Although most modern PR practitioners insist that PR is about more than media relations, the fact remains that earned media coverage continues to define much of what most people (and clients) think of when they hear “PR.” So, garnering press coverage of events, product launches, legislation passed or killed, or just about any other sub-PR specialty practice is at the heart of what most clients want.
With that as our starting point, let’s take a look at some of the things that might be going wrong—or right—in your media coverage.
If you aren’t getting any coverage at all
There could be a number of things going wrong if you just aren’t seeing any coverage at all:
- Have you cultivated relationships with reporters who would cover your issues? If you have and you still aren’t seeing any results, take a look at who you are targeting. Coverage in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal might be your ideal coverage, but maybe there would be more success by aiming more locally. Reporters at top-tier publications are inundated with pitches.
- I really hate to ask this question, but it has to be addressed. Are your press releases covering things that aren’t really news? This has long been a problem, and I don’t think there’s a PR person out there who hasn’t at one time or another been asked to write a news release covering something that he or she knows isn’t going to be covered by the press—because the content just isn’t newsworthy. If a company sends out a tons of press releases with nothing really to say, reporters learn to ignore the emails (or delete them without even reading them).
- Are you too focused on print and/or traditional media coverage? If so, you might be missing important outlets that would be interested in your stories. Blogs have become alternative media outlets, and many have large audiences. Even those with smaller audiences might be ideal if that audience is an idea target market for your messages or products. Do some research, and then go back to bullet point one above: generally speaking, it’s a best practice to develop a line of communication with bloggers—just like traditional media reporters.
- If you do have an open line of communication with journalists and bloggers and you aren’t seeing any coverage, take a look at that relationship. Is it all one-sided? Are you asking for coverage for your topics, but not responding when a reporter or a blogger asks for help (or asks a question)? Be helpful whenever possible—even if responding to a query won’t directly help you.
If you are seeing coverage, but all of it makes you cringe
This is a tougher situation than no coverage at all for a variety of reasons, and the solutions aren’t easy either.
- Is it a single reporter who seems to be out to get you or your company? This can be a hard nut to crack. Reporters are tasked with writing pieces that people will read—and in the current media environment that means a few things: it has to be interesting; it should be something that will drive readers to share the piece more widely (clicks); and, usually, that means the story has to be short. The result of combining these factors are news stories that lack detail, overstate potential effects or are missing information, and are devoid of context that would impact a reader’s perception. It might be worth trying to talk to the reporter to present your company’s case. This approach does carry risks, of course. If it’s deemed too risky, maybe reaching out to a reporter at that outlet’s main competitor is a better approach.
- Are outlets repeating inaccurate or outdated information? This is a situation where having open lines of communication with reporters and bloggers will really, really matter. Clear your schedule, get on the phone, and make as many appointments as possible to sit down those outlets and go over the latest information. Offer to send updated fact sheets, and make yourself—or a company expert (who has been media trained, of course)—available to answer additional questions if they come up. Yes, it’s time consuming, but it’s well worth the effort to have those who are reporting on your issues well-versed on topics that are important.
You are getting coverage, most of it is fair, but some of it is negative
This is normal. There are very, very few companies or organizations that receive universally positive coverage in every story written about them. In fact, for those that do have nothing but positive coverage, when the negative piece or crisis eventually hits (and it always does) it seems to hit far harder with the public than those organizations with coverage that is more mixed.
With that in mind, pay attention to your coverage, good and bad. When the pieces are positive, what are the topics? What made the story positive, was it a good quote from a spokesperson, or was it a positive reaction to the company from a member of the general public? If a story was negative, what made it so—were facts wrong, or was it a legitimate story that just didn’t show the company in a positive light?
Being honest with yourself when assessing media coverage will help to improve and target future PR efforts. Media coverage shouldn’t be the single focus of PR efforts, but it is an important one. It also takes time to do it well; and doing it well is an investment that will pay dividends long into the future.