This situation might be familiar to you: while browsing the news, you notice a picture of one of your firm’s projects on the front page. Upon further inspection, you find that your firm is uncredited, or that another member of the consulting team has taken the spotlight. In other news, it seems as if competitors are dominating headlines and that your reputation lies on the shoulders of outdated stories.
These are the opportunity costs of not recognizing newsworthy developments as they happen – as well as not mobilizing your internal resources to define your firm as an industry thought leader.
When it comes to media relations, many marketers struggle to understand the process for landing headlines. While some architecture, engineering and construction firms have dedicated public relations specialists—or the support of an outside agency—for smaller firms or those with limited resources, the role of public relations pro often falls on the marketing or business development team.
However, with a solid process and messaging foundation in place, media relations does not have to be as difficult as it seems. Here are six steps to make you a media master and to establish your firm as 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 need to craft their unique message platform that differentiates your firm from the competition.
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 accessible on short notice.
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 events 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 thought leadership media relations.
3- Identify Media Targets
Building a relationship with a reporter starts with understanding their coverage area. You need to do your homework. 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.
4- Send Your Pitch
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. 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 include links for more information. Personalize each and every pitch – a mass email blast will get trashed.
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.
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 logistics for the interview (likely over the phone), it’s time to prep your SME. Develop a detailed briefing document that highlights the reporter’s background, coverage area, and talking points. Hold a mock interview if the SME is feeling particularly nervous.
You should always join the interview to make introductions, jot down notes, and provide follow-up items that the reporter requested. Make a point to debrief your SME post-interview by providing specific feedback on things that went well and areas of improvement.
6- Monitor for the Story
The final step is an easy one – monitor for the story to appear. Be sure to fact check the story before sharing with anyone at the firm or on social media. 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.
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).