Sunday, September 6, 2009

Top 10 Rules for the "New" Media Relations

With all the focus on journalists gazing at their navels while lamenting the decline-and-fall of print (and even broadcast) journalism as we know it, I have yet to see my colleagues on the other side of the pitch expound on how those of us trying to place news stories in the media are supposed to do our jobs.

As reporters get laid off, their beats are increasingly outsourced to freelancers or bloggers, mostly ex-reporters, but some upstarts who claim to know how to write. These people are not listed in any reputable media directory where one could check their bona fides (alas, no Vocus or Bacons identities available), although some have Web sites or clips that are posted from previous writing gigs. They are not identifiable in any systematic way. They represent only themselves, and often are impervious to the standard restraints or ethical concerns that journalists working for mainstream media have had as guideposts in the past. It is the Wild, Wild West.

Glamour, Ladies Home Journal, Washington Post Health...these are but a smattering of the many MSM whose writers no longer appear on the official masthead. More disturbing, television news, formerly the gold standard of story placement for flacks seeking credible...and creditable...placement for news, are increasingly hiring stringers or independent producers for research, story development and production when bureaus, both in the U.S. and overseas, fold.

It hits us in unexpected ways. Like the "investigative" story plumbing decades-old date about a government agency sourced for a local Examiner newspaper in a major metropolitan area that gets "broken" by the Examiner reporter during a news interview with an anchor on the CBS News affiliate - without bothering to ask the agency for comment. Or the documentary aired on a national cable network produced by a company in Australia using a producer in San Francisco...who doesn't have a travel budget to interview sources outside Northern California. Or the pitch to the newspaper editor for a lifestyles section that folds without notice while the entire editorial staff just disappears.

Today's Wild West scenario is not so different, perhaps, from the yellow journalism at the turn of the last century, with the exception that, today, any Tom, Dick or Harriet can open a Twitter account and post "news", so that the proliferation of people calling themselves reporters is exponential. And it's not always obvious who's good, who's not, and who's just looking for his/her 30 seconds of fame.

Why does it matter? "Free media", the art of placing stories in outlets to promote ideas, products, ideas or services, is still an important arrow in the arsenal of the public relations professional. In fact, seeing the company's name or product in print is often what clients, or companies, mean when they talk about PR.

So, it's not business as usual. What to do?

Today, with shrinking news staff in even the biggest media, the more you can do to help a reporter find you, get the story and pitch it to their editors, the better chance you have of getting your story picked up.

Here's a new Top 10 for enhancing media placement:

1. Build your reputation online and off. Become a trusted news source by being reliable, never feeding bogus stories, and meeting deadlines.
2. Register (and tweet) on HARO (Help a Reporter Out), Be A Source, TV Newser, etc.
3. Follow reporters on Twitter - they sometimes follow back or respond to replies to their tweets.
4. Blog about things that have things to do with your company or clients, and sometimes things that don't but about professional concerns or events to spread the good word.
5. Network like hell: events proliferate but there are also bars and restaurants where reporters like to hang. Organizations like MediaBistro have sprung up with the goal of training pink-slipped journalists to do something else in the writing field. Maybe even compete for your next job.
6. Email journalists & formers to see where they land and keep in touch.
7. Get LinkedIn, Facebook, and put your best opinions out there in the ether...
8. Worry about getting good content, repackaging for various media and keeping your contact info up-to-date.
9. Know who you're talking to - and who they're reporting for. They are not always writing only for their primary news outlet. Even the venerable NYTimes employs hacks scribbling for other media. Check out Times Public Editor's recent mea culpa at
10. Don't rely on news releases, or at least not traditional news releases to sell your story. Social releases embed links, videos, photos, bios and other resources.

In decades past, PR people were best who were invisible, persuading, cajoling and spinning behind the scenes, then pretending our clients magically appeared on the pages of the Wall Street Journal by their own merit.

Today, we are visible producers in our own right. In the new world, re-purposing content, packaging and placement our tools in trade. "Hits", Friends and Followers now become our measure of success.

No one quite knows how to master this new art form yet because the media are evolving, the old news placement ways aren't solving, the doors are revolving.

So by experimentation and practice, we can emerge from this electronic free-for-all as the new news and in it. In a good way, of course.

Talk to me on Twitter @dcoffbeatartist

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