5 media insights for communicators of all stripes

If you want press attention, keep in mind that controversy sells, timeliness is essential, press kits are useless and reporters are the most skeptical people on earth.

Mainstream media has a public relations problem.

A recent Suffolk University/USA Today survey found that the media has a lower favorable rating than the president. Adding to that negative perception is a recent Harvard-Harris poll that showed two-thirds of Americans believe that mainstream media is packed with fake news, signifying an all-time low in public trust of news organizations.

Perception is reality and the reality is that the media is bogged down in a serious credibility crisis.

However, print, broadcast and online media are still important channels for business owners and entrepreneurs, especially in light of the fact that despite these trust issues, more than three-quarters of consumers still rely on their preferred news outlets.

Given this duality, here are some insights to help marketers convey their messages via media outlets:

1. The media is biased—toward controversy.

As a former reporter, I can absolutely attest to the fact that the media has a very clear bias regarding the news they cover. However, these stories are not biased toward left-leaning liberals or right-wing conservatives. The media is merely biased toward controversy.

That’s what they want and that’s what they cover. The more controversial the better. Understanding this fact can help in structuring your message and developing an effective media pitch.

2. Timeliness is key.

The definition of the word “news” is that it’s the plural form of “new.” The media’s primary focus is to report the latest and most meaningful developments that will have the greatest impact on their respective audience.

Members of the media want to give viewers/readers the most up-to-date information regarding a particular issue or problem. The timelier your message, the greater the chance of coverage.

3. Members of the media are very busy.

Many media relations folks don’t realize the demands that are on people in a newsroom.

Beyond working on their current story deadline, they are also working on stories for the next few days, cultivating contacts and sources for future stories, updating social media or conducting interviews.

The best media relations personnel are sensitive to this. Try to establish a best time to engage your media contacts as well as their preferred method to receive a pitch.

4. Printed press kits are worthless.

Companies and organizations still spend thousands of dollars on glossy folders, photos, fact sheets, bios and postage for press kits they send to newsrooms or distribute at conferences. It’s been my newsroom experience that 99 percent of those materials get tossed in the garbage.

However, the executive or news maker photos sometimes do get saved—but not for positive stories. I’ve worked in local newsrooms that had archived files of executives, politicians or news makers, just in case one of them got arrested or faced some other type of shocking development when the media couldn’t get access to a photo.

Bottom line, newsrooms want to secure and use their own images, not what you send them.

5. Media skepticism and cynicism will surprise you.

It’s important to remember that media members view their primary role as scrutinizing and questioning everything they write about. Their job is to refuse to take your story at face value. Do not be surprised if they speak with you for an hour but use one sentence of the conversation that was not your primary message.

The reality is that journalists will not care about your angle of a story as much as you do. In fact, they may pull parts from your story and insert them into a completely different, unrelated piece they’re working on. Get used to it.

If you can get 70 percent of your messaging in a given media story, I call that a successful media relations effort. If you want 100 percent control over your message, I call that advertising.

Despite the challenges facing members of the media, smart organizations and marketing groups can still find opportunities to convey their messages.

A version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Copyright © 2017 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Topics: PR

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