Constantly seeing the competition’s name in the press can be frustrating. And that frustration multiples when your firm’s leadership stops by your office to ask – why weren’t we included in that article? Cue the rambling and excuses. The truth is, when it comes to media relations, many marketers struggle to understand the process for landing headlines. It’s not part of the traditional skillset of a marketer and that’s why many A/E/C firms have dedicated public relations specialists or the support of an outside firm. But for smaller firms or those with limited resources, the role of public relations pro often falls to the marketing or business development team.
The good news is that media relations is not as difficult as it may seem. With a solid process and messaging foundation in place, you can take on the role of public relations pro, adding yet another (extremely valuable) skill to your daily responsibilities. Here are the six steps to make you a media master and your firm a thought leader in the news.
1- Build Your Bench
The first step in media relations is identifying the subject matter experts (SMEs) at your firm. Who are your primary spokespeople and what are their areas of expertise? Once you identify these individuals, you will want to sit down with them to solidify their unique message platform that differentiates your firm from the competition. If you’re going after the same media targets, you’ll need a fresh take on a topic.
You also need to ensure SMEs understand what’s expected of them as a spokesperson. Media does not wait on experts to be available for interview, so make it clear to the SME that they must be available on short notice. You’ll also need to have SME bios, headshots, and contact information at the ready.
2- Uncover the News
Now that you know who will speak to the media, it’s time to hit the halls of your firm to uncover the news. Meet with various departments to understand which project milestones are on the horizon, upcoming speaking engagements and the topics being presented, events or charitable initiatives taking place at the firm, and more generally, trending issues and topics within the industry that folks are following.
The one point to remember is that your firm may not always be producing a lot of news on its own. Oftentimes, you have to be proactive with the press. That’s why understanding trending issues and topics within the industry—and the unique perspective your SMEs can provide on those issues—is critical for ongoing media relations.
3- Identify Media Targets
Building a relationship with a reporter starts with understanding their coverage area and the focus of the publication they write for. You need to do your homework on each and every reporter you plan to contact on behalf of your firm. Read their last 10 articles, follow them on Twitter, and continue to track their stories daily to keep a pulse on what they’re focusing on. If you know what type of stories the reporter is hot on, you can easily determine if one of your SMEs can serve as a valuable resource for their next article.
For firms just starting to build credibility with the press, it’s always a good idea to start to gain traction with A/E/C industry and regional reporters before going after national reporters. Industry reporters speak the A/E/C language more fluently, making the first few interviews for your SMEs a little easier. And, industry articles showcase your SMEs’ thought leadership in your space, which is something that adds credibility with national reporters.
4- Send Your Pitches
The success of your media relations efforts can live and die with your ability to write a good pitch and snappy subject line. The most important thing to remember – get to the point, quickly. Reporters are extremely busy and will not read a six paragraph email about why your SME and firm are so great. In the first three sentences of your pitch you must detail the news hook related to the reporter’s coverage area, the unique point of view your SME can offer and why your SME is a qualified source. After that, you can provide more color on the topic and your firm’s position, but again, keep the email brief and include links for more information. If you’re sharing a press release too, it should be included below your signature (or just link out to it). You must personalize each and every pitch – a mass email blast will get trashed.
The one thing that tends to trip marketers up when it comes to media relations is knowing how and when to follow up with a reporter. If you don’t have a strong relationship with the reporter, your email may have gone into a black hole. If a few days pass and you don’t hear back, don’t be shy about sending a brief follow-up email or giving the reporter a quick call to pitch them over the phone. Like the rest of us, reporters are hard to reach on the phone these days, but it is still an effective method for pitching.
5- Prep Your SME and Facilitate the Interview
If your pitch was on point and the reporter is interested in speaking with your SME – that can be the start of a beautiful relationship. Once you lock in the date, time, and logistics for the interview (likely over the phone), it’s time to prep your SME. If the SME is green, you will want to develop a very detailed briefing document that highlights the reporter’s background, coverage area and the publication. You will also need to provide your SME with key messages and talking points to focus on during the interview. Mock interviews are always a great way to ease any nerves. Every SME is different, so speak with that person to determine how much prep is right for them.
You should always join the phone interview to introduce the reporter to your SME, but for the most part, remain a silent participant on the call. Your role is to take notes, jotting down any errors in what your SME is saying or follow-up items that the reporter requested, such as photos. Your SME should not be working directly with the reporter; any corrections or assets should be shared by you. Finally, debrief your SME on the interview by providing specific feedback on things that went well and areas of improvement for next time.
6- Monitor for the Story
The final step is an easy one – monitor for the story to appear. The reporter should provide you with a general idea of when the article will run, but set up your Google Alerts so you know right away when it goes live. Be sure to fact check the story before sharing with anyone at the firm. You can’t ask for changes in an article because you don’t like the way the reporter positioned your firm, but if something is factually incorrect, you can absolutely request a correction – and you should.
Don’t forget to post the story on your firm’s website and social media channels to increase visibility.
Building relationships with the media and training your SMEs to be interview rock stars isn’t something that is going to happen overnight. But after more than a few successful interviews and positive articles, it will become a well-oiled machine, and eventually, you will have reporters coming to you to set up interviews with SMEs. Before you know it, your firm’s leadership will be stopping by your office to thank you for another homerun article (that doesn’t include the competition).
-By Mallory Horshaw, Public Relations Account Director, Brownstein Group