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strategic communicator - Author - Facilitator - Workshop Presenter - Ghostwriter

Tag: public relations

The Path to Media Attention is Action

By Jennifer R. Farmer

Throughout my career, I’ve met countless people who had lofty dreams and larger-than-life aspirations. Most of them were passionate about a particular issue, and they wanted the world to know. It’s not hard to understand why; media attention offers a type of validation that signals to clients, potential clients, funders, allies and others that an individual is making a positive impact.

For much of my career, I’ve worked to help leaders and organizations receive media attention for the incredible work they were spearheading.

But media attention is highly addictive. Regardless of how much one gets, there’s usually a desire for a bit more. The exception, of course, is when the media is lambasting an individual. Outside of negative coverage, many of us have an insatiable appetite for media coverage.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, the path to sustained media coverage is action.

When I think about truly remarkable leaders, I realize that they are active; they are constantly doing something in furtherance of their calling or working to influence positive change.

The experiences of two of my favorite entertainers and producers, Tyler Perry and Steve Harvey, underscore this point. When Perry got the idea to produce stage plays, he invested all he had on his first show, only to attract a mere 30 people. He spent $12,000 – his life savings at the time – on the show, rented out a theater and a little more than a couple dozen people showed up. He had this experience for years before ultimately finding success. In his case, the path to success was to refuse to stop, even in the face of disappointing failure. Harvey also suffered through years of disappointment, estrangement from his family, financial lack and homelessness before finally striking it big. There would be no “Steve Harvey Morning Show,” “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” or Harvey as host of “Family Feud” had he embraced a life of inactivity. These leaders didn’t necessarily set out to garner media attention; they set out to share their gifts with the world. The media attention was a byproduct of their life’s calling.

If you’re a communicator under pressure from colleagues who want to be recognized in the court of public opinion, encourage them to get busy doing work they care about. Help them tease out the pieces of their work that may be most appealing to the media and be a thought partner offering honest feedback. Listen for what’s unique about their work and then use the uniqueness as an entry point to pitch them to the media.

If you’re an executive desiring more publicity, the path to notoriety is sustained, long-term action. By “action,” I mean doing work that you truly care about, and work that fills a void.

It doesn’t hurt to hire public relations staff but be clear that a communicator’s role is to amplify; it’s to serve as a megaphone testifying to what is already occurring.

For example, I recently arranged a meeting with media executives and colleagues who work on gun violence and mass incarceration. The discussion went well, and I expect it will result in media coverage. While I set up the meeting, the discussion would have been futile if my colleagues didn’t have a body of work that demonstrated their promising approach to addressing gun violence and mass incarceration. Had they lacked experiential evidence of their work, the interview may have gone poorly.

The bottom line: If you want media attention, get busy working on your craft or your life’s purpose. I’m confident you’ll find that media coverage is a byproduct of sustained action.

 

When You Commit to Hiring Communicators, Commit to do These Four Things as Well

You may be looking to expand your communications team, or build one (assuming you’ve received funding to do so) from the ground up. If you’re looking to hire communications and public relations all-stars, here are four things you should do:

1.) Commit resources to invest in staff salary/benefits as well as professional development. In communications, as in other critical industries, you will get what you pay for. And trust me, you don’t want to shortchange the people who help you maintain a trusted brand. As you develop the compensation package for communicators and #PR pros, adopt a wholistic approach to attract and retain talent. In addition to a competitive salary and benefits package, be sure to include other incentives such as a fund for professional development, resources for your communicator to travel to conferences to network with journalists and communicators, and any other reasonable benefit that your team flags as desirable. Year-over-year, jobs in public relations have been deemed to be among the 10 most stressful, according to CBS News. Since public relations pros are (or should be) among the first to learn of an organizational crisis, and must be available for rapid response, it’s important to reward them accordingly. Part of attracting a talented team is making a commitment to invest in salary and benefits as well as other things that make the job more attractive.

2.) Include your communications team early and often. It takes time to develop a communications strategy for organizational campaigns or programs. Since it’s ineffective to develop tactical responses without a broader context for the work, don’t make a habit of bringing in communicators at the 11th hour. Additionally, communicators are relying on journalists, producers and TV or radio hosts to help them tell your story, and members of the media need advance notice. They need lead time to pitch a story idea to an editor, interview other sources to determine the validity or impact of an issue, or fit in your story with the others they’re working on. It’s a sign of respect (for your team and the journalists your work with) when you include your communications team at the beginning of a campaign, at the outset of a campaign, or very quickly after a campaign has begun. By including them early on in your planning, you are giving them a chance to work effectively on your behalf and also showing them that you value them and their contributions.

3.) Keep your communications team close. When I was starting out in communications, I worked for the Service Employees International Union/District 1199 (KY/WV/OH) and had the privilege of working with labor leader Dave Regan, and later with his successor, Becky Williams. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they granted me a huge advantage by including me in media interviews. By including me, I mean both Regan and Williams included me in phone and face-to-face conversations with reporters. This allowed me to learn more about our union, and our leadership’s position on any number of issues. It also assisted in developing relationships with reporters. As a bonus, after a period of time of sitting in on interviews, I really learned the voice of our leadership and was able to be an effective spokesperson on their and the union’s behalf. If you’re hiring a communicator, see the person as important enough to keep at your right hand.

4.) Make a commitment to hire a diverse staff from the perspective of race, gender, age and career background. So many brands make terrible mistakes, and I imagine some of these mistakes can be attributed to the fact the people charged with vetting their commercials and content, are dominated by people from one or two backgrounds. Without a diverse staff, you may not consistently understand how organizational behavior impacts people from different communities. In addition to race, gender and age diversity, you also need diversity in terms of career background. A well-rounded communications team ideally should have people who have a journalism, public relations, advocacy and/or political background. You’ll want people who have experience in working for either a Public Relations agency, an in-house Public Relations team, a political campaign or advocacy organization. Experience working as a public relations consultant is also beneficial. The key is not developing a team that is homogenous from the standpoint of career background and career experience. The diversity in career background will ensure you have people who think and see the world differently.

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and author of Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget. She’s based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @Farmer8J or on Facebook at Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR

How to Relentlessly Advocate for What You Believe In

There’s no escaping the fact that communications and public relations work involves an element of rejection. In PR, the rejection likely comes from reporters who may not be interested or available to cover a story idea you’ve pitched. Rejection also occurs when the strategy you’ve proposed to meet an organizational challenge is overlooked or summarily dismissed.

I’ve been a communicator for more than 15 years, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “no” from organizational leaders and members of the media alike. Bo Bennett’s quote, “rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success” rings true.

For all the stories I’ve pitched and placed, countless others didn’t see the light of day. For all of the meetings I’ve requested with members of the media, many were flat out denied, and in some cases, I didn’t get a response at all.

Dealing with rejection is hard. But overcoming rejection and being resilient is critical to being an effective advocate. I focus on relentlessness in my new book, “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide,” and here are five things I’ve learned that may help you relentlessly advocate for the organizations and causes you support:

  • Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself. From my experience, the key to being relentless is believing in something bigger than yourself. When we believe in something bigger than ourselves, we are likely to stick with it. We’re passionate when we talk about it, and that passion is contagious. When we believe in something, we’ll go to the ends of the earth fighting for it. In my book, “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget,” I talk about being on a campaign with the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and how I believed so strongly in the campaign that I traveled to North Carolina almost weekly to support it. From my first encounter in with the campaign and the people supporting it, I determined I would do whatever was necessary to support the movement.

What I learned from this experience is that you cannot effectively promote something you do not actually embrace. If you believe in something, you’ll stick with it even when the going gets tough.

  • Know that There’s Always a Silver Lining. Sometimes “No!” comes with a silver lining. A “no” with an explanation may be viewed just as favorably as an immediate “yes, I’ll cover your story.” For instance, I asked a member of my team to pitchThe Washington Post on a guest column about the systemic oppression of Native Americans. The Washington Post declined to publish the piece. When we politely inquired as to the basis for the decision, we learned that the essay was submitted too close to the desired publication date. We had submitted the piece for consideration on the Tuesday before the Sunday we had hoped the column would run, which was also opening day of the 2014 professional football season. The feedback from the publication allowed us to better establish internal deadlines to place opinion pieces going forward.

Relentlessness is about patience and persistence. Had we not pressed for an answer, we may not have known The Post’s desired lead time for nonurgent opinion pieces. Had we stopped at the first, second or third “no” – we had pitched the piece to The National Journal, Politico and The Washington Post before MSNBC.com agreed to run it – our piece would never have been placed. Failing to place an opinion piece is losing an opportunity to share your message.

  • Remember, “No!” Isn’t Always Permanent. Just because a reporter or producer doesn’t bite on a story idea today doesn’t mean the idea is permanently doomed. He or she could be sidelined covering breaking news, on work or personal travel, or juggling multiple stories. There’s also a possibility the reporter didn’t see your pitch or press release if you sent it electronically and didn’t follow up with a call. The bottom line is that there are a lot of factors that could cause a reporter to decline your pitch, but that doesn’t mean he or she won’t be willing to consider your source, angle or material in the future.
  • Don’t Allow “No” to Ruin a Relationship. Journalists aren’t obligated to cover your issues. While getting reporters and producers to cover your work is key, it’s not worth losing a relationship over. So, don’t come unglued if you don’t receive the response you were hoping for. Practically speaking, journalists often move from beat to beat and from media outlet to media outlet. You’d feel bad to have ruined a relationship with a member of the media only to have to pitch to that person again if he or she moved to a different beat or media outlet.
  • Know When to Back Off. If a reporter hasn’t responded to multiple emails or a couple of phone calls, you can safely assume he or she is not interested in covering your story. After multiple attempts to reach a reporter by email and phone, don’t continue to press for a response. The reporter’s continued silence is all the response you need. Similarly, if you receive an unequivocal, “No, I am not interested in covering this story ever” response, move on.

Ultimately, relentlessness is about seeing denial as a temporary, rather than permanent, fixture. It’s about viewing denial as an opportunity to tweak and refine, especially if you are lucky enough to receive feedback. It’s not, however, about pestering reporters or others into submission. Used effectively, the principle can lead to impressive results. To learn more, pick up a copy of my new book “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget (Berrett-Koehler Publishers).”

 

Jennifer R. Farmer is managing director for communications for PICO National Network and the founder of Spotlight PR LLC, whose mission is to develop and distribute high-impact communications trainings and workshops. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR and Twitter @Farmer8J.