Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How a Governor's announcement (and other breaking news) can help your pr efforts

I'm very excited.  I just finished a great interview with an executive producer at a local television news-station.  He was full of good tips, insight and humor, which is always important.  The interview itself lasted about 90 minutes, so I can't put the entire interview up online, but I will be cutting the interview into bits I can use to focus on specific areas of public relations and the media. 

I am also considering putting together a podcast so you won't always have to read my long entries if you don't have time.  You can just download it for free (which is the best price around) and listen to it at your convenience.

One of the subjects discussed during the interview was relationship-building and becoming an "expert" that local newsrooms feel comfortable calling on when necessary.  Here's a quick look at what this means before I delve too deeply into the topic.

The "Expert" or "Rabbi" list:

Every journalist has a list of individuals that they feel comfortable calling on in a crunch.  This usually happens during breaking news, or when a reporter is asked to cover a story dealing with a topic they may not be completely familiar with.  These "experts" often provide the journalist with information about the subject matter needing to be covered.  In these instances, the expert may not end up on camera, but will prove to be very valuable to the journalist by making sure their facts are correct and that the premise of the story is even viable.

At other times, these experts are called upon to become spokespeople or analysts, helping to dissect a major event or other breaking news.  More often than not, an expert called upon for basic information is not the expert called upon for actual television time.  There's a reason for this and we'll get to it in a minute.

The benefit of becoming an "expert":

First, you have to understand that one of the major aspects of public relations and social media is to get your name, or the name of your organization out in front of the general public.  Hopefully, as people see your organization in print, on television, hearing about it on the radio or finding it online, they will begin to associate you with a specific product or service.  This is great, and very beneficial to you and your organization, obviously.

Think about Pepsi.  You know it's a soda.  Think about Apple, you know they make computers and iPhones.  Those of you in Denver and the surrounding areas, think about Heidi's.  Do you know the name?  Do you know what Heidi's is?  The answer is, most likely, yes, you know it's a deli.  How about Floyds?  Or Ball?  Or Gart's (even though they don't technically exist anymore)?  Red Cross?  The Susan G Komen non-profit? You are probably familiar with these names because all of these organizations do a great job of getting their name out in front of the public.  They do this through social media, focused and effective public relations and constant community outreach.

One of the ways they get their name out on local tv stations is to provide insight as experts to various topics covered by local journalists.  Every time an expert ends up on tv, you read their name, and you read what organization they are with.  If you're a quality expert, you can get on local tv news several times.  This is valuable air time and reflects positively on you, your organization and gives your organization credibility.  If the tv stations trust you enough to put you on as an expert, then the public will generally trust you as well.

How to get on the "list":

Here's where it gets hard.  As the journalist I just interviewed said, "It's a tough nut to crack".  And here's why. 

Journalists are just like everyone else.  They like to work with people they know and trust.  Journalists want to know that the "expert" they're brining on is knowledgeable, looks good on camera and can speak in short, concise, clear sentences.  They trust these "experts" not just based on the knowledge the expert brings, but because this expert understands the time limitations and other constraints faced by journalists.  These experts offer good quotes and good soundbites.

So how DO you become an expert that can be called upon by your local journalists?  Here are a few tips:

1.  Know your stuff.  I mean, REALLY know what you're talking about.  Make sure you are aware of what is happening all over your industry and be able to back up your statements with facts. 

2.  Learn to speak in clear and concise sentences.  One of the biggest pet peeves of most journalists is an expert or interview subject that rambles.  Give them sound bites and quotes that are short and to the point, and you'll be their BFF's.

3.  Start small.  Breaking into a newsroom expert list is particularly difficult if you're trying to deal with established reporters and producers that have been in the area for a long time.  They likely already have their expert list filled out.  So look to the weekend producers and reporters.  They generally tend to be younger, less experienced and, given the fact that they do their work on the weekend when some of the other newsroom experts aren't available, might be more willing to take a chance on an unknown entity.  Get on their list when they're just starting out, and they'll carry you with them as long as they remain in the market.  Plus, many of these individuals work other shifts in the newsroom during the week.  Prove yourself to them and they'll give you an endorsement to others in the newsroom during the week.

4.  Build your relationships.  Again, you might have to start small here, but, just as I mentioned in earlier entries, continuing to pitch good stories (whether they get coverage or not) and bringing a newsroom pizza or donuts from time to time is a great way to let them get to know you better.  To this end...

5.  Stay in front of them.  By this I mean, make sure they get correspondence from you regularly enough to remember you.  As the executive producer said, there is a very fine line between staying in front of a journalist and harrassing them.  You don't want to harrass them, but you have to make sure they remember you when the time comes.  Emails work great here, as does another, new, social media element that I will get to in just a minute.  An email once a month isn't harrassing, but it does keep you in front of them, whether you're pitching a story or not.

6.  Be aware of the news of the day.  This is very, VERY important.  As I said in the "timing" entry, opportunities come along every so often and you have to take advantage of them.  For instance, today, Governor Ritter announced he was dropping out of the 2010 gubenatorial race, citing family issues as a major reason.  By mid-morning, as the Governor was giving a press conference, a professor at the University of Denver had emailed the newsroom saying that he had written a book about how high-profile political lives can have detrimental effects on family life.  The DU professor saw an opportunity and jumped on it.  Now, he didn't get booked, because the station had already booked Dottie Lamm, wife of former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm.  It was still a good pitch and worth the time it took to send the email.  And it's likely he'll end up on another show at another station in the next couple of days as coverage continues.

7.  Practice being interiewed.  So you pitched a weekend show as an expert in something you're very familiar with and have great knowledge in.  You saw a breaking news item and immediately made a pitch to provide insight to extend their coverage.  You've been booked for a live interview for a weekend morning show.  Now comes the hard part.  Make sure your clothes are clean and pressed, not wild colors, no blacks or whites, no stripes.  Make sure you look as good as you can and, if possible, get a list of questions you may be asked ahead of time, so you know what to say and how to say it.  You will likely only get one shot at this and if you perform well, you will be asked back.  Perform poorly, and you'll grow old waiting for the phone to ring again.  To prepare, have someone you trust interview you.  Tape yourself so you can see what you do well and what you don't do well.  If they like you, you are well on your way to making their expert list.

An example of a great "expert":

Even before Governor Ritter began his press conference, newsroom across town were scrambling to get their experts in to analyze the decision and start looking ahead to who might fill the void left by Ritter's departure.  

A person's face you will likely see plastered all over the local tv stations as well as in the local papers, on local radio and even quoted on area blogs and social media outlets is one Floyd Cirrulli.  For those of you who don't know him, he's a local political expert.  He runs a local political consulting group and, over the years has become the preeminent political consultant in Denver, due, in part, to his exposure on local tv news reports. 

Here is why, in the executive producers words, Floyd is a great example of the perfect expert.

He is accessible
He looks good on camera
He dresses for television
He speaks in short, clear sentences
He understands the audience and speaks directly to that audience
He understand newsroom constraints
He has a deep knowledge base of the topic

So, now you know what you must shoot for if you want to be included in a newsroom's expert list.  It's a tall order, but the benefits can be great.  Becoming an expert for a local news outlet can vault your organization to a unknown heights of name recognition and credibility and allow you to grow faster than even you imagined.

A secret weapon

One element that was discussed during the interview was the impact social media has had on newsrooms across the world.  Ducan Shaw, Executive Producer for KCNC News (and the journalist interviewed) mentioned that social media hasn't necessarily changed the kind of stories that are covered, but it has drastically changed how those stories are covered, promoted and disseminated.  Social media has changed how news is gathered, period.

In fact, KCNC uses Twitter daily to help them gather information on stories they are covering that day.  Each morning, during the morning meetings, stories are discussed and rundowns are put together.  During these meetings, producers Tweet the stories being discussed.  For small business owners and non-profits, this means knowing what will be covered long before it actually ends up on tv.  As reporters and producers struggle with exactly how to cover the news of the day, the Twitter feed allows local business owners, experts, non-profit directors, etc, to provide input, feedback and even offer up their expertise to help the reporters cover the story.

This is a tool that is being used by newsrooms across the country.  If you own a small business or run a non-profit, you should be watching these Twitter feeds constantly, waiting for that opportunity to present yourself to newsrooms as an expert. 

One final thing to remember when looking for news coverage, whether it's tv, radio, print or online, and I can't believe I haven't discussed this before, but I haven't and this is VERY important.  You have to remember that if you ARE called upon by a newsroom to act as an expert of give insight to a specific story, that story is not about you or your product or service necessarily.  In other words, this isn't a commercial for you. 

The example Shaw used in the interview was the "Cash for Clunkers" story they covered extensively.  They went to a local car dealership to talk about how the program was impacting them and other auto dealers.  They wanted insight into the effect of the program, they weren't looking for information on the new 2009 Ford Taurus. 

In the same vein, if you are asked to give an interview about a topic, stay on topic, don't stray off and start talking about your business or service or product.  They will just edit all that stuff out anyway, and again, you probably won't be getting a second call from them down the road.

I'm very excited with the interview and I think you'll find it very insightful and helpful as you continue to put together your own pr campaign and social media push.  It's a peek into the world of journalism that you don't often get to see and hopefully it will help you understand the thought processes that go into news reporting.  In the end, it's information that will help you be successfull.  And, really, isn't that why we're here?  Look for the video coming soon.

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