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Messages for the media
An organisation that communicates effectively has strategic, long-range plans for relaying information to a variety of audiences. When discussing communications strategies, people tend to want to immediately talk about communications vehicles. Many individuals, when developing a communications strategy, turn to ‘media’ as a primary vehicle. The media is only one vehicle for communications, it is often the most cost-effective tool, but is also the hardest to control. Brochures, written materials, community or grassroots outreach, public service announcements, presentations, and advertising, are other effective communications tools. Before you can formulate an effective communications plan you must identify your message(s).
What is a message?
The messages you develop must answer the questions: Why? Why care? Why act? A message must explain what is valued, and what is at risk, and it must align you with others who share your values and concerns. A message must be short, simple and repeated to be heard. To be effective, a message must be included in every communication — written and oral — and used in all your free and paid media. A message must clearly state the issue/ organization/campaign’s values and align itself with the concerns of the majority of people: public health and food safety, for example.
Messages come from organisational missions and goals. Clearly define your goals and the audiences you want to engage. Messages are not “spin.” They have a firm foundation in the institution, and require ‘buy-in’ from all levels of the organisation. Your messages are a road map, but you must know where you want to go. Start messages where people are and then take them where you want them to go. Use
your organisational message as the foundation of all campaigns or projects. They may have their own ‘sub’ messages, but should be arteries to your main road. Your messages should not always be delivered by you. Credibility, persuasion, etc. may require different voices and different spokespeople.
Developing your message – rule of thumb
Rule 1: Have one main message with up to three underlying themes to support it. Rule 2: All messages should support the organisation’s main goals. Rule 3: Messages are not necessarily sound bites; they are the ideas you are trying to communicate to the public.
(Messages are reinforced by sound bites, phrases, statistics and anecdotes.)
Rule 4: Messages don’t change frequently. For messages to have impact they have to be repeated over and over again. Rule 5: Messages can be tailored for specific audiences, while still remaining constant. Rule 6: Consistent messages should permeate all of your communications efforts, not just contact with the media. Rule 7: Messages must be simple. They are ideas that can be explained in a sentence or two — if it requires a paragraph or two, keep working. Rule 8: Remember: messages take time to create. Don’t rush the process.
The Message Box
Keeping these rules in mind, here is a way to develop effective messages: Draw a message box (see below). Put the organisation’s name or the campaign’s name in the middle box. Now you have four spaces to write your key messages. You may choose to use only three of the spaces.
The message box is designed this way because messages don’t need to be delivered in a vertical order. In other words, if you wrote messages in the following way...
spokespeople may think they always have to start with message number
one. This is not true. For some audiences, you may find that message one is the place to start, for others, message three is best. To complete a message box, use the long lines to write in the main points. Don’t worry about exact wording at this point. Make bullet points next to the messages and fill in anecdotes, statistics, phrases and sound bites that reinforce this message. Space #1, top of the box: What do people need to know, believe and care about to become engaged with your organization or your issue? Space #2, moving clockwise: What obstacles or misconceptions do you need to overcome to get people engaged? Space #3: What needs to happen or what do people need to do to meet your organization’s goals or have impact on your issue? Space #4: If people did this, how would things be different? Questions that may help you develop your message box.
Message development box
What do people need to know, believe, or care about in order to become engaged with your organisation or issue? What obstacles do you have to overcome to get people over this threshold? ACTION MESSAGES
What is the projected outcome? Offer up suggestions of how, if people do what you say, their lives will be better?
What do you want the people who connect to your organisation to do? Do you want different things form different audiences? Do you have different goals for different campaigns?
How do you keep people involved? How do those who are involved convey your messages for your organisation?
What are some statistics, anecdotes, and sound bites you can use to reinforce these messages?
Communications Strategy And Planning What is a media campaign?
A media campaign is a sustained media effort concentrated on a single, overriding goal. Campaigns generally have a well-defined end-point, where the success of the campaign is evaluated and then plans are made for future activities. A good media campaign doesn't happen in isolation. It must be integrated into your organisation's strategic mission. There are usually several ways to achieve your goals and reach your target audiences. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, a press release covered by your daily paper may reach many people. But the coverage may not be in-depth. Radio talk shows, on the other hand, give you more in-depth coverage. Yet they reach fewer people and leave you vulnerable to an unfriendly host or caller. Compare the likely pay-offs from all available media channels before you make a choice. You may decide that a combination of approaches works best.
Step 1 - Think it through A successful plan must also take into account your strengths and weaknesses. You cannot reasonably expect your media strategy to be effective if you don't effectively take into account your goals and resources. The planning process need not take forever. But, you need to think before you act. Time spent brainstorming and analysing options with others in your department should result in less work during the heat of the campaign - more coverage at the end of it. To choose the best approach for your organisation, fill in the answers to these questions: Top of Form What are my overall campaign goals? What are the goals of my organisation?
What do I want to accomplish in this campaign? Who is for us? Who is against us? Who doesn't care but should? Who needs to hear our voice? What do we plan to say? How will media coverage help me achieve my goals? What do I want to accomplish (reasonably) through media outreach? (The following questions are ones to consider, but not necessarily one that gets a direct answer.) Is it getting one key story that slowly helps turn the tide? Is it a mass-media frenzy that gets to the general public? What kind of resources (money, time, people, etc.) do I have to spend on media outreach? How high is my goal/message already on the public or government's agenda? (The higher, the better and the more you can do with the media) How will I gauge my success?
Step 2 - Write it down! Once you've carefully thought through your situation, put your plan in writing. An idea that seems good in theory may not hold together when you put it down on paper. Always consult a calendar to be sure your media schedule takes into account events such as holidays, vacations and other pre-scheduled activities, of your allies and related organisations or agencies. Also be aware of the opposition's activities and how they might conflict with yours - or play into your hands. If other organisations are planning similar events, see if you can work together. It is important to remember that just because your organisation doesn't have a conflicting event, there may be other reports, events, or activities planned at the same time. Start your written plan by working backwards from the day of your event. Be sure to note all external constraints. There's nothing more frustrating than missing a key media outlet because you overlooked a deadline. A written plan will help you avoid such setbacks. In addition to your calendar, keep a written record of all your contacts with the media during your campaign to help you remember who may be providing coverage
and when. It will also remind you of your commitments to make follow-up phone calls or send background information. A written schedule or calendar may seem too formal for you. But it will help keep you on top of what must be done each day. Writing it down serves as a visible prod to force you to stick to your timetable.
Writing for the Media
There are essentially two audiences for which you may be writing when carrying your message to the public: journalists and the public at large. When writing for journalists, the main goal is to give reporters as much straightforward, compelling information as possible in a simple, easy-to-use format. This may take the form of a press advisory, release, pitch letter, or other background document. The second type of writing that you may find yourself doing directly targets the news-reading public. This type of writing most often takes the form of an opinion piece or letter to the editor. Both types of writing are detailed in this media guide. The Importance of Press Coverage The effect of good press coverage is priceless. While it can be extremely difficult to obtain, it is certainly possible and could be the best thing to happen for your company. Solid press coverage could increase awareness of your offerings, help build credibility, etc. if successful you can obtain an unbiased endorsement for your organisation that could lead to great returns. Some tips and pointers for getting some good coverage include: Know Your Target Audience Pick the publications that talk about your service offerings. The more targeted, the better. Unfortunately, a "trend" story in the top newspapers is not easy to come by. In addition, find the editors that typically write about your type of organisation. A good way to find out is to look at other organisations in the region and see what kind of press they have received and from whom they received it.
Give Them Something New Remember you're competing against many folks for a limited amount of space. The bigger the publication, the harder and more competitive it will be to make a placement. Give the editors something interesting or new. New employees and new services announcements aren't exactly unique. Innovative marketing tactics, compelling campaign results, community involvement, new methodologies or upcoming events to name a few. You are on your own in deciding what "different" is. Don't have anything newsworthy? Make something happen. Be Persistent, Not Rude Reporters and editors see so much junk come across their desk, have tight deadlines and are generally very busy people. You need to first make sure you have given them the story, and then follow-up (i.e., phone, call, e-mail, etc.). While being persistent in your efforts, avoid being rude. If the reporter is not interested, move on. You don't want to burn bridges for future story ideas. If you were lucky enough to converse with the editor, whether the story runs or not, you gained a valuable asset; an editorial contact. Just because one editor is not interested, there are plenty of others that may love your story idea. Unfortunately, like many facets of work, successful coverage is often determined by whom you know. Good press coverage is hard to come by. It just requires a little creative thinking.
An Advisory When do I use an advisory?
To announce an event, such as a press conference, which you would like the media to attend.
How do I write a media advisory?
A press advisory is designed to bring an event to the media's attention and entice journalists to attend. It should be written in a simple form, including all pertinent information - the what/topic, where, when, and who/speakers for the event without getting bogged down in extraneous details. Keep it short! A media advisory should NEVER be more than one page. Include a catchy headline and lead sentence. Identify the newsworthiness of the event: Will you release new research findings? Take a position on pending legislation? Support recent government action? Be clear about what journalists can expect to take place. Give one fact or nugget of information to make them want more, but... do not include all the facts of the story. Reporters are advised about an event or happening with the expectation that they will come and cover the story in person. A contact name and number for questions should be posted clearly at the top. Special TV tip: broadcasters need to know if there will be good visual opportunities.
Where to send the media advisory
Beat reporters - cover a specific issue or organisation at daily and weekly papers, TV stations, radio stations, magazines, and wire services. Assignment editors - determine whether a television or radio station (radio stations sometimes call them "news directors") will call a story and also decide which journalist to send. Alter the assignment editor to next day or same day news. Futures editors - looks at news events for the upcoming week and determines whether a television station is likely to cover. City editor, bureau chief, or national editor - determines whether a newspaper will likely cover an upcoming event and may decide whom to send or pass the information to the appropriate beat reporter.
Daybooks - newspapers and other services also sometimes have these. Check daily papers for daybooks as well.
How to write a Press Release
The essential criteria for a successful press release are that it should be distinctive, easy to read and easy to understand, and to be effective a press release needs to supply the following essential details: What is happening? Who is involved (or will it affect, or benefit)? Why is it happening? How will it happen? Where will it happen? When is it happening? The most newsworthy paragraphs should go at the top. (Usually the what, and why of story). Write it in an inverted pyramid format: Conclusion first, then supporting facts, with the least interesting information at the end. This is a tried and true rule of journalism. The reporter should be able to tell what the release is about from the first two paragraphs. It allows editors to shorten the story without omitting important information. Include all the facts necessary for a reporter to file a story, understanding that most reporters will also be making some follow-up calls before finalising any story. The lead is used to grab a reporter's attention but should also concisely summarize your "news." Often a quote from a spokesperson is also included, although most newspapers rarely print quotes used in press releases. The last sentence or two should reiterate the mission statement of the organisation announcing the news. Releases may end with ### at the end as a signal to reporters that they have the entire document. Releases that are more than one page in length should state -more- or -continued- on the bottom of the first page so that reporters look for the next page. Releases are sent on the sponsoring organisation's letterhead with a date of release and a contact person's name clearly listed at the top, along with a phone number where journalists can reach the contact.
Releases can be embargoed until a specific date and time. This means that the information is restricted and that reporters can use it to prepare a story, but cannot publish it until the specified time. This is risky for organisations because journalists sometimes "break" embargoes. However, embargoing news allows the media to get a report or announcement early enough that they can evaluate it, use some of its information to write a story, and still file it in a timely fashion. Broken embargoes are not common. For an announcement to be considered newsworthy it must have a broad, general interest to the target audience and a strong news angle (e.g. material information, new development, drama, human interest, local angle, consequence, etc.). In addition, your release needs to be written in a journalistic rather than marketing style. It should be objectively written as though a reporter were writing the story for you. Most importantly, your release needs to "inform" people, NOT just sell them something.
In most cases your headline is the first thing an editor sees when reviewing your release. An effective headline can make a difference between an editor covering your story or not. To create an effective headline consider the following pointers: Limit your headline to no more than one line. Many newsrooms have a limit on how many characters they can receive in a headline and their systems are programmed to "bounce out" releases that exceed this limit. The headline should provide an editor with a tantalizing snapshot of what the news release is about. This is critical as many journalists view releases over their wire system by headline only, then pick and choose when they want to view the full text of the release. The headline should include the name of the organisation issuing the release. Do not use exclamation points or dollar signs. Attribute all potentially libellous, critical, controversial, or judgmental statements. Writing style requirements
Writing a professional and effective news release can be difficult. Here are a few guidelines to consider when crafting your release:
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Get to the point quickly and back it up with quotes and evidence. Use proper grammar and punctuation. Check for typos, and don't just rely on spell check! Address who, what, when, where, why and how in the news release. Keep jargon to the minimum. Provide explanation if you must use it. Double check phone numbers and URLs. Read your release aloud to see if it makes sense. Include quotes to convey opinion or affiliation. Don't forget to put your contact name, release date, dateline, and web site URL and phone number in your release. Also make sure you are available for phone calls after sending the release out. Your release should be written objectively, as if the writer has no affiliation with the organisation. Do not use pronouns such as I, we, us, our, your, etc. except in direct quotes. Write in the third person. Do not use puffery statements or hype, but do inform the reader of your status Always include standard crucial information about your organisation in the last paragraph. The headline for this section should read "About (insert your organisation's name here)." Your release should be concise and to the point. You should be able to convey your message in two pages or, preferably, less. Releases that are less than 50 words in length tend to be advertisements and cannot be run as a news release.
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Eleven Questions About Press Release Writing How do I make journalists pay attention to my press release? Every public relations practitioner asks this question. Most find the answer in tight, informative copy. When looking for the answer to journalistic attention, PR practitioners need to ask themselves a few questions. Before Writing the Release 1. Is this newsworthy? This is the first and major question. The information has to interest the press and the rest of your targeted audience or else your efforts will be wasted. The following are typical items announced via news releases.
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New service Improvements or expansion of services Noteworthy new beneficiaries Organisation/staff changes Achievements by organisation or personnel Information resources Response to a controversy or crisis Special events Charitable donations Awards won/given Research findings Human interest stories
Different items will appeal to different segments of the press and public, so choose the media outlet and (the department within that outlet) carefully and make sure the release matches their needs. Are you sending a segment-specific story to general consumer media? If possible, find a special angle for your story. Does it have local appeal? Is there a unique aspect? Can you combine two items (e.g. a new service with a human interest story) to expand its appeal? Using an angle may mean you have to write multiple specialised releases instead of one generic piece, but if you get more coverage, isn't it worth it? 2. What is the purpose of the release? The question above sounds obvious, but at times people issue releases without a clear goal in mind. Knowing your objective gives your writing focus and helps in the selection of distribution channels. Setting goals also aids in tracking and measuring the overall effectiveness of your strategies. Below is a mixture of short- and longterm goals.
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Increase or maintain awareness Establish credibility or authority; build image Get interviews on television, radio, Internet Become an expert source Drive traffic to a special event or Web site
Writing and Editing the Release 3. News or Feature? The news style follows the conventional newspaper approach, summarizing the story's who, what, why, when, where (and often how) in the first paragraph. A feature story press release resembles a magazine article and is written in a more entertaining manner. The feature often sets the tone and background before introducing the main topic. 4. Is the formatting and style appropriate?
There is several ways to format a release, and as long as you follow a few general rules, you should be fine.
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Use one side of A4 white paper. Margins of at least a 2.5cm should be on all sides. Copy should be double-spaced include release date or "For Immediate Release." Put contact information at the beginning or the end of the release. If there is more than one page put "more" at the bottom to point to the following page. Add a boilerplate "About the organisation/individual" section at the end of the story. End the release with "end”
5. Does it answer the relevant questions? Some practitioners advocate that releases be written as a complete article, citing the tendency of editors to use stories verbatim. Others state that the release should only outline the story since reputable publications will contact the company. The best approach is to include enough information to allow a busy editor to use it without calling, and write the story in pyramid news style so less essential information is toward the end. 6. Is it concise? News writer and editors take about five seconds to decide whether or not to use your release. Go long on facts and short on adjectives. Use short paragraphs for easy scanning. Also use subheads on long or complex copy so readers can grasp your meaning at a glance. If your release is three pages or more, consider transferring some of the information to an accompanying fact sheet. 7. Is there adequate attribution?
Anything that can be considered subjective, such as opinions or grand claims should be credited to an executive in a quote. 8. Does it need a sample/photo? Including visual aids gives your release greater impact. Some publications want 20by-25cm or 12-by-18cm photos, while others prefer colour slides. The photo caption should also explain the who, where, when, why and what of the picture. After Writing the Release 9.Has it been reviewed and approved? Bigger organisations usually have a series of executives who have to review the release copy before it goes to the press. Ideally the number of reviewers should not be too long (in order to maintain timeliness), and a process that indicates who has already reviewed the copy (such as dated initials) should be established. If you're a small organisation, it is a good idea to have someone else proofread your copy. Since they're not as close to it, they might catch errors that you missed. 10. Where and how should you distribute it? Actually, this is something that should be thought about ahead of time. Media outlets have a high turnover rate so an updated media contact list is essential. An option is using your own media contact list. Remember that each of your contacts prefers to receive releases in a particular manner: mail, fax or email. It’s important to know their preference, especially with your A-list (described below). While you're contacting conventional media outlets, don't forget to send information to Internet newsgroups, electronic newsletters and Web-based mailing lists that accept this type of news. Set up a newsroom on your own Web site so reporters can access your entire library of releases, etc. 11.To whom do I make follow up calls? With the proliferation of media outlets, it is impossible to contact each one about your release. Make an A-list of outlets that you think would be highly interested in your story and could give you optimum exposure.
Press releases (also called news releases) are used to announce your company's news to journalists in hopes that they will publicize your story. . Many news and feature stories published in newspapers or broadcast on radio and TV originate from press releases. Press releases are sent to news reporters and journalists by mail, email or fax. They are also included in Press Kits. Because journalists receive dozens to hundreds of press releases daily, your release will compete with many others for attention. It's worth spending time to make yours the best it can be. Typical press release topics include:
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Announcing staff appointments. (For example, your company adds a vice president of finance.) Introducing a new product, service or idea. Reporting new findings from a survey or research. Announcing an upcoming event. Presenting new information (if it's newsworthy) such as reaching a milestone for your business or industry.
Many books on marketing communications and public relations contain sections or entire chapters on preparing press releases. You might want to add such a book to your professional library or check one out from your local public library. Also, the Web site of the Public Relations Society of America, a professional association for public relations practitioners, contains information about press relations in a database of newsletter articles. Check out the site at www.prsa.org. The Inverted Pyramid
Newspaper journalists have long used the inverted pyramid model for story writing, so press release writers should structure their releases accordingly. In general, this model reminds the writer to:
Summarize important information in the beginning of the release. The reader should be able to grasp the point of the release by reading the first sentence. This is the lead statement.
Follow with details that back-up or confirm the lead statement of the release. Including less important–yet relevant and interesting–information last.
The inverted pyramid model is used for several reasons:
Including " who, what, when, where and why " upfront quickly informs the reader of the story content. With press releases, the reader is a busy journalist who doesn't have time to read everything he or she receives. If the reader stops reading before completing the article, the most important information is conveyed. When space is limited, newspaper editors cut stories from the bottom. Therefore, the least important information will be cut first.
General Guidelines for Writing and Formatting Press Releases Message
Use the " KISS Method" (Keep It Simple Stupid!). Write in the active voice.
Active voice: The company offers several products. Passive voice: Several products are offered by the company.
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Use short, upbeat sentences written in everyday language. Short paragraphs are best. Write factually and objectively. Avoid adjectives. Tell how the information can help the reader, listener or viewer. Even though you're sending a press release to journalists, it's their audience you should keep in mind. Insert quotes from your company's CEO and other experts. Check for the proper spelling of individual and company names. Understand that you won't have the opportunity to double-check facts if a reporter decides to use your story. They'll be in a rush and will assume that what you've submitted is correct. Don't use initials or acronyms without indicating what they stand for in the first reference. Use capitalization accurately, yet sparingly. Avoid jargon.
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Tell the reader where they can go, what they can do, or who they can call for information. Edit your material tightly; look for ways to shorten phrases and sentences.
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Try to limit your news to one page and make it no longer than two pages. A fact sheet and/or photo may be attached, if needed (see below). If your release spills over to a second sheet, try to end the first page with a completed paragraph, or at least a completed sentence. Type "-more-" or "(more)" (without the parentheses) in the bottom center at the bottom of the first page so the reader knows to read on. At the top of the second page include a brief heading (flush left or right, but not centered) that includes the name of your organization, the date, page number and topic of the release (in case it is separated from the first page). Mark the end of your release with "###", "30" or "end" (centered) to signal that no additional text follows.
Since publication schedules vary, contact each media outlet to determine the best timing for sending your releases. In general, weekly or monthly magazines should receive your news several weeks in advance. Send releases to daily newspapers at least one week in advance, if possible.
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Print the release on your company's letterhead (or with a top heading that includes your business name, address, phone and fax numbers, etc.) Type NEWS RELEASE at the top of the page so the journalist knows immediately what it is. Indicate whether the announcement is for immediate release or for release on a later date. For example, you can type: "For Immediate Release," "For Release on November 1, 1997," or "For Release On or After November 1, 1997." Include a contact name (most likely yours) and phone number. The contact should be available to answer questions or provide further information if contacted by the reporter. Call the reporter back promptly with a response to his or her inquiry.
Provide a short headline that describes the content at a glance. Try to include your company name in the headline to build instant name recognition. For example, "Brighton Electronics Introduces Accounting Software for HomeBased Businesses" is a headline that immediately tells a journalist what the release is about. Type a "dateline" at the beginning of the lead paragraph. A dateline includes the location from which the news is being generated (city in all caps) and the date. For example, the first text line in your release might look this: DAYTON, Ohio (June 1, 1997) -- Brighton Electronics introduced accounting ... Try to determine and use the date you expect the release to arrive on the journalist's desk. The news may be hot off the press, but if it carries last week's date, a journalist may assume it's yesterday's news and throw it away without reading it.
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Type on only one side of an 8 1/2" x 11" piece of paper -- never print text on the back side of the paper. Double-space the text so it can be easily read. Indent all paragraphs Leave at least 1" for left and right margins. This gives the reporter space for editing, and makes your text easier to scan.
Include a brief fact sheet on products, events or other topics that have multiple details that would clutter a press release. For example, you might issue a press release announcing a new product and include a fact sheet that describes the product's features and benefits in detail. Try to limit to one page. Include only facts, no quotes. Fact sheets may be written in an outline format or use bulleted lists to present information. Include diagrams or graphics as appropriate to communicate facts about your product or event.
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Photos and Photo Captions
Photos are optional but may be included with staff appointments, new product releases or event announcements.
Hire a professional photographer, if possible. Photos of people are more interesting when the people are in action, however simple head shots may be used for promotion or appointment announcements. For newspapers the usual format is a 5" x 7" or 8" x 10" black and white photo. It's a good idea to ask the publications about preferred photo size. For magazines or newspapers that use color, you should also supply a reproduction-quality slide or indicate that color art is available upon request. (If a reporter calls and requests color art, ask when he or she needs it and get it there, even if you have to deliver it yourself.) Photo captions should be written in present tense and in the active voice. Photo captions should contain information on the "Five Ws"–Who, What, Where, When and Why. People in photos should be identified (from left to right) and the action in the photo described. For example, a caption might read: " Pictured from left to right are Brighton Electronics employees breaking ground March 3 at their new building site in east Hanover: Mary Jones, president; Celia Gonzales, vice president of operations; and Gloria Washington, vice president of sales." Captions, typed on paper, can be attached to photos with a paperclip or tape, as long as the photo is not damaged. The best method is to tape the caption to the bottom of the photo.
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The Style and Presentation A press release should be typed or word processed on an 8 1/2": x 11 ": paper. Provide wide margins and double-space the copy. White paper is most frequently used, but some publicity people use colored paper or typeface that reflect the colors of their organization or the theme of a particular event. If you have a logo, be sure to use it. Many newspapers accept FAX press releases. If you mail your release, consider folding the letter with the copy side out, so that as soon as the editor opens the letter he sees who it is from and what it is about. Always send the original press release to an editor, and keep a copy for your organization. Use letterhead stationery or type the name, address, and telephone number of your organization, single-spaced, in the left margin of the page. This is the source of the press release. Also include the publicist's name and telephone number. This is the contact. If you do use a letterhead, but be sure to remember to include the contact's name and phone number.
The date you are sending the press release can be placed at the left or right margin. Next comes the release date, which tells the editor the general time frame you want the information released. It should be typed in capital letters and placed at the left margin. Most press releases simply say, ":RELEASE IMMEDIATELY,": or ":RELEASE AT WILL.": Trust the editor to get the timing right. If you need to promote something that is extremely time-sensitive, write more specific details, such as ":RELEASE JUNE 18, AFTER 10 AM.": It is a good idea to include a suggested headline. Most editors write their own headlines, which are typically created after the graphic artist lays out the copy on the newspaper page and determines how much space can be used for a headline. Although your headline might not be used, it immediately tells the editor, at a glance, what is the most important element of your press release. The lead is the crux of your message. It is the first sentence, which pulls the reader in, hook, line, and sinker. The lead must be short and succinct, and get the message across in one fell swoop. For the most part, the only information your press release requires is the lead sentence and one or two additional sentences which fill in the details. This is the body of the press release. If you need to elaborate on an idea, keep it concise. Stay away from lots of superlatives, but try to give it some ":punch.": Most of the press releases your organization sends will not require photographs. Photographs are used more often in stories that reporters write. If you do need to include a photograph, find out if the newspaper wants a black and white or color photo. In order to print well, a newspaper needs a high-quality photographs. Be sure that every photo you send has a typed caption with appropriate identification information adhered to its back. Do not use a paper clip or staple to attach the photo to the press release; simply put the photo with the press release in an envelope. A Journalistic Style A good press release answers the all-important journalistic questions known as the Five W's — Who, What, Where, When, and Why. The press release should also answer the Five W's tagalong — How. A journalistic style is quite different from most writing styles. In most writing, you slowly develop and describe something that leads you to a particular point or conclusion. Newswriting gets straight to the point, and develops the story ":backwards.": The main point is stated at the beginning, and the rest of the information reveals itself from the most important to the least important. Choose your words carefully and keep the style simple and direct. The body of the press release should be double-spaced, so that there is room for the editor to edit. If you write a one page press release, at the bottom of the copy add three pound signs (###), the number thirty (-30-), or the word ":end": in capital letters (END). These are abbreviations which signify the conclusion of the press release. If you need to
use more than one page, write ":continued": at the bottom of the first page, and on subsequent pages, until you get to the final page. Double-Check and Reevaluate When your press release is ready to go, take an extra moment to double-check all facts, dates, names, spelling, and grammar. Reread your press release. Is it informative? Is the information clearly defined? Does it speak to the general public? Does the headline and lead grab you and make you want to find out more? If you are successful at getting your press releases published, clip and save them in a file. This will provide your organization with a good record of its press coverage and style. If you aren't successful at getting all of your press releases in print, study and reevaluate those that made the grade and those that didn't. Fine tune your next press release. Try to determine if you are sending the type of information that is truly of interest to the public. Work on your writing style and physical presentation. Get input from people within your organization. Check out some public relations and marketing books from your local library. You might even consider getting a copy of the AP Stylebook, which will help you follow newspaper editorial standards for punctuation, use of upper and lower case, sentence structure, paragraph length, abbreviations, and other requisites. Share Feedback Every now and then, it is nice to send a thank-you letter to the editor who places your press releases in the paper. Send a brief note of thanks, and relate any positive feedback you've gotten from the exposure, such as increased inquiries, new members, good attendance at certain events, or donations. The size of your organization and its members, supporters, and fund raisers, will grow and progress in proportion to your ability to ":get the word out.": Writing the Perfect Press Release by Maggie Frisch A press release can be one of your best promotional tools. Local media are always interested in interesting stories that come "pre-written" -- and that, in a nutshell, is what a press release is all about. Most press releases, however, end up in the round file, because they don't meet a paper's basic needs or requirements. Here are some tips that will help route your release to the reader rather than the trash can: 1. Most important: A press release must be NEWS. A chatty letter of introduction is not news. If what you have to say isn't news, then dress it up to LOOK and SOUND like news. You're a writer -- be creative.
2. Play up the local aspect if you're sending the press release to local media. Features departments are always looking for slice-of-life articles about the hometown gal or guy. That's you, the local author. 3. Make it urgent. Put a date on it and in big letters across the top: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. Write as though something newsworthy has just happened or is happening now, and must be reported immediately. 4. Create community value. Your news should not only be interesting but also helpful to the newspaper's readers. Offer important information, offer free advice, offer a sample. Help the newspaper be a valuable resource to its readers. 5. Find an angle. Don't simply announce, introduce, or describe. Take the basics of what you want to say and present it with an unusual slant. Create an appealing story. 6. Compose a grabber headline, not just "Announcing" or "Introducing." What will command the editors' attention? They're hungry for local, urgent, valuable news, remember? Be dramatic. 7. Boil down your basics into ONE PARAGRAPH (about ten lines). You don't need to tell the whole story now; your goal is to get an interview. That's when you can elaborate. 8. Compose a simple cover note that an editor can scan quickly. Four sentences will do. "Please consider a story on __________. Your readers will find this valuable because ___________. Contact me for an interview at _____________. Press release enclosed." This format may sound abrupt, but editors don't have time to read long cover letters. 9. Don't mail -- FAX! Faxes have a certain urgency, and short ones with simple formats just beg to be read right away. What about the enclosures, the samples, the bios? They wind up in the garbage anyway, so don't waste your printing and postage. Send additional material only upon request. 10. Don't send the press release/fax to a particular editor or department, despite some of the traditional advice you may have heard. Simply address: "TO: EDITOR" and your fax will be directed to the proper person and department. If you address it to a specific person, chances are you'll be sending your press release in the wrong direction. I had been -- business editors didn't care about my little enterprise, but the Local Happenings Department did. Your cover note should read in its entirety: TO: Editor FROM: Your name TOTAL PAGES: 2 11. Quote yourself. Come up with one or two meaty lines and attribute them to yourself. This gives the copy a more human touch and a more objective feel, as
though written by someone else. (Your press release should be written in the third person in any case, rather than in first-person.) When you write a press release, remember that you aren't submitting an article for publication. A press release is not copyrighted; it is, by definition, "for public release" -- and is therefore considered in the public domain. Don't be surprised, therefore, if your release shows up, verbatim, under someone else's byline; that's completely legitimate and not an infringement. And it actually works better for you: It conveys the impression that a reporter considered you newsworthy enough to write a story about you, even if you wrote every word yourself! What the reader doesn't know won't hurt you -- and may sell yet another book. Press Releases
Releases breaking news In specified format-the inverted pyramid (starts with the conclusion, then supports the conclusion.) Begins with an attention-grabbing lead. Tells the media who, what, when, where, why, and how, and often includes quotes from appropriate spokespeople. Contains timely information. Solicits immediate coverage. Included in the release are enough facts for an immediate story to be written with little or no legwork. Releases tend to be fodder for the circular file in the newsroom. In order to avoid this happening to yours, follow up written communications with a phone call to encourage coverage. Most importantly, an organisation should have already established itself as a reliable source with a reporter at the outlet so when they see the organisational letterhead, they will take time to read it. It is essential to include a contact name and phone number. You shouldn't phone a reporter after sending a release. Reporters find this annoying. The release contains all they need if they want to follow-up.
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Introduces an organisation, an idea, and an opportunity for future coverage.
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Written for an individual, personalised to their interests or an outlet's interests. May be sent to 1 or 100 outlets with minor changes. Establishes a relationship between the organisation and the outlet. Identifies good spokespeople on specific subjects. Introduces something that is upcoming, giving media a heads-up. Serves to "credential" an organisation by identifying it as a good source of information on an issue. May be in response to a story covered by a specific reporter that contained some inaccuracies, or left out a vitally important point. Tends to focus less on generating immediate coverage and more on educating reporters. Information in the letter presents an opportunity to cover a feature or trend story. Encourages reporter to invest time to discover the facts. Reporters tend to file these in their "teaser" files. This can be a black hole for story ideas. Calls should be made and other information should be sent to keep reminding the reporter to move the information to the front of the file, and eventually onto the desk so it can be turned into a story. Do not, however, become a pest. Take your cue from the reporter. If she/he expresses interest, continue to follow up. If not, or if the reporter is clearly not interested, move on
Planning a Press Event
This section provides a primer for planning a smooth press event. There will always be last-minute problems with set-up or speakers, but proper planning can really help avoid headaches.
Set your expectations
The first thing you should do when thinking of organising a press event is to set and manage expectations. What is your measure of a successful event? The number of reporters? Number of stories? Story content? Policy changes? You need to determine if an event with a few key reporters could do the job just as well as a larger event. It is also important to remember that few events draw a large number of reporters, and even fewer stories will be written. Reporters receive an endless stream of event invitations, and even when they are interested enough in your issue to make it a priority, their editors may not share those priorities
Notify the Media
Every press event must provide written notification to reporters in the form of a press advisory. These advisories should be followed up with phone calls and additional background information when requested. Advisories should be sent five to seven days before the planned briefing, conference, or other event. Follow-up calls should begin three to four days before the event, and continue until the day of the event. It is also critical to make sure that every event you plan is included in the 'daybooks.' These private or public relations news wires are an additional source for getting the word to the media about your news conference. Most markets have a daily and a weekly version of the daybooks. Deadlines for daybooks are usually 3 p.m. on the day before your event for daily calendars. Call and get the deadlines for weekly daybooks. Mail, phone or fax the information at least 48 hours before your event to your local daybook. Be sure to call and doublecheck that the editors included your entry - this is not a favour, it is a calendar of events for the media to attend/respond to. Most editors simply take the opening sentence of your advisory along with the contact name and phone number for your entry in the daybook, so make sure that the most important and compelling information is at the top
It is important to keep track of who has spoken to whom, what was said, and which reporters have expressed interest. It may be very helpful to keep a computer document that indicates which reporters plan to attend an event. If it is on the computer, then it can be updated by anyone who makes press calls, without overlap
It is important to stage the press conference in a convenient location or at a site that relates to the press conference itself. If possible, going to an interesting site may be very helpful for television or radio reporters.
A podium (and table if needed) should be placed in front of solid colour, preferably blue curtains. Make sure there are NO distracting paintings, murals, or mirrors. Make arrangements for a press registration table that has a sign-in sheet and where reporters can pick up press kits, or other information. The press registration table should be set up 30-40 minutes prior to the press event, and should ALWAYS be attended by a representative from your organisation.
Try to have visuals available during the press event. A blow-up of your logo as a visual for the podium is always a good idea. Make sure you place it directly under the microphone, not below the logo of the hotel or place of the event. If you have charts or other visuals in a report, a blow-up should be made. If you have a video clip or an issue ad campaign, make copies to distribute to the broadcast media. Remember, an assignment editor is more likely to make the decision to cover your event if there is a visual story to tell. Don't be afraid to use gimmicks and props. Television stations love them. Remember, "talking heads" make boring television footage.
Generally, since press events are focused on breaking news, they should begin either at 9 am or 10 am. If you schedule an event earlier than 9 am or later than 11 am, you risk losing several outlets due to deadlines, conflicting news stories or simply because reporters don't like to attend early morning events. (They tend to
work late). Try to limit the speakers to a total of 20 minutes (maximum), allowing reporters enough time to ask questions about what interests them most. Once the event runs over an hour or so, reporters will start to leave in large numbers, but expect them to leave at any time during the event.
Choosing Spokespeople and/or Speakers
Limit the number of speakers to a maximum of four to allow for follow-up questions from the press. Attempt to designate no more than three main spokespeople to take follow-up questions. If you have a large coalition, invite representatives to bring written statements (for the table or press kits) and help respond to questions, but not to serve as presenters. Likewise, you can invite policy experts to answer specific questions during the reporters' question and answer period. The opening statements should be crisp and not time consuming - about three minutes each. The combined opening remarks and statements should only take 1015 minutes. A moderator should introduce the speakers and be prepared to coordinate the question period. This person could also be delivering an opening statement. Make sure your press kit includes a list of the names and titles of your speakers so that photographers can take a copy and correctly identify each person. Think carefully about the order in which your press conference speakers will appear. Have a complete text of their statements, but ask them to summarize the most important points and try not to read each word. Reporters not attending the news conference will need copies to use to write a story if they are unable to personally cover your media event. Also, preparation and circulation of the text at the news conference eliminates errors copying down remarks or misquotes. You might want to make an audio copy of the event and pass the tape along to reporters who plan to file a story and need more details. But don't send them a tape unless they ask for it. Few of them have time to listen.
Guidelines for planning press conferences
A press conference is one of the best mechanisms for disseminating information to the media, particularly when launching a campaign or providing new information on a previous news story. You should only hold a press conference when you have real news to announce, however. Never hold a press conference when a press release will suffice.
Stages Stage 1: Preparation
Comment Preparation of speakers:
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Establish the topic; set the objectives of the conference Review with the speaker/s the agenda and the messages you want to convey Review a sample list of questions and answers Have other members of your team/organisation attend the conference to provide expert information and moral support.
Preparation of materials:
Prepare media kits for reporters attending the conference (and to deliver afterwards to those who do not attend). The kits should include:
A copy of the spokesperson's statement A news release detailing the topic. A fact sheet or brochure on your organisation and the project Reproductions of charts or graphs used Logistics:
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Select a location and room for the press conference Choose a room large enough to accommodate the media, cameras and other equipment Make sure there are enough electrical outlets for reporters’ equipment Display an appropriate logo/poster in a prominent spot
Provide chairs for reporters, name cards for speakers and an easel for visual aids
Display visuals prominently near the front of the room for easy reference by the speakers Keep visuals clean and simple. Remember, the visual may receive only 2 or 3 seconds of actual TV time.
Send a news release summing up the purpose of the conference and giving quotable quotes to the news outlets before the event Direct the release to editors, news directors and reporters, giving them the date, time, place and topic of the conference Schedule the conference to coordinate with media deadlines Make follow-up calls the day before the conference, urging reporters to attend. Double-check the conference room about an hour before the even to make sure everything is set Provide a media sign-in sheet so that you can follow up and add reporters to your media list. Consider serving refreshments (it will attract some reporters!). Start the conference on time. Introduce the speakers. Conduct a question-and-answer statement/conference. session after the
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Stage Delivery 2:
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Have a room available for follow-up interviews.
Stage 3: “Follow-up”
Provide a press kit to the journalists What are the outcomes of the conference? What has been heard, seen and read about the event? Analyse the content – corrections Did you achieve the objectives? What lessons did you learn?
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Press Kits A press kit is a set of materials designed to communicate your message in detail to reporters and media directors. It is used to help reporters and directors gain an understanding of your company, product or service so they will write about it. Press kits are an excellent tools for developing effective working relationships with media representatives of newspapers, magazines, radio, cable and television. They should be included as part of your media relations campaign. A good relationship with the media is vital to getting good news coverage. You may send the kit to the media when you make a significant news announcement, present the kit at a meeting you may have with the reporter or public service director, or distribute the kit to representatives from the press at trade shows or conventions. PRESS KIT FORMAT The materials that make up a press kit are usually assembled in a standard twopocket folder. Choose folders that have slots for your business cards, and in a color that complements your company's printed literature. Press kit materials typically used include the following information pieces: Insert, on the right side of the folder, from front to back:
Business Card - Place a copy of the contact person's business card in the slot inside the folder, usually on the right inside flap.
Press Release - Announce your big news! A press release contains information in printed form, is written like a newspaper story and is issued to media representatives and reporters. Article Reprints - Samples of past press coverage your company or the person in the news release has received can help sell the newsworthiness of your story. Copies of Speeches or Presentations given in association with your company or business can also make an impression.
Insert, on the left side of the folder, from front to back:
Photographs - typically a 5"x7" black and white glossy photo of your product or a person mentioned in your press release Company Profile and Fact Sheets - A concise summary of your company's history, initiatives and goals, including a description of your products and services. If you are introducing a new product or service, include a separate fact sheet highlighting its features and benefits. Testimonials and Case Studies - Positive statements or success stories about your business and its products and services from satisfied customers and clients can illustrate your company's significance. Biographies - Profiles of yourself and key employees provide details about the people behind the business. Statistical Data - Charts, graphs and line art can help illustrate your story. Some companies include a comparison chart of their products and services compared to their closest competitors. Brochures, Catalogues, Newsletters or other Business Literature Smaller brochures may be placed in front of other materials.
Newsworthy News What do you want to publicize? Anything of import to your organization, its members, supporters, beneficiaries, and the general public. Send a press release out when you elect officers, have a fund raiser, or put on a major social gathering or community function. Send out a press release when you know the results of your fund raiser, have a special speaker at a meeting, or decide to begin an exciting new annual event. Be sensitive as to what should or shouldn't be publicized; make sure it is pertinent and timely.
Whether you are delivering information to the media by mail, fax or at an event, you should provide the appropriate background to make your best case. Although your news may only consist of a one- or two-page release, the background material supporting this news and credentialing your organisation can also prove important in generating coverage. The press kit is not a brochure – it is a help to reporters to write their stories. The problem with most press packets is that they concentrate on providing information rather than conveying messages. All of your documentation (statistics, quotes, and so forth) should be arranged in a clear, concise way that supports the key themes you want to highlight. Information must be credible, concise, and well documented. Remember, your several-page packet will likely be boiled down to several paragraphs in a story, so help a reporter write the story by focusing on the key elements. If you give reporters too much information, you give them a choice of what to cover and risk overwhelming them to the point where they won't read any of it. You should make the choice - then sell that choice by supporting it with focused, well-written materials.
Press Kit Materials may include: Media Advisory
If you do not plan to write the Press Release after the event, you may want to include the advisory in your press kit. This serves as a reminder to the reporter who may hold on to the kit for future use.
You may choose to write a press release before the event takes place. This should be written as something that an objective reporter could use in its entirety as a news story. Few will, of course, but looking through that lens helps you pare the story down to its essentials. You are responsible for anything you say in the release. Some outlets will use the release verbatim so confirm all facts, figures, quotes and spellings. Small, weekly papers are most likely to run a release verbatim.
Supporting or Background Materials 34
Complex issues often require more substantiation than can be included in a press release. It is often useful to provide the media with additional briefing materials, fact sheets, statistics, or report summaries. Use headlines that reflect your main themes and organize all data under those heads. Charts and graphs are often useful ways to summarize information; state key findings in declarative, bold-faced sentences. Avoid overload. Focus on being concise and credible. Always indicate the source. You will increase your chances of coverage if you highlight local or state information or the impact of national data on a specific community, state or region. When sending to more than one state, you may want to tailor individual press kits to those areas.
A statement from the press conference speakers or from noted individuals if the event is less structured - a noted scientist, or economist, for example. These should be very brief and focused on the key messages. Speakers may deliver expanded remarks at the actual event, but don't force the reporter to sift through the introductions, warm-up, etc. to find the salient quote.
You should include a paragraph-long bio for each speaker, including their name, affiliation, and all contact information. This will help reporters when citing quotes, or setting up interviews. Do not force reporters to call you in order to contact the source unless your experts require prepping or want to screen each interviewer.
A background statement on your organisation should be no more than one page long and include:
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Name of organisation Contact info for organisation and speakers Main purpose of organisation Recent work that your group has accomplished: a list of issues, for example.
More on background materials... (Link to background materials)
If relevant - and if you have the budget - include one or two visual elements the media can use to illustrate the story. Photographs on photo-ready discs or other artwork will help draw readers to the story, if it runs. In addition to photo-ready discs, you could provide black & white photos, pre-screened line art, reproducible charts, or graphs. Most newspapers prefer to take their own photos, so if you have a limited budget, don't devote resources to this option
Outreach to Broadcast Media
If you are trying to generate local TV coverage, think in terms of pictures that support your words. How can your story be told on TV? If you are having a press event, pay particular attention to the background set-up. Include in your press packet specific places and times that camera crews can shoot, information for onsite interviews, notable actions by local people and, if available, b-roll or other background footage that camera operators can use for the story. B-roll should be no more than 3-5 minutes in Beta format (appropriate for T.V. use).
Talking to Reporters, Making Your Pitch
Whenever you have news to announce or an event for media, you will need to make press calls with the specific agenda of securing attendance and coverage. Knowing reporters and outlets will help target the right reporter for the story. Fielding incoming calls When receiving press calls, make sure anyone who may answer the phone is prepared to take careful messages. Get the name, number and organisation calling, as well as their deadline. If you do not have the information right in front of you, do not hesitate to ask the reporter if you can call right back with some answers, someone to talk to, etc. Always remember, an imminent deadline should receive an immediate call back from the appropriate spokesperson. Have only trained people answer press inquiries. Don't let an untrained person field press questions. Have them take a very specific message, and have the right person call back.
Also when receiving calls, you may have the opportunity to try a new angle, or tell the longer story to further interest a reporter, or to get them to cover your side of the story more in-depth. Other reporters may call you looking for information to write a story when they are unable to attend. Finding the right reporter Reporters’ change beats all the time, or you may not know which reporter is most appropriate for your story. Don't hesitate to call the bureau chief or assignment editor, or even the switchboard and ask questions. Simply tell the person, "I'm calling with information on a story about XXX, do you know which reporter I should talk to?” or if you know what type of reporter to contact, but do not have a name, you can call the switchboard and say something like, "I have a health and medicine related story, do you know who covers that issue?" Getting on the phone - pitch tips to remember Although the following tips are for soliciting immediate coverage, much of this advice applies to building on-going relations with reporters over the phone. Whether you are calling for an event, or calling to follow up on materials you sent to a reporter, you will want to consider the following:
If you don't know the reporter, you will have less than 30 seconds to get his/her attention. Get to the point quickly. Answer the question: "Why should this reporter be interested?" and tailor your pitch accordingly. For example, look into regional angles, the public health or the science angles of a story. Before calling the media, write out and practice your pitch on someone who is not a member of your organisation to see if they understand what you are saying and think it is interesting. Respect deadlines. Media calls are best made in the morning or early afternoon when most reporters are not on deadline. Always ask if the reporter is on deadline before you begin. If they are, ask when a better time would be to call. Exceptions to the rule are radio and TV talk shows. Call when the show is not on the air. Tell the reporter why you are calling - "I saw your story on... and thought you might be interested in something my organisation is doing about this problem," or "I'm calling to let you know about a new report on XXX."
Have your talking points and the appropriate information in front of you, including statistics and spokesperson information so you don't sound disorganised. Be specific. Tie the story to something timely or newsworthy - "As you know, the Bulgarian Government is considering cutting back on clean XXX. If this happens, it will mean XXX for (the media outlet's geographic area)..." If you don't know the answer to a question the reporter raises, tell them that you do not know but that you will try and find out for them and call back. Don't make up answers or speak off the cuff. Anything you say is on the record so choose your words carefully. Say something like, "I'm not sure about that. Is it alright if I find out and call you back?" If a reporter is on deadline and is brusque, don't let that shake you. It is essential in this situation that you respond courteously to their situation by offering to call back, ask when would be the best time to call back, find out if you can fax the information, etc. Others may be brusque even when not on deadline. Don't take it personally. Offer to provide additional information and background materials. These should expand the portrait of your organisation and its activities, as well as the positive role played by the entire sector. If the reporter asks you to fax something, confirm their fax number. Many organisations change their fax numbers frequently. Follow up with a fax immediately. When not working on a same-day press briefing, make a commitment for the next step: set up an interview, send/fax follow-up materials, call the reporter back with more information after a certain time period, etc. Share what is working about your media "pitch" - and what isn't working - with your colleagues. It may take a couple of calls to get your pitch down, and when you find what works, share it. Be prepared to have conversations with reporters who know a lot about the issue. If you finish your 30-second pitch and cannot answer reporters' inquiries, you won't be able to sell your story.
Reporters want to be sure you know what you are talking about. Remember that your pitch should be simple, interesting, short, and clear. But, your knowledge should go to a deeper level. Keep a log with good notes about your press outreach. Record reporters' interests, key questions; note what the next steps are. Does the reporter want more info? Do you need to make a follow-up call in a few days? Record any follow-up activities on the log. If a reporter says no, respect it. Do not keep harping or bothering him/her about the same story or angle. No doesn't mean, "don't ever call me again." It just means don't call again with the same pitch/story. Don't be afraid to call another time with a new story, or very interesting new angle, breaking news, etc.
Leaving messages Reporters are hardly ever at their desks - although your chances are best in the morning. Don't hesitate to leave brief messages for reporters outlining your pitch. You can do this more than once, but try not to leave more than two messages. Try to keep your pitch very short, ask them to call, offer to fax info, and say that you will call back. If you wait until you get every single reporter on the phone before giving your pitch, you may face an empty press event.
Successful interviews are message-driven.
To have successful interviews, you need to answer questions in a way that supports your messages. If, after an interview, the quotes included in a story do not support your main messages, then you are what we call in the industry "off message." To avoid mistakes, practice interviewing using the messages from your message box. All spokespeople for your organisation should be familiar with and proficient in delivering these key messages. Remember: part of getting out messages successfully is picking the right spokespeople. Certain spokespeople will resonate better with your target audience than others. Don't let egos eliminate a chance to showcase your best spokespeople and get the most from a media interview.
5 General guidelines for a successful interview 1. Prepare. Ask yourself, 'What is my goal with this interview?' Know the one, two
or three (max) key points you want to make; have simple facts and figures ready to support those points. Use every opportunity to answer questions and then reiterate one of your main points.
2. Use the Three C's.
Concise. Typically, your comments will be edited to about 5 to 15 seconds or a short sentence. Focus on getting your points across efficiently. Avoid long words and lengthy sentences. Also, it is better to pause to gather your thoughts than to rely on fillers like "uh-uh-uh," "like," or "you know." Conversational. Avoid insider jargon and policy-laden language; use words and descriptions that the average reader/viewer will understand. When you must use jargon, explain it - briefly. Catchy. The reporter is looking for the catchy phrase or sound bite. To ensure your main points are included, say them in a clever fashion. If you just presented a key point in an unclear or rambling way, stop for a second and make your point again. The reporter needs the quote to make sense.
3. Say What You Want to Say: Avoid Five Common Traps. 40
Don't Repeat the Reporter's Words. At times a reporter will use language in a question that is confusing or even negative. Sometimes the goal is to bait you into a certain type of answer. The question won't appear in the final version, but your answer will, so don't repeat it. Don't Lose Your Cool. A reporter may play devil's advocate just to get a colourful response. Don't give an angry or defensive response -- simply redirect your answer to one of your main points. Reporters get the last word, so don't get into a verbal tussle. There is No Such Thing as "Off the Record." If you don't want something reported, don't tell the reporter. Don't Be Led Into Hypothetical Situations. If the reporter says, "Assume that..." or "What if...." and you don't like the direction being taken, respond with something like: "I can't speculate on the unknown, however..." and restate one of your main points. Don't Fill (Awkward) Silent Pauses. Often a reporter will pause after you have responded to a question, waiting for you to elaborate. Don't feel the need to fill in the silent pauses (sometimes reporters are using this awkward pause to get you to say something you otherwise wouldn't); simply wait for the next question and insert one of your key points.
4. Be Friendly, Honest and Yourself. Never lie. If you don't know the answer,
say so, and then say you'll try to find out the information and get it to the reporter as soon as possible. Never respond to a question with "no comment." It sounds like you're hiding something. Rather, generously describe why you cannot specifically answer that question and direct the conversation back to one of your main points.
5. You Have More Control Than You Think. Remember, reporters are conduits they are not your ultimate audience. Their audience is your audience, so address your points to the public. Use every opportunity to answer a question and bridge back to one of your main points. You have more control than you think.
Before the Interview
There are several questions you want answered before you agree to an interview. Some people are hesitant to ask these questions, but the more knowledge you have, the more prepared you will be. You won't lose an interview because you will be sure to answer these questions.
• • • •
What's the format of the outlet? Print? Broadcast? What's the interview about? What's your organisation's role in the piece being proposed? Are you the focus or just a supporting player? Who else are they interviewing? Which outlet is it for? Ask about the reader- or viewership to determine if it reaches your target audience. You shouldn't necessarily turn down an interview if it doesn't, though you probably won't make it a priority. Ask if they are a weekly or a daily? A conservative show or paper? How many viewers, reader or listeners does it have? What's the format of the interview? Is it a one-on-one, a debate, or another format? Are you part of a panel? If it is a broadcast interview, will it be live, edited on tape, is it a call-in? How long will the interview last? For print pieces, do they need a photo? Usually they will take their own pictures, so be prepared if they plan to have a photographer snapping away at you while you speak. For broadcast interviews, do they need b-roll or will they need to pre-interview the spokesperson?
• • • • •
If you are comfortable with the answers to all of these questions, and you feel this interview gives you a good opportunity to get out your organisation's messages, go for it. If you don't feel you are the right messenger for the show, consider suggesting someone else from your list of spokespeople who might be more appropriate or who could make a stronger statement.
If the story just isn't on the right topic or won't give you the forum to discuss what you want to discuss, consider turning it down. Spend your time on something that will let you get your message out.
General Media Interview Tips
The media is a hard vehicle to control. Here are ways to stay in command of the situation:
1. Know whom you are talking to when you are being interviewed.
You are talking to the audience that reads the story or sees it on TV. In most cases, the reporter you are speaking to is a conduit to the target audience. Speak to that audience. Don't try to convince your opponent who may be on with you or convince the interviewer.
2. Never shoot from the hip.
If a reporter calls your office for a "quick comment," don't take the call right away. Ask what the subject is. Tell him/her you are just finishing up a meeting and will get right back to them. Take a deep breath, make quick notes about the points you want to make, and then call back. Also, never start a sentence with, "I shouldn't say this but..." If it starts that way, you probably shouldn't. 3. Make sure staff answering the phone know the following rules:
No one but designated staff are to give any information to the media; If you or the designated staff are not available to take a media call, ask the reporter for his/her name, outlet, direct line, and if they are on deadline. The deadline question is key because if you take too long to get back to them, you may miss a chance to get your side into the story. Train staff to answer media calls at the office. If you have just issued a report, held a news conference, or done something to generate news, expect media calls. This is particularly true if you are in a crisis communications situation.
4. Take it from the top; make sure to correct misconceptions.
Even though you will have sent advance materials, do not expect that the
reporter has read them thoroughly or really knows what your organisation/campaign is about.
5. Don't make things up.
If you don't know, say you don't know. If possible, tell the reporter you will find out and get back with him/her with the information. But don't say this if you don't believe you can get the information quickly.
6. Never use jargon or acronyms.
Remember most people don't have insider knowledge of your issue. Talk in a sophisticated but understandable way, avoiding the use of insider jargon.
7. Know your opponents' viewpoints and have counterpoints ready.
It is rare for the media to only report one side of the story. Assume the other side will get called as well, and dismantle their arguments in your talking points.
8. Remember, reporters are not your friends.
They may be outside of work, but when interviewing you, they are looking for a story. Don't go "off the record" and don't confide things you wouldn't like to see on the nightly news.
9. Don't lose your temper with a reporter.
They always get the last word. They'll decide what quotes to use and which sound bites to air. Keep calm and cool and win the reporter over to your side with reason.
10. Tape yourself in print interviews.
This way if you have a problem you will have a record. Make sure that the reporter knows you are taping. It may be unlawful in some states to tape a conversation without the other party's consent.
11. Don't answer personal questions.
Just say, "that's personal," and move on.
12. "No comment" rarely works any more.
Think about how you feel when you hear someone on the news say "no comment" (usually with their face covered by a newspaper).
13. Control your message.
You have several messages you want to get out; regardless of the question, you should answer with one of your key messages. Turn the question to make sure
what you want to get out is what is heard, but don't be evasive. Make sure you also answer any questions the reporter really needs to have answered.
14. Be prepared for the negative bias of the media.
The media's primary bias is towards negativity. Reporters want to know what is the problem, the controversy, and who is to blame. Be prepared to work with this bias rather than get upset about it. The bottom line is, readers are more interested in controversy than "good news" and editors, publishers and reporters understand this.
15. Repeat the message.
Repeat it many different ways. Support it with anecdotes, clichés, and statistics. But repeat, reiterate, and re-establish - if you don't, no one will remember it.
The Techniques •
Calm always wins the day. Defensive and angry are signs of a person in a weak position. If you are easily excited or angered, take a breath and pause before speaking so that you sound calmer. Support your messages with anecdotes, statistics and sound bites. Use "off-message" questions to bridge back to your message. Use phrases such as "That's a good question. Before I address it, I'd like to go back my earlier point..." Politicians do this all the time. Don't hop around in an interview just because the interviewer is jumpy. If they interrupt you or barrage you with rapid-fire questions, remain calm; finish your sentences; wait until the interviewer takes a breath and then pick one question to answer. Don't fall for the "when did you stop beating your wife" or the "isn't it true that"(put you on the defensive) line of questioning. Don't start with "no" or act flustered. Merely correct the record and bridge to one of your main messages. If an interviewer mis-states something or has a fact wrong, don't be polite and keep quiet - speak up. For TV, realise your interview will be substantially edited to fit into a short time frame. And print reporters will be looking for concise quotes that explain
the story. Keep your answers to between 10 and 20 seconds. Reminder: network TV sound bites are 8 seconds; learn to be concise.
Don't think that because print reporters have more space they may use longer quotes. Remember, they are taking notes as you speak. Speak slowly, use short sentences, and repeat yourself. It will help ensure the reporter gets your point and gets it written down correctly. Give it to them in writing. Make a one-page summary sheet of your main points and leave it with print reporters, along with a phone number where they can reach you with follow-up questions. The more the reporter has/sees your message, the less likely she/he is to misquote you. Use flag words to get the audience's attention:
o o o
"If I could only say one thing about this it would be..." "Finally . . ." "The most important thing to remember . . ."
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
After the Interview
Write a note to the person who interviewed you, thanking them for their time and attention. Regardless of how the story comes out, you want them to know you appreciate the opportunity to talk about your campaign/issue. Review the coverage The best way to get better at interviewing is to review your performance and then make a list of what you'll do better or differently next time. Ask yourself:
• • •
Were you on message? Did you get your main points across in a concise and easy to understand way? Did your opponents make any compelling arguments for which you will need to construct a good counterpoint in the future?
Was the piece in any way inaccurate or unfair?
If the story is inaccurate or unfair... If a story comes out with factual mistakes or misquotes, do not call up screaming at a reporter. Instead, calmly point out the mistake and ask for a correction. Consider contacting the editor or news director. Going over a reporter's head is a serious step and should only happen when a major mistake has been made and the reporter refuses to acknowledge his/her responsibility for the miscommunication. If you go over a reporter's head without first speaking with him/her, you will sour whatever relationship you have with that reporter, and it can come back to haunt you.
Specific Guidelines for Television Interviews 1. Remember Your Appearance. Viewers will decide within eight seconds if you
2. TV screen can intensify messy hair or a crooked tie, so look in the mirror before
going on camera.
• • • •
Dress conservatively; distracting clothing gets in the way of your message. Dark suits of solid colour with a pale shirt are good. White reflects light and close stripes can look wavy on TV screens. Socks for men should be knee high, hosiery for women should be almost colourless. No flashy jewellery -- it shines "hot spots" on cameras; no sunglasses, lapels buttons or pins; and keep bulky items out of your pockets.
3. Maintain Eye Contact. Always look at the interviewer and not at the camera.
Looking around the room or at the camera makes you look shifty and hurts credibility. Sit only halfway back in the chair and lean forward -- this keeps your body upright and projects a look of engagement. Avoid nervous twitches like clearing your throat, tapping your foot, rolling your eyes, fiddling with your hands, etc.
4. Always Assume the Tape is Rolling. Sound is recorded when the tape is
rolling, so be aware of what you say even after the formal on-camera interview because it may end up on the air. What to Wear on Air Women: Bright colors are best. Avoid all white or cream ensembles. No heavy jewelry. Every day make-up. Men: Solid suits in gray or navy with a cream or other light colored shirt. Be careful when choosing a tie. Check, hounds tooth and complicated patterns create optical illusions on TV and distract viewers. You want them to pay attention to what you say, not what you wear.
GUIDELINES FOR HANDLING TELEVISION INTERVIEWS
Tips Find out all you can about the interview before-hand Types of interview Make the most of how you look and sound.
What to wear?
Prepare what you want to say. Keep arguments simple.
Keep answers contained.
Comment Area of questioning? What sort of interview? Live or pre-recorded? How is material to be used? Main studio, down the line, location • Credibility shows in the tone of your voice, your posture and your facial expression • Your image is important in television. • Speak clearly, naturally. • Look steadily at the interviewer – try to forget the camera • Be smart but comfortable. • Avoid very light or very dark colours, fussy accessories and sunglasses. Consider the message you want to get across and keep it to 2-3 main points. TV interviews usually only last 2-3 minutes. • Give clear answers – the audience has only 1 chance to get your meaning – and be concise so you will not be edited down. • Do not try to create an answer if the information is not available. • Sounds more authoritative and reduces chances of the meaning being manipulated by editing or being used out of the context.
• • •
Try to talk in short, substantive phrases. Keep in mind that reporters are always looking for good sound bites for their stories. Use everyday words/analogies to explain specialist concepts; Avoid detailed discussion of procedures; Use round figures.
GUIDELINES FOR HANDLING PRESS INTERVIEWS
Tips Comments Check: who? - you are talking to which department? …. which publication?- there could be a political slant to the story Prepare your facts. Have the answers to who, what, when, when, why, how, where. Anticipate obvious Good news: What are you proposing? Why? • questions and prepare Who will benefit? answers. • Bad news: What has gone wrong? Why? Who is responsible? Prepare your arguments. • Turn questions to your advantage – summarise key points you want to get across and think how to work them into answers. • Prepare any examples/analogies you want to use. Brief the reporter. • Unless a specialist correspondent, the reporter will know less about the subject than you. Explain the story/context. Be assertive. • The journalist has come to you because you know something s/he does not. You are important – do not be bullied. • If you get a phone call out of the blue ask for time to collect your thoughts and call back, but know the deadline and keep to it Give comprehensive unambiguous and correct any misconceptions. Be answers. Give positive answers to Anticipate awkward questions – think through all the negative questions. positive things you can say. Always challenge a negative assumption. “Off the record”. Useful for explaining the broader, confidential context to keep the story in proportion. Only use with known/trusted reporters – even then assume all you say will be published.
Never say “ No comment” You will sound as if you have something to hide and miss a valuable opportunity for positive publicity. Do not relax until the Some of the best quotes come from a passing shot at the reporter has gone. door.
GUIDELINES FOR HANDLING RADIO INTERVIEWS
Tips Comment Find out all you can about the Area of questioning? What sort of interview? interview before-hand Live or pre-recorded? How is material to be used? Types of interview: • In the studio • Brief “head-to-head”? Discussion panel? Phone-in? • By telephone • Most frequent in local radio. • Pre-recorded on location • Minimise interruptions. Brief the reporter. • Give your name/position, context of the story / essential facts. • Make clear what you are/ are not qualified to talk about. Prepare what you want to say. Have facts at your fingertips; anticipate questions; prepare points you want to make and make them. Aim for two or three points Most radio interviews last for only 3-4 minutes. Keep only. it brief. Prepare a summary. Make the most of your voice. Speak clearly, at reasonable speed, in the appropriate mood. Keep arguments simple. • Give clear answers – the audience only has one chance to get your meaning. • Be concise so that you will not be edited down. Keep answers self-contained. Sounds more authoritative and reduces chances of the meaning being manipulated by editing or being used out of the context. Avoid jargon. • Use everyday words/analogies to explain specialist concepts; • Avoid detailed discussion of procedures; • Use round figures.
Crisis Planning and Management 50
General principles that can positively communication in a crisis situation:
• • • •
Bring the situation under control, if possible. Always protect people first and property second. Analyse the situation to judge its newsworthiness. Don't create a crisis by jumping the gun. Many times the situation doesn't warrant media attention. Gather the facts - who, what, where, when, why, how, what next. If necessary, activate your crisis management team. Act quickly; spare no expense to distribute the information you determine the media and others should have. Give the media as much information as possible; they'll get the information (perhaps inaccurately) from other sources. Don't speculate. If you don't know the facts say so and promise to get back to the media as soon as possible. Then be sure to do so. Protect the integrity and reputation of the organisation. Report your own bad news. Don't allow another source to inform the media first. Perform an act of goodwill during or immediately after a crisis when appropriate and possible.
• • • • •
Crisis communication planning can help you deal effectively with those unexpected disasters, emergencies or other unusual events that may cause unfavourable publicity for your organisation.
Be prepared - Although emergencies by their very nature are unpredictable, it is possible to list and prepare for those potential negative scenarios that might occur during normal activities. It also is possible to set up a communication system that can be activated in almost any emergency situation. Do the right thing - In any emergency situation it is imperative that you put the public interest ahead of the organisation's interest. Your first responsibility is to the safety and well being of the people involved. Once safety has been restored, face the public and face the facts. Never try to minimise a serious
problem or "smooth it over" in the hopes that no one will notice. Conversely, don't blow minor incidents out of proportion or allow others to do so.
Communicate quickly and accurately - Positive, assertive communication focuses attention on the most important aspects of the problem and moves the entire process forward to resolution, even in a negative environment or with an antagonistic news media. Understand that media representatives have an obligation to provide reliable information to their audiences, and they will get that information whether or not you cooperate. If you won't comment on the situation, you can be sure someone else will. You maintain control by making sure you are at least one of the major sources of media information in a crisis. Give factual information - don't speculate. Follow up - Make amends to those affected and then do whatever is necessary to restore your organisations reputation in the community. Change internal policies or institute new ones to minimise a repeat of the crisis situation. Also, revise your crisis communication plan based on your experience.
Before the crisis, successful communication will depend, in large part, on the preparations you make long before the emergency occurs.
Having a system in place will allow you to deal with the situation at hand, and not waste precious time trying to decide how to communicate. An effective crisis communication plan puts you in control of what may be a very volatile and confusing situation. Identify potential crises - Hold a brainstorming session with key members of the organisation to identify those scenarios that might result in unfavourable publicity. Develop policies to minimise crisis situations - Try to anticipate potential emergency situations and develop policies to avoid them. In many crisis situations you will be asked by the media what policies you have on that particular situation. You do not want to be put in the uncomfortable situation of stating that you have no policy. Create a file of information that addresses potential crisis situations and keep it up to date. Develop a crisis management team - Determine in advance a team to deal with crisis communication situations. Assign at least one individual to be a crisis communications team leader and have a back up. Decide which team members
will gather information, notify families of victims, deal with emergency officials, and communicate with volunteers and staff. Determine a primary and secondary spokesperson to communicate with the media in crisis situations. Give this spokespeople media interview training if possible. Appoint people to monitor coverage in specific media outlets.
Assemble and organise resources - In a crisis situation you and your crisis communication team will want to have up-to-date and accessible information. Resource information may include: current list of crisis team members and alternates with work and home telephone numbers - each team member should carry the list; updated media lists; insurance company contacts; lists of emergency services such as fire, police, hospital and ambulance; a means to communicate with volunteers and staff (fax lists or a telephone network); copies of policies for potential crisis situations. Develop and distribute an emergency procedures guide - This should be a short procedural outline applicable to most events and programs (or specific guides for each event or program). It spells out what volunteers and/or staff should do if an emergency occurs or if contacted by the media, and lists emergency service and crisis team numbers. In general, staff and volunteers should contact emergency services if necessary and immediately report any potential crisis situation to the designated members of the crisis team.
During the crisis, your focus is to deal with the situation, gather accurate information and communicate quickly.
Bring the situation under control - Before you do anything else, ensure the safety and well being of everyone involved. Always protect people first and property second. Call emergency professionals if they are needed. Analyse the situation and gather information - Once the necessary safety and security precautions have been taken, get the facts from informed sources before responding to inquiries. Consider legal, ethical and organisational ramifications. Don't blow the issue out of proportion or allow others to do so. If the media contact you before you have had a chance to assess the situation and decide on a response, let them know when you expect to have more information - and honour your own deadline. Nothing is more likely to make the situation worse than an irritated reporter who has been left dangling with no information. You will need to find answers to some basic questions including: what happened? when did it happen? where did it happen? how many people are
involved? where are those people now? how dangerous is the situation? what happens next?
Notify the families of those involved - The circumstances will vary with the nature of the crisis, but the matter always should be handled with the utmost kindness, sensitivity and discretion - always in person. Members of your crisis communication team should be assigned this task. Never release the names of dead or injured to the media before informing members of their immediate families. Keep internal public informed - In addition to working with the media, a good crisis communication plan allows for communication with members of the organisation. If the situation warrants, call a staff and/or volunteer meeting and provide appropriate information on the circumstances and the organisation's position. Or, your plan may call for the use of a fax or telephone system. The best policy, if possible, is to release information to people in the organisation before, or at least at the same time, it is released to news media. Communicate with the media - In general, it is good policy to release information about the situation as quickly as possible. Comments should be of a general nature until all the facts are in, but then it is far better to get the full story out as soon as possible. Return calls first to radio and television stations, then to newspapers.
Reporters provide few surprises in a crisis situation.
They want to get the basic information easily and quickly, usually with some kind of human-interest angle. Print reporters usually will need and use more information than their colleagues representing broadcast media. Newspaper reporters are interested in basic facts for today's edition and background and implication for tomorrow's edition. Broadcast journalists, on the other hand, will want less but will be in more of a hurry and will seek more updates. Sometimes the media will be on the scene. In other situations you will need to initiate contact. This should be done as soon as the basic facts are in hand. The initial contact should be followed with a formal statement, including any updated information and plans for investigating the incident. Media will expect: complete honest information; background material; some indication of how the organisation intends to proceed; information about the impact on your staff and volunteers; regular updates and after-the-crisis follow up
Your spokesperson should be forthright in dealing with media questions. There are, however, some questions he or she simply cannot and should not answer, including:
• • • • •
money estimates of damage insurance coverage speculation as to the cause of the incident allocation of blame anything "off the record"
Your spokesperson should not respond to media questions with "no comment" because this answer can imply a lack of cooperation, an attempt to hide something or a lack of concern. There are more appropriate responses when he or she either doesn't have or is not at liberty to give certain information. Some examples might be:
• • • •
"We've just learned about the situation and are trying to get more complete information now." "All our efforts are directed at bringing the situation under control, so I'm not going to speculate on the cause of the incident." "I'm not the authority on that subject. Let me have our Mr. XXX call you right back." "We're preparing a statement on that now. Can I fax it to you in about two hours?"
Keep a log of media calls and return calls as promptly as possible. A log can help you keep track of issues being raised by reporters, and give you a record of which media showed the most interest. Good crisis management calls for open, honest communication with various target audiences. During a crisis, however, this is most difficult to accomplish. As human beings, we usually seek ways to avoid or soften painful experiences. It is helpful to recognise some specific reasons people use to discourage open communication. These reasons are all logical, reasonable, and probably valid to some degree. Nevertheless, unless
you deal with them effectively, they will become obstacles, making it extremely difficult to resolve the crisis.
We need to assemble all the facts - We do need all the facts; that must be a priority. However, we may need to release some information initially and be honest about the fact that we still are gathering information. We must avoid panic - One of the best ways to avoid panic is to control the flow of information. We can establish and maintain our credibility as an information source only when we communicate openly and honestly. We have no spokesperson that can respond - Crisis communication planning will identify spokespersons. The head of the organisation is an appropriate general spokesperson for most crises. There are legal issues involved - Legal issues often are involved in crises. Management must be willing to balance legal and public relations issues. The long-term health of an organisation depends not only on a legal resolution of a specific issue, but also on the effective resolution of a crisis in the "court of public opinion." We need to protect our organisation's image - Open and prompt communication is essential to protect our image with the media and the general public. We don't know yet how to respond to the crisis - It may in fact take some time to develop a solution to the crisis. Part of the challenge and opportunity of the crisis is to show those affected that the organisation is using a reasonable, caring process to resolve the crisis. We can show this process best when we are willing to communicate openly. There is proprietary information involved that we cannot divulge - There may be information we cannot divulge, especially if there are consequences for a particular member of the organisation. We need to weigh our decisions carefully, point by point, to determine if such a situation really exists, or whether we simply are making excuses. We need to remember that public safety must be a paramount concern.
After The Crisis
Declare an end to the crisis - It is most important for your organisation to signal an end to the crisis situation. Follow up - Stay in touch with the community after a crisis, especially with those directly affected. Keep the media informed of any updates in the situation, or let them know the crisis has ended. Review internal policies to try to avoid a repeat of the crisis situation. Perform an act of goodwill - Do this during or immediately after a crisis when appropriate and possible. Have a formal debriefing - Debrief members of your crisis communication team. Analyse the outcome and the media coverage - both positive and negative. Revise your crisis communication plan to reflect what you have learned.
A checklist for organisations dealing with the employee communications demands of a disaster:
• • • • • • • • • •
Make clear to employees that their safety is your number one priority. Communicate only what you know. Assure employees you’ll provide them with additional information as soon as you know it. Set up phone banks and/or an online centre to respond to concerns. Communications professionals must staff the phone bank. Use your website or intranet to address employees concerns, and as a source of information. Offer stress-related counselling services. Maintain open employees. lines of communication between senior executives and
Refrain from using any inflammatory or culturally insensitive rhetoric. Reach out to community groups and social service agencies. Help employees who want to participate in community assistance. As you assess the potential impact on business operations, communicate your findings to employees and clients.
Public Relations by Geoff Lancaster ©
Public Relations is an important and versatile marketing communications tool. It can be employed both within and outside the organisation. Many feel that public relations is an external marketing tool, with the firm attempting to communicate with a wide range of external ‘Publics’ in order to cast the organisation in a favourable light in peoples’ minds. This way of thinking is very limited, and fails to appreciate the great value of public relations as an internal marketing communications tool. Good internal marketing i.e. achieving the right internal organisational culture and getting everyone ‘pulling’ in the same direction in terms of marketing effort, is a vital prerequisite to effective external marketing, particularly those based on the concepts of long term ‘relationship’ marketing. Public relations has a vital role to play in the creation of an effective internal marketing culture within an organisation. In this sense it has seen a realisation of its importance as a strategic internal communication tool. Public relations Is a very versatile communications tool and is today used by just about every type of organisation whether it be a charity, a political party or a commercial organisation. It is concerned with strategic management of information in such a way that certain publicity objectives are achieved. It is not always the case that positive publicity is the outcome of a managed public relations campaign, because it is often impossible to achieve a net positive outcome. For example public relations has a particularly important role to play in ‘crisis management’ scenarios. Where a catastrophe has occurred, especially where people have been injured or lost their lives, it is often a case of containing the situation, putting a fair and balanced account of events forward to the general public and mitigating the adverse effects of the disaster to the organisation concerned. 2. A Brief History Of Public Relations
Public relations (PR) is not new. Its modern day origins in the United States can be traced as far back as 1807 with President Jefferson’s address to congress, although evidence suggests that the ancient Greeks and Romans gave much attention to influencing public opinion. PR in the UK began as a Government information and propaganda machine during World war One and was then used more extensively in World war Two. Industry showed little interest in PR as a commercial communications tool until after 1945, but thereafter its use increased rapidly over the next 30 years in a sort of PR explosion. PR’s relatively poor image over these 30 years has been a result amateurish practitioners. In the 1970s the PR profession was referred to by derogatory terms such as the ‘gin and tonic brigade’. People who made up this ‘brigade’ often carried considerable social influence and were able to
‘open doors’ because they had the right connections. Their main function seemed to be the ‘wining and dining’ of important clients. The situation has changed a great deal in the late 1990s and now PR professionals are trained in the art of communications management. Unfortunately the profession still operates under its earlier shadow. Public relations has now spread throughout industry and commerce. At first, full time PR appointments were less common than the use of the services of a PR consultant. Because of this slow internal adoption of professional PR practitioners by industry and commerce, external public relations firms quickly developed, many of them lacking skilled staff of sufficient expertise, but merely taking advantage of and exploiting the ‘boom’ in the PR profession. This phenomenon is common; it happened at the end of the 1980’s when ‘total quality management’ was the latest ‘fad’ and many became experts in the art of TQM virtually ‘overnight’. Consequently, because of the hasty expansion of PR firms, the poor reputation of PR among journalists, businessmen, politicians and the general public that persists today, can be traced back to this period of uncontrolled growth. In the last 20 years, however, many PR agencies have built reputations for highly marketing orientated practices. Many of these firms tend to specialise in consumer PR, trade relations, corporate PR, financial, industrial, service and technical PR. A number of firms are now offering PR services for ‘not for profit’ organisations such as charities and politics. 3. Recent Developments
From the mid 1970’s onwards a change has developed in the role and perceived value of PR, leading to a growth in this form of communication which has continued right up to the present day. Explanations for the upsurge in public relations activity are many and varied. Many in the industry identify the late 1970’s recession as a major turning point. Companies were keen to reduce costs in order to stay in business. As often happens in times of economic downturn, managers of many firms look to marketing budgets as a ‘first strike’ and regard marketing expenditure as a ‘luxury’ and a cost rather than a necessary investment. Many managers found that PR, with a much broader base and cost effectiveness, would be preferable to maintaining a conventional advertising budget. The ‘cost saving’ aspect of public relations is certainly one of the major reasons for the growth of its popularity. Other factors include the increasing complexity of the business world that has produced a need for more complex communications to get the commercial or corporate message across. Another possible factor is the growth of fast-developing new business sectors such as information technology, financial services, travel and leisure which has lead to a ‘new breed’ of marketing manager who appreciates the value of PR as a communications tool. A further factor is a recognition that management, especially those working in business to business marketing, of the importance of creating and maintaining ‘relationships’ with a wide range of people and groups. There has been recognition for a number of years that in industrial and organisational marketing situations there are complex buyer-seller interactions involved in the marketing process. Some of these take place in the
‘official’ marketing channels of communications e.g. between the sales person and the official buyer or at least the purchasing team or committee within the buying organisation. However, interactions also take place on a less formal basis, amongst technical personnel from both the marketing and buying firms. It was recognised that these informal buyer seller interactions were just as important as the more formal contacts and that these too had to be managed and not left to chance. The recognition that organisational or business to business marketing involved an often complex web of formal and informal, but no less important, commercial interactions become known as the ‘interactive approach’, and was basically the precursor to what today is often referred to as the ‘relationship marketing approach’. Of course, throughout its development as a marketing communications ‘tool’ PR has always been first and foremost an instrument for establishing, crystallising, cementing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with various groups of people or ‘publics’. It is, therefore, no surprise that as the recognition of the importance of the interactive and relationship driven nature of modern marketing practice became accepted and practised by firms. The adoption of public relations as a key marketing communications tool also grew in stature and importance, particularly in the area of corporate communications. The role of public relations in achieving sound relationship marketing practices as well as its contribution to achieving good internal marketing is examined later. 4. 4.1 The Role And Nature Of Public Relations Defining Public Relations
The task of defining the exact nature of PR is not easy. A plethora of definitions currently exists, each emphasising a slightly different approach and each attempting to arrive at a simple, brief and accurate form of words. The difficulty in developing a single acceptable definition reflects the complexity and diversity of the profession. For the purposes of this discussion two definitions are useful. The Institute of Public Relations (IPR) states: ‘Public Relations practice is the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organisation and it’s public’. The essential features of this definition is that PR practice should be deliberate, planned and sustained; not haphazard, and that mutual understanding is necessary in order to ensure that the communication between the organisation and its public’ is clear, i.e. the receiver perceives the same meaning as the sender intends. An alternative definition is provided by Frank Jefkins who states: Public Relations consists of all forms of planned communication, outward and inwards, between an organisation and it’s publics for the purpose of achieving specific objectives concerning mutual understanding’.
Jefkins is a modified version provides two new elements: audiences:
of the Institute of Public Relations definition and
1) ‘Public’ becomes ‘Publics’, since PR addresses a number of 2) The inclusion of ‘specific objectives’, making PR a tangible activity. 4.2 Achieving a marketing orientation through PR In marketing literature there is a lot about how it is important for an organisation to become ‘marketing orientated’, ‘customer focused’ and adopt the ‘marketing concept’. For a firm to be truly marketing oriented all the staff working for it have to be so. There is a saying adapted from Buddhist philosophy that states ‘for a forest to be green each tree has to be green’. This principle also applies to the marketing orientation of the firm for it comes from within the minds of the people making up the organisation. But how does senior management achieve this change in attitude and bring about the right customer focused ‘spirit’ within their organisation? Internal PR on its own cannot achieve this, but it can certainly make a significant contribution. 4.3 Communications and Public Relations Communications is central to PR. The purpose of PR is to establish a two-way communication to resolve conflicts of interest by seeking common ground or areas of mutual interest. If we accept that this is the primary function of PR, then we must also accept a further implication. PR ‘exists’, whether implicitly or explicitly, whether an organisation likes it or not. Simply by carrying out it’s day to day operations, an organisation necessarily communicates certain messages to those who, for whatever reason, interact with the company, who will then form an opinion about it and it’s activities. The need for PR is to orchestrate, as far as possible, the behaviour of the organisation and the messages that result form such behaviour in order to help develop a corporate identity or personality. PR is not ‘paid for’, unlike advertising, although the marketing firm will have to pay fees if it employs a PR consultant or a salary if they have an internal specialist. Because PR is not perceived by various publics as a paid for type of communication, it tends to have greater ‘source credibility’. That is because the ‘write-ups’ in the press or business journal, television or radio programme etc. are seen as emanating from an independent third party rather than a commissioned advertising agency. It is often said that the mark of good public relations is that the receiver of the message does not realise public relations has been employed. If it is obvious that the message has been ‘cooked up’ by ‘spin doctors’ or ‘PR gurus’ then the message looses much of its intended effect. In a sense good PR is in some ways analogous to good security. If a firm, a film star or a politician are employing security personnel to look after them, one of the key criteria for success in this line of work is that no one knows or is suspicious that they are anything to do with security. They simply blend in to the background and are indistinguishable form other members of the public. It is this anonymity that makes them so effective.
The concept of ‘corporate identity’ or ‘personality’ is inextricably linked to public relations. All PR activities must be carried out within the framework of an agreed and understood corporate personality. This personality must develop to reflect the style of the top management, since they control the organisation’s policy and activities. A corporate personality can become a tangible asset if it managed properly and consistently. However it cannot be assumed that all managers will consider the role of corporate personality when they make decisions. Therefore, the PR executive needs to be placed so that he or she is aware of all the issues, policies, attitudes and opinions that exist within the organisation that have a bearing on how it is perceived by outsiders. The use of the term ‘personality’, rather than the more used ‘image’ term is deliberate. An image is a refection or an impression that may be a little too polished and perfect. True PR is more than ‘skin deep’. This is important because a ‘PR job’ implies that somehow the truth is being hidden behind a glossy and even false facade. But properly conducted PR emphasises the need for truth and full information. The PR executive, as a manager of corporate personality can only sustain an identity that is based on reality. Corporate public relations is concerned with image. This image is based on a long-term carefully planned programme designed to achieve maximum recognition and understanding for the company’s objectives and performance. 5. What PR is not
Misunderstanding and ignorance as to the nature of PR has led to it being confused with other disciplines and activities. It is appropriate at this point to clarify certain distinctions: (a) Public Relations is not ‘free’ advertising 1) Advertising emphasises ‘selling’ whereas public relations is ‘informative’, ‘educational’ and creates understanding through knowledge. 2) Public Relations is not ‘free’. It is time consuming and therefore costs in terms of management time and expertise. 3) Editorial space and broadcasting time are unbiased and therefore have more credibility than advertisements. 4) Every organisation necessarily has PR. 5) Public Relations involves communications with many groups and audiences, not just consumers.
(b) Public Relations is not propaganda Propaganda is designed to indoctrinate in order to attract followers. It does not necessarily call for an ethical content, so facts are often distorted or falsified for selfinterest. PR on the other hand, seeks to persuade by securing the willing acceptance of attitudes and ideas. (c) PR is not the same as publicity Publicity is a result of information being made known. The result may be uncontrollable and either good or bad. Public relations is concerned with the behaviour of the organisation, product or individual that leads to publicity. It will seek to control behaviour if this is possible, in such a way that publicity is good. Sometimes the actions or events that lead to adverse publicity are outside the control of the organisation. The role of public relations in such circumstances is to mitigate the effect of possible adverse publicity. 6. The need for Public Relations
As PR is essentially a process of communication it is needed most when normal communications are strained and some people are left uninformed. In a modern economy commercial organisations have a need for sophisticated communications which can be accurately tailored and targeted at specific groups of people. In a very real sense, especially in areas such as political campaigning, communications itself has become a 20th century skill. With the development of communication there has been a parallel development in the sophistication of the audience. People are better educated and better able to make objective judgements about the messages they receive. The very word communications is a ‘buzz word’. Failure to communicate can be identified as the principal cause of many industrial, commercial and noncommercial organisational problems. PR is by no means a universal answer for every situation, but at least it is a formal system of communications and as such employs the concepts of analysis, action, review and control which can provide structure and a way forward in many situations. Changing social attitudes have forced a new responsiveness and sense of responsibility in official and commercial life; it is in this social climate that an appreciation of public relations as a management and advisory function is now recognised. 7. Publics
PR encompasses all attempts by a company to anticipate, track, review and possibly influence or control the type of publicity communicated to various sections of the public. In doing this, the organisation hopes to be able to cultivate and maintain a positive corporate image. In fact the strategic management of publicity through the
employment of public relations is referred to as ‘corporate communications’. PR is concerned with communicating to a wide range of publics and not just to the organisation’s customers or clients. The public relations practitioner has to conduct activities that concern every ‘public’ with which the organisation has contact. This is because in order to exist, succeed and survive, an organisation depends on many individuals and groups of people. Even in the distribution of products for example, a manufacturer must communicate with sales people, delivery staff, servicing staff, wholesalers, mail-order houses, agents, importers, exporters, overseas agents and many different kinds of retailer including chain stores, co-operatives, department stores supermarkets and smaller independently owned shops. There are many other people or groups that may affect the success or failure of a commercial enterprise. These include printers, package manufacturers, transport contractors, media owners and advertising agents. To these we can add others such as journalists who may write about our products or company, television producers of consumer affairs programmes and technical programmes. Business analysts, professional bodies, trade associations, government departments and other organisations are also important ‘publics’. The publics of an organisation are those groups of people with whom it needs to communicate. The exact nature of these groups and individuals will vary in different organisations. These are now considered under various headings: 7.1 The Community
Good community relations are important for every organisation. An organisation can and should act as if it were a member of the community and not abuse its power. It should behave as a responsible ‘citizen’. The situation is one of inter dependence; industry needs the support of the community and the community must understand industry. It is important for an organisation, through its public relations function, to establish a community relations programme that both deals with complaints and involves itself in community activities. This may include local press relations, special visits to the workplace, open days, sponsorship, community projects etc. The general public tends to judge commercial organisations by the way they conduct themselves in the same way that individuals form a good or bad impression of the people that they come in contact with. Commercial projects such as the building of new plant, or the processing or storage of waste materials, may affect or interfere with local conditions and amenities. Care should be taken by the firm to anticipate such resentment and an attempt then made to mitigate this resentment and placate it as far as possible. An increasingly important aspect of community relations is the subject of pollution particularly with the rise of environmentalism and ‘green politics’. Increasingly firms are taking environmental management issues into account when planning their commercial operations. This thinking has had a big impact on the public relations industry. 7.2 Employees
Internal or employee public relations is often a neglected area in the study of PR. Worker/management relations are still often ‘them’ and ‘us’ and potentially confrontational in nature. The solution can lie in involving employees in all areas of decision making, in setting organisational goals and establishing ‘mutual understanding’. Appropriate objectives for management to set for public relations in the area of employee relations could include increasing awareness of company policy, improving safety standards and determining the cause of high staff turnover. This can be symptomatic of problems within the organisation and unhappiness amongst the work force. A discontented and disaffected work force can be unfortunate for an organisation. Marketing orientation within firms requires the cooperation of all staff and this cannot be done with a disaffected work force. Internal PR embraces those matters that encourage employees to make their maximum contribution to the productivity and the prosperity of the organisation. It overlaps with personal welfare, industrial relations, education, staff development and marketing orientation. PR can contribute to the creation of an atmosphere in which people will work more effectively; it can initiate a suggestion scheme, a safety campaign; it can lessen waste, carelessness, absenteeism etc, and it can enable management to communicate more effectively with employees at all levels. 7.3 Government
Perhaps the biggest growth and development in PR over recent years has been in the areas of government relations and political lobbying. This form of PR activity has two main purposes; first to keep companies informed of legislative changes that may affect their business and secondly to attempt to influence the government or local government in favour of their industries. Political public relations is often misunderstood. The success of some businesses depends heavily on decisions made by the Government which is the reason for the existence of certain pressure groups. Some companies have politicians as directors who keep management abreast of relevant political matters, and often put forward a case for a company, or industry in which the company is operating when needed. 7.4 The Financial Community
Take-overs and mergers illustrate very aptly the need for financial PR. There is a need for commercial organisations to communicate with a diverse range of interested parties like as investors and city institutions such as pension funds, share analysts, financial journalists etc. Effective financial relations will produce certain benefits to the firm. Those companies that have established reputations will have less difficulty in raising the additional capital that may be needed for future investments. Many companies rely for their very existence on the support of banks. Such organisations are highly ‘geared’ and much of their capital structure is made up of bank debt. The bank finance supporting this capital structure is often of a short term or medium term nature. Financing arrangements are continually under review. Short-term loans are repaid and further loans are often negotiated. Good relations with the bank is fundamental to an organisation’s financing strategy. Holding
companies often hold shares in their own subsidiary companies. These shares are often offered as collateral in support of bank loans. Clearly, the holding company has an interest in keeping the price of such shares at an appropriate level otherwise the value of the collateral on which their loan finance is based falls in value. PR is used to communicate the commercial health of an organisation and the favourable future prospects that investors can expect. This information is intended as assistance to support market sentiment for the company and hence support the share price, and to assuage any doubts potential lenders may have about the commercial robustness of the firm. 7.5 Distributors
Distributors handle goods between producers and consumers. They include an array of businesses, wholesalers, retailers, dealerships, agencies and factors. It is essential that these marketing intermediaries are informed and educated about the company’s products, services and methods of carrying out their business. The more staff working for marketing intermediaries know about the manufacturing company and its products and services the greater will be the confidence and expertise they can afford to their customers. After all, marketing intermediaries are often independent businesses with their own distinct set of commercial needs and wants. The manufacturing or service firm who markets through a distribution network is relying on these marketing intermediaries to achieve their own commercial goals. There are many PR techniques that can be applied to create greater knowledge and understanding amongst the staff of marketing intermediaries including videos, talks, training courses and works visits. A manufacturer can be affected by the behaviour and efficiency of marketing intermediaries. Assessing and influencing their attitudes is of paramount importance. There are many instances where the goodwill of the dealer or distributor can make the difference between success or failure for a manufacturer. Much activity on advertising, sales promotion, merchandising and packaging can be wasted if the wrong relationships exist at the point of sale. For many commercial enterprises the effective use of marketing intermediaries is a key factor in the success of their business. PR can play a key role in maintaining long term commercial relationships that are important to success. 7.6 Consumers
Consumer relations is thought by many people to be the only public which concerns public relations. As we have seen this is not the case. However, it is an area of considerable importance because although other groups of publics are important, customers are especially important. The whole purpose of the profit making firm is the generation of satisfactory returns by the satisfaction of customers’ needs and wants more effectively than competitors.
It is large retailers who have most dealings with customers, and this group of traders has done much in the way of public relations activity over the past 20 years aimed towards this important group. Stores are normally conveniently laid out, service is good and products are presented such that they represent fair value for money. Many retail groups distribute brochures to staff to show them how to improve the image of their store as well as creating better customer relations. They attempt to show that they are a ‘live organisation’ constantly listening and responding to customers views and opinions. A major aspect of customer relations is the subject of complaints and returns. This subject is particularly applicable to mail order firms. Where purchasing is carried out ‘at a distance’ and the organisation is not actually physically seen, in the sense that a customer can visit a shop, then it is essential that the subject of complaints and goods returned be treated by marketing firms particularly carefully. Operators of mail order catalogue businesses now pay particular attention to this aspect of business. 7.7 Opinion Leaders
As the name suggests, this is a person or group who may have a particularly special or strong influence on the opinions of others. Such people or groups are often held in high esteem by the wider public for a number of reasons. From an individual product point of view, consumer affairs programmes and consumer magazines are held in high esteem by the public who believe them to produce fair and unbiased views on various products, services and organisations and that they act in consumers’ best interests. Companies attempt to gain favourable reports from such programmes and publications as they know that positive messages will be more readily accepted and believed by the market than advertising. Other opinion leaders can include professional bodies, trade associations, pressure groups and government. 8. Media Used In Public Relations
Personal communication is the strongest and most persuasive means of putting across a message. The message is aided by the force of the personality of the communicator who can adapt both matter and manner to the reactions of his or her audience. A polished speaker can do much to enhance the image of the company, particularly at press conferences. The job of the public relations officer is not necessarily to appear personally on the ‘platform’, but to organise events so that an appropriate representative of the organisation can address the audience. Printed Communication includes direct mail which is a very versatile medium and suitable for a variety of purposes including direct marketing, general advertising and public relations. Direct mail can be used to send copies of press releases to interested parties, and can be used to despatch house magazines to employees, customers, distributors, agents and others. This medium is also used to send invitations to sponsored events, exhibitions, conferences, demonstrations, film shows etc.
Literature is obviously related to direct mail as it is often used to target certain literature to the desired target audience. Literature for direct mail purposes consists of leaflets, folders, booklets, books and other media including wall charts, diaries, postcards and pictures. PR literature tends to be explanatory and educational, that provides information or tells a ‘story’, rather than trying to persuade or sell something. Literature can be usefully distributed to visitors, customers, dealers and members of the local community, while hand outs and press kits are used at conferences. PR efforts of this nature can inspire confidence and trust in an organisation.
The press release is probably regarded as the most important form of PR by practitioners. Two important factors are timing and distribution. Choosing the correct moment to release news and seeing that it reaches the right people. The aim of press relations is to gain maximum publication or broadcasting of public relations information through newspapers, magazines, radio and television, in order to achieve specific communication objectives with clearly defined target audiences. The common method of achieving this is a press release sent to appropriate journalists.
Visual Communications includes photography that can have an impact and appeal that is lacking in printed media. To see a photograph of some event that has happened lends further credence to the report as it provides ‘proof’ in the audience’s mind that what has been reported actually happened. Photographs are normally used in conjunction with a press release, the one form of public relations supporting and augmenting the other. Films were once the province of larger organisation because they were expensive to make. The development of video technology has meant that a ‘film’ can be produced relatively cheaply and is suitable for many PR purposes. Television is a medium of high visual impact. Not only can points be explained verbally on TV programmes but products can also be shown. Sometimes footage of a company’s participation in a sponsored event or some other organised public relations event is shown on television programmes. The increase in sponsored events by commercial firms both in sport and in the arts has increased dramatically over the past 20 years and it now features regularly when reporting events like motor racing football are screened. There is a growing demand for company personalities to appear on TV programmes and give interviews on radio. There has also been a dramatic increase in interest with anything to do with ‘business’. This offers opportunities for firms to capitalise on the public relations opportunities offered from this popular, and increasingly sophisticated medium. There has always been a strong public relations dimension to exhibitions. They offer marketing communicators an opportunity to come in face to face contact with high status decision making unit (DMU) members. Many visitors to exhibitions go to view the market offering in its entirety in a short space of time and under one ‘roof’.
Visitors treat the exhibition as a shop window and an opportunity to gather technical information. Often products are available for inspection along with working models and videos of the company and its products. There is often a strong ‘entertainment’ component to exhibitions with stands offering complementary drinks and food to serious potential clients. Networking can thus be achieved and quite often such exhibitions afford the opportunity for corporate hospitality through tours or tickets to local events such as the opera or a concert. Sponsorship has a strong PR component to it and firms can use it in a variety of ways. Being associated with the arts can give a strong sense of supporting and being part of the fabric of society. Important clients and other key individuals form other important groups of ‘publics’ can be invited to artistic events such as concerts, plays or opera. Afterwards they can mix with artists and directional staff so in this way key individuals who have been targeted for such promotion can be contacted, entertained and long term relationships built and maintained. The term ‘internal marketing’ is the process of applying the general principles of marketing to the staff and work force of the organisation. Marketing as a business philosophy is all about achieving the right internal company culture that will result in that company becoming marketing orientated. The process of internal marketing involves much more than simply the application of internal public relations inside firms. Internal marketing operates at the interface between marketing and human resource management and involves both of these management disciplines. The application of internal PR has a salient role to play in the overall process of achieving an internal marketing ‘culture’. The most common means of achieving internal PR objectives is through company communications. If these are to be effective, they must be more than paternalistic house journals and should provide a forum for open, two-way discussion on company issues. Whatever methods are employed, the important requirement is that they represent a genuine desire to communicate on behalf of both workers and management. This reinforces the point that PR can only reflect reality.
PR is an important and versatile marketing communications ‘tool’. It forms an intrinsic part of the integrated marketing communications mix. There is a PR application to most marketing communications variables whether this is personal selling, sponsorship, exhibitions, direct mail or telephone marketing. PR can be applied both within and without the organisation. The process of achieving marketing orientation within organisations is a vital prerequisite to effective external marketing strategies, particularly those based on relationship marketing principles. PR has a vital role to play and contribution to make to the creation of an effective internal marketing culture within an organisation and to creating, fostering, nurturing and maintaining mutually beneficial long term relationships with customers
and other key groups of people. In this respect PR has seen a dramatic increase in prominence as both a strategic internal and external marketing communications tool. The role of PR is to help build an understanding a company has with its ‘publics’. This has the effect of augmenting and increasing the source credibility of marketing messages from other elements in the communications mix by improving the image and reputation of the company and its product and services. An organisation is judged by its behavior. PR is about goodwill and reputation. At its best, public relations can be the discipline that really determines the content of the messages companies send to their customers and other target audiences.