One of my clients, Bradenton, FL-based Johnson Smith Co., has had a relationship with The Tonight Show dating back to Johnny Carson’s days as host. The company mails five catalogs, including gifts and novelties titles Things You Never Knew Existed and The Lighter Side. This past December, host Jay Leno selected one sassy Christmas gift from Johnson Smith to share with the audience, although a half-dozen were requested for consideration by the producers. Within days of the broadcast, the item — the mooning Santa, which depicts Jolly St. Nick dropping his drawers — was sold out. The coverage drew people to the company’s Website, opening the doors for other sales.
Maybe your boss is in your office asking (make that demanding) why your company isn’t getting this kind of coverage. Here’s how you can position your company for high-profile media coverage:
DETERMINE THE PURPOSE OF SPEAKING TO THE MEDIA
Many executives understand that building awareness and gaining the implied endorsement of a well-regarded media outlet is the first step of a public relations campaign. But they also want to generate orders and inquiries. While one high-profile national story can make a fantastic impact on raising awareness and help generate sales, the effort needs to be sustained to have a long-term impact. The good news is that once you have secured a few national media placements, others will follow…as long as you keep at it.
IDENTIFY WHAT “HIGH PROFILE” MEANS FOR YOUR COMPANY
For some being featured in USA Today is on the top five list, as local and national print and broadcast media, especially radio, scan it for quick filler stories. For others a niche publication such as Cigar Aficionado or Popular Mechanics will provide more sales power and therefore on the must-target and -secure list.
ALLOCATE THE NECESSARY TIME TO DO THE JOB
It takes time and skill to develop the materials needed to present a story to a reporter. You can train a staff member to handle the job, allocating time each week for him to focus on media relations. Another option is to hire a professional public relations agency to achieve these strategic placements.
John McManus, president of Santa Barbara, CA-based travel products cataloger Magellan’s, has his media relations manager carve out about five hours a week for media relations activities. The company typically mails 450 travel writers a one-page release with each published catalog. The company’s product mix and timely response to editorial inquiries secures it a spot in key articles in major daily newspapers and magazines and on radio and TV programs on a regular basis.
“Our media relations effort is really worth it,” McManus says. “The coverage is worth far more than what our time allocation has been. But the key to success is promptly responding to their inquiries.”
BE SURE YOU HAVE A STORY
Product publicity centers on getting information in the right media’s hands at the right time. Your public relations counselor should dig for story angles that will appeal. Some stories, such as announcing a new flower selected by and named for Diana, Princess of Wales, sound like an easy sell. But it’s important to take time to gather and present a fuller story to ensure that you receive more than a name-dropping mention.
Another client, Spring Hill Nurseries, issued a video news release (VNR) along with comprehensive information on its Diana flower and explained that part of the proceeds were being donated to the princess’s memorial fund. This resonated with USA Today and many other media outlets.
KNOW THE MEDIA AND WHAT THEY COVER
National media are extremely selective in what they cover, and there is enormous competition for airtime and ink. That means you must dig deep to identify a unique story that will appeal, and also research all the possible editors and producers within top news organizations who could have interest in your concept. When prepared, present your story and have two or three other angles ready in case the first doesn’t appeal to the reporter. Be sure you have facts, statistics, and other elements that make this a national, rather than a local, story.
A few other tips regarding working with the media:
Make a friend. Handle one media inquiry promptly and thoroughly, and you will have a long-term news colleague. This will help pave the way for other key placements within that news organization. A producer or a reporter who knows you will respond to his crazy deadlines is sure to return to you time and again and will do what he can to work your story angle into a segment that will be approved by the executive producer.
Look at the calendar and identify national discussions and events that your business can tie into. In the midst of the presidential election season, The Lighter Side issued a press release on sales of commemorative teddy bears with an image of either President George W. Bush or candidate Sen. John Kerry, along with insight on sales of other campaign-related merchandise. Similar to the country’s leanings, sales were split 50-50, which interested editors. One creative Beltway editor offered a contest, “Praise your candidate, win a bear,” which generated numerous letters but, more important (at least to us), let readers know that they could order the bears from The Lighter Side.
Focus on consumer benefits. Many businesses make the mistake of focusing on themselves and not on how the company and its products serve consumers’ needs. Your e-mail pitch will be deleted if the copy is company-centered.
PRINT DRIVES BROADCAST
Listen to TV and radio news stories: Many times what is reported was in this morning’s newspaper. A way to get national press attention is to secure a local story with Associated Press. Many times those local stories will be issued nationally by AP, resulting in dozens of placements that can prompt broadcast media’s interest.
Also do not underestimate the power of a local newspaper columnist. Many newspapers syndicate staff-written articles to other papers within their chain, such as the Gannett News Service. Additionally, some syndicated columnists have regularly scheduled appearances on national morning TV talk shows such as Today and Good Morning, America.
GET YOUR DUCKS IN ORDER
Getting the media to accept a story is half the project. Arranging interviews and prepping your spokespeople require time before a reporter even enters the building. Before launching into a high-profile media relations campaign, ask yourself a few important questions:
Can our system handle a major placement? Do we have the merchandise and contact center capability?
Can we devote the time required of management and systems/operations to achieve a perfect story?
Do we have a spokesperson who will do a superb job in representing our company and its products in print, on radio, or on camera?
MIND YOUR MANNERS
Not only is it good manners to thank a reporter after he reports a story, it is also good business smarts. Reporters generally don’t know what impact their words have on the public. Be sure to tell the reporter or the producer what impact the story had on your company.
Embarking on a high-profile media relations campaign takes time; however, high-visibility placements will help achieve sales and build awareness among your key audiences. The implied endorsement of your company by an important media outlet reminds consumers that your company is worthy of their hard-earned dollars. The morale boost your staff will experience after a high-impact placement is simply a bonus.
Lisa C. Hahn (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president/CEO of Glen Rock, NJ-based direct marketing industry public relations agency Caugherty Hahn Communications.