interview.

Despite the best efforts to background the principal and the reporter, at the end of the day, news cannot be controlled. At best, it can be managed in the sense the whatever is given the media is under the company’s control, as a good reporter will look for other angles to or elements of the story, whether it be from analysts, customers, former employees or any other constituency. Stern And Company always counsel clients to provide, if necessary to the story, at least one third party source who fully understands the issue at hand and, equally important, will be perceived as credible and unbiased.

The significance of major news publications is obvious. Too often, however, media specialists tend to overlook another important media outlet — the trade press. Or, if they do target this channel, it is done in a “shotgun” fashion. If properly and religiously cultivated, the impact of the trade media can be every bit as powerful as the national media, especially in the case of public companies.

As the competition for space and air time becomes increasingly intense, the trade press and special interest publications have become even more valuable in helping to advance a company’s objectives. Moreover, it is not unusual for a well and nationally respected trade or special interest publication to be viewed by the national media as a “lead steer” and ultimately provide “legs” for the story on a second and third day basis.

In selling anything, a product, a service or news, success is tied directly to the existence of a market for the product, knowledge of the market and the product. Selling news is no different.

News is news if there’s a ready market for it. The media relations function’s success in selling it depends on how well that function understands that market and knows his product.

Stern And Company
Strategic Communications
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