Media relation skills for entrepreneurs
Yaneek Page, Business Columnist
"Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad".
It's a quote that's widely circulated on the internet and attributed to renowned entrepreneur Richard Branson, himself a master of publicity stunts that have made headlines globally.
In April when his airline expanded to Scotland, Branson attended a press launch wearing a kilt, which he lifted to reveal his tight boxer briefs with the words "stiff competition".
An outrageous, unforgettable spectacle that was published online, in magazines, newspapers, on television and radio all over the world - tens of millions of dollars in 'exposure' that he didn't pay for.
Now, before you run off thinking of an outlandish stunt to grab media attention, understand the key point - media exposure can be immensely powerful and valuable. It can also be good and good.
Branson's stunt was criticised as 'his tackiest ever'. Typically, the goal of media relations is to receive consistent, positive media coverage and publicity for one's business, outside of paid advertisements. It doesn't replace advertisements, it's a supplement.
It's not about appearing in the media for the sake of profiling. I've seen people seriously damage their image and brand with inappropriate media engagement. I've also witnessed many companies and entrepreneurs built-up and famed by media coverage - benefiting from high visibility, a positive image and free promotion worth millions.
So how do entrepreneurs build their media-relations skills? I've learned quite a bit from experience and even more from a recent Press Association of Jamaica workshop on media skills and public relations sponsored by the Public Affairs Section of the US Embassy in Kingston. I was fortunate to attend the week-long course, which, although free, delivered priceless lessons and information, some of which are outlined below.
For those of you who may be wondering how I heard about the workshop - I saw an advertisement in The Gleaner newspaper. This is not a plug for newspapers, but I buy and read them every morning and am constantly scanning for information and opportunities.
Thanks to my early bird reading habits I was among the first to register for and receive one of the coveted workshop spots.
It's always advisable to hire a public-relations professional if you can afford it, but if not, here's how to enhance your media relations skills:
1. Know what drives media
You must understand what drives media and the value you can offer media practitioners. Entrepreneurs are interested in promoting their businesses but media cares about content. Specifically they want credible information, and real stories that will grab the interest and attention of readers, listeners or viewers. Media thrives on great content so if you deliver that you're half way there.
2. Understand how PR works
If you approach the media asking to promote your business they'll direct you to their advertising department - and rightly so, since they rely on advertising revenues.
PR is really an art. It includes strategic communications to gain positive exposure to a mass audience using topics of public interest and newsworthy items - emphasis on public interest and newsworthy.
A few PR tactics entrepreneurs can employ are requests for media interviews, press kits, press releases, media invitations, press conferences, press launches, and pitching stories. For example, if you are launching a new business, product or initiative, you can organise an event and invite a high-profile guest speaker who will attract media attention, send press invitations indicating who will be speaking and the topic the speaker will address, and have press kits ready with relevant information.
The 'secret sauce' is having an excellent news or public interest angle. Requests for media interviews can also be very effective if done properly, that is, explaining in your request why the audience would be interested - what value they'll get from the information you will be sharing. You must spell out who, what, where, when, why and how.
3. Build the right relationships
Before sending anything to the media, you must know who will best receive and value your message. For instance, if your company is in entertainment, you would want to target and build relationships with entertainment reporters. If your business is about fashion you would target lifestyle editors and journalists. If you are focused and fitness then your target would be health reporters, etc.
Be strategic and approach the media practitioners who cover your industry.
For television and radio programmes the presenters, hosts are often not the ones who book guests for the show. Therefore, if you want to be guest on a programme, its best to contact the producer. The producers are usually listed or mentioned in the credits at the end of the programme.
4. Be credible and ethical
Journalists are trained to scrutinise sources so don't expect them to trust you overnight. Some may never trust you at all. They will want to be satisfied that you are knowledgeable, credible, and reliable - which depends on your accomplishments, profile, reputation, communication skills and more.
Finally, don't ever offer journalists money or gifts in exchange for publishing or airing your story. This is referred to as payola and is highly unethical. In fact most media entities have strict policies barring the practice.
Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer in entrepreneurship and workforce innovation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @yaneekpage; Website: yaneekpage.com.