Last week I was privileged to be among a panel of four local media members who spoke to the local chapter of the Public Relations Council of Alabama.
Joining me in the plush chairs on a stage at The Admiral Hotel were Cassandra McAboy, who handles digital media for Fox10tv.com; Sean Sullivan, general manager and radio host at FMTALK106.5; and Ben Raines, who handles environmental reporting for al.com.
Gathered before us were 70-plus area public relations professionals who proceeded to ask several intriguing questions about exactly what it takes to fight through the endless press releases, phone calls and faxes to get their story told to the public. As someone who spent a little time on the other end of the equation, I know it’s not always that easy.
I thought what my colleagues had to offer was extremely insightful and figured it might be good to share some of what was said with those in the PR world who might not have been there to enjoy broiled catfish with us that day.
But first I wanted to say something I wish I’d said that day: Journalists and other members of the media rely quite heavily on public relations professionals to get us accurate information, set up interviews and make us aware of interesting things going on, and often do all of that on a tight deadline. On top of that, they sometimes must convince reluctant employers that talking to the media is the right thing to do at times when it might not be the most fun thing to do.
So y’all are appreciated — even if you sometimes feel taken for granted.
As most of the questions centered on how to get our attention and therefore wind up on TV, the radio or in print, I’ll pass along some of the better suggestions.
Raines sort of shocked us all when he answered the first question about getting attention by encouraging the PR pros to get all of us “in your pockets.” I immediately thought of envelopes filled with cash, but Raines pulled his cell phone out of his pants pocket and held it up. He was saying PR people ought to have us in their cell phones and we should be in theirs, and we ought to know each other well enough that making a call is a first move. Good advice.
Others included knowing what each media does and choosing the right medium for the message. Know deadline times and pitch with those in mind. Don’t call five minutes before deadline, or two months ahead. Find the sweet spot.
Don’t just shoot out a press release and expect something to happen. Reporters rarely look at things not specifically written to them. And be concise.
Perhaps the biggest piece of advice I can offer from a newspaper standpoint is to be willing to talk about things you don’t want to talk about. PR people who are always asking for positive press but who won’t return a phone call when things aren’t so positive don’t get much respect.
The main thing to remember is you’re never going to get everything you want, but getting to know who you’re dealing with improves your percentages greatly.