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Friday, August 13, 2010

The Meet n Greet

It's been a week since our last post here, thank you for your patience in checking back as I've been busy working with some clients and taking a bit of a break as Growing Communications heads into what looks to be a very hectic fall.  One of the great things about taking a short break, though, is that when you return, there are a myriad of topics to discuss.  Today is no different.

A quick side note, and one of importance to every small business and non-profit out there.  If you've followed this site for the past year, you know that good PR is more than just sending out a press release.  There's a lot of preparation that goes into the effort before you even write your release and there's a ton of work after the release goes out in order to snag that interview and make it successful. 

I had a conversation with an acquaintance the other day who mentioned that, as part of her social media consulting business, she also did some PR for her clients.  The "PR" consisted of sending out some press releases.  That was it.  And while that might qualify as PR on some level, it's only one, very small aspect of public relations.  As a small business owner or non-profit, you can create and manage your own PR efforts.  But if your efforts consist simply of writing a press release and sending it out en-mass to the media, you likely will be wasting your time.  If you don't put in the time up front to do your research, monitor your local newsrooms and journalists, figure out your timing, create your press kit and compose a quality pitch letter, your efforts will be hit and miss at best; mostly miss.

Which leads us to today's topic:  "The Meet n Greet"

I'm not talking about the usual political definition of the meet n greet, where you venture out into the public, shake some hands and kiss some babies.  In PR parlance, that's generally considered "community outreach" and it does have its benefits.  But in this case, I'm talking about the media meet n greet.

This blog has continuously hammered the importance of building relationships with journalists in your area in order to help make your pitches more successful.  It's important that you know who your local journalists are and which ones are most likely to cover a story that you might pitch.  But it's even more important that they know who YOU are. 

Building relationships with reporters, producers and editors isn't easy.  They are busy, busy people.  They work long hours, they are under high stress and they have little time for visits to your office, unless they're already working a story.  So the question that gets presented to me time and time again is; "How do I start building relationships with the media?"

There a number of different ways, and, honestly, sometimes you just have to get lucky.  You might find the local watering hole where they hang out.  You might try throwing a party with free drinks and inviting them to attend.  These methods can have some success.  But the best way to get to know a journalist is to visit them where they work.

Most journalists are hard to reach.  You can't just wander into your local TV station and ask to see the producer of the 5pm newscast or the 10pm anchor or the morning show reporter.  It doesn't really work that way.  However, if you show up at 4 in the afternoon with a press release and a bevy of large pizzas, you might find yourself in the newsroom, chatting up the assignment editor or exectuive producer.  You'll have more success doing this on a weekend, when there are fewer obstacles in the way such as security and a front desk person.  But even then, it's a crap shoot. 

Tricks like these can work, I know, I've used them and they've been successful.  However, there's a better way to get into a newsroom and make a real connection with local journalists; it's called an editorial meeting.

The Editorial Meeting:

Before we go much further, I'll say this; an editorial meeting is generally reserved for non-profits and municipal representatives.  If you work with a hospital, a non-profit, law enforcement, the city or state, you likely will be able to schedule an editorial meeting.  But private and small businesses can still schedule an editorial meeting, you just have to have a good reason for scheduleing it.

As a small business owner, you're probably not on the radar of most journalists in your area.  You have to provide a reason for them to take time out of their busy schedule to sit and meet with you.  The best way to do this is to prove that you can provide some value to their newscasts from time to time.  You don't have to be the big fish in the pond to provide value, you just have to be able to show that you bring something to the table.

Here are some ways to get your foot in the door and get that meeting scheduled:
1.  Bribe them.  This is a lot like showing up on Saturday evening with a case of beer, only this time, they know you're coming.  If you own a small business, offer to provide lunch or dinner to the newsroom when you show up for the meeting.  Trust me, this works more often than not.
Value added = Free food


2.  Promise to be short and to the point.  Make sure they understand that YOU understand they are under a tight deadline.  If you say, "hey, le'ts meet for a bit," you're less likely to get scheduled than if you say, "Could you spare five minutes to meet with me?  And I'll bring food."  Journalists are nearly always willing to meet for a few minutes, especially if there's free food involved.
Value added = free food + short commitment


3.  Flatter them.  This doesn't mean you have to tell them that you watch them every night and that you absolutely love their work.  That doesn't hurt, but let them know that you came to them specifically because you are familiar with their work and that you wanted them to be the first ones to receive your releases.  
Value added = short commitment + first shot at potential quality stories in the future


4.  Come to them for advice.  This one is a great way to break the ice.  Journalists love to complain, and one of the things they complain about the most is incompetent PR pro's.  If you approach a newsroom and let them know that you're a small business, that you are putting together a PR plan and you simply want to meet with them, briefly, to get a better understanding of what to pitch, who to pitch to and when to pitch.  They will appreciate your efforts and like the fact that you don't want to waste their time.  This is a particularly effective way to schedule an editorial meeting.
Value added = establishing a relationship with a small business who understands their needs


5.  Be a community leader.  As a small business owner, you work everyday with those in and around your neighborhood.  You hire locals as employees, you give money and time to neighborhood issues and you get to know the people who live and work nearby your establishment.  Because of this, you have a good feel for the needs and the concerns of the people you cater to.  For a media outlet, these are all either current audience members, or potential audience members.  Either way, these people are important to them.  As a community leader, you can provide a newsroom with insight to what is happening in your neighborhood.  Plus, if and when a story breaks in your area, you will be an individual they will know and that they can contact for information if need be.
Added value = a reach into a specific neighborhood and a potential news contact in the future
Again, as with any PR effort, nothing is guranteed.  Some newsrooms will be very receptive to your editorial meeting request.  Others will simply ignore it.  And don't get picky.  If the third-rated TV station and your community paper are the only ones that agree to meet, schedule the meeting.  Don't worry about not hitting the big boys.  Starting small is the first step to going big time.  Get a few good stories in your community paper and on the third-rated station in town, and the big boys will start to take notice. 

Face to Face:

Once you actually get an editorial meeting scheduled, the real work begins.  Again, you have to think in terms of what kind of value you can bring to the media outlet you're meeting with.  If you just show up and tell them who you are and then leave, you will have wasted your time and theirs.  You should have specific questions in mind when you meet and have your value already established in your mind when you meet with them.
Come prepared.  This is where your press kit is very handy.  If you have press kit already prepared, make sure it's up to date and bring it with you to the meeting.  If you don't have one, then put one together.  Remember, you want a history of your organization (one page) a brief bio on the important people, some photos, a list of FAQ's, (frequently asked questions) and a sheet with important and interesting information about you and your business or non-profit.  You want to leave something behind with those you're meeting with and a press kit is one of the best ways to make sure they remember you.


When you meet with them, you also want to make sure they understand why you're meeting and what they get out of it.  Let them know that you have strong ties to the community and that you interact with their audience every day.  You should have certain goals in mind when you meet them and you should let them know what those goals are.  If it's simply to get in front of them and let them know who you are, then say that.  You have to believe you bring something to the table and that meeting with you is not a waste of their time.


Ask questions.  When you meet with them, ask questions about what kind of stories they are looking for, are they trying to expand their audience demographics, when the best time to pitch a story, what kind of releases work best, if they take video they don't shoot, etc.  These questions will help you put together a better pitch, but more importantly, it will impress on them that you are serious about creating the best pitch possible and that you don't want to waste their time.  


Listen.  They will talk, they will tell stories, they will provide you with information that you might miss if you're too busy talking about yourself.  Certainly this is a time to expound on your many good qualities, but you also have to listen to the journalists you're meeting with, otherwise you'll miss information that could be the difference between a rejected pitch and a feature prime-time story.


As always, come bearing gifts.  It doesn't matter if it's food, or a monogrammed pen or drinks or coupons.  Bring something.  


Don't pitch.  This is very important.  You're not there to pitch a story.  You're there to learn and to teach.  You want to learn everything you can about them, and you want to teach them about you.  It's an exchange of information, not a pitch.  You can tell them about what you do and about upcoming stories you might have in the pipeline, but don't hand them a press release and say, "let's talk about this great story I have for you."  They'll patiently wait for you to finish and then see you out the door before forgetting who you are.
An Example:

One of the first things I do when I take on a new PR client is to  is to take them around to all the local newsrooms and introduce them to my former colleagues who still work in the business.  These meetings don't always result in immediate coverage, but it at least puts them in front of reporters, producers and editors they will be dealing with in the future. 

Recently, I took a friend around to all of the newsrooms in town as part of a PR campaign launch.  The campaign was a summer-long effort.  While there was a story to be pitched, I recommended that the meeting be more general, mostly to talk about the organization, not the story.  She baked cookies, wrote a short fact sheet about her organization, including the story release and she tossed in a funny visual trinket that included the message of her organization. 

Of the seven media outlets we visited that morning, we were able to get into only one of the newsrooms.  We left the packet at the other six with a note asking to set up a meeting.  That might not sound very successful, but she managed to schedule a story with the one newsroom we got into.  Within a week of meeting with them, she was on the air and her story was being covered.

Since then, other news organizations have picked up the story and in the past month, her non-profit has enjoyed some great coverage from a number of local media outlets.  This isn't to say that her one meeting with that one newsroom producer has been the key to her success.  She has put in some time and has continued to pitch her story all summer long.  But in doing so, she has managed to build relationships with a handful of reporters, some of whom came to her after seeing her story on tv, aired by the newsroom that took the time to meet with her. 

Remember, PR is an ongoing effort.  You can't just send out a release and expect to suddenly get a ton of media coverage.  You have to take time to build relationships and continue to pitch your story.  Follow-up emails and correspondence also goes a long way to staying in front of journalists.  Once they know you, there's still no guarantee that your story will be picked up.  But you certainly have an advantage over those who make a pitch cold, with no relationship with the journalist whatsoever. 


As a small business owner or non-profit, an editorial meeting is one of the best ways to begin to build those all-important relationships.  Yes, it takes time and yes, you will be denied by some newsrooms, but keep at it.  You only need one solid relationship to help you grow your PR efforts.  You have to start somewhere and an editorial meeting is, in our opinion, one of the best places to start.

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