By Robert Wynne, Contributor
Everyone starts a public relations plan with the best intentions. When PR fails, maybe the process isn’t the problem. Before hiring a PR firm or starting your own campaign, you must understand what is news. No exceptions. Without this knowledge, you are wasting your time. So here’s the secret: there are only two ways to make news:
1) Create a story
2) Follow a story.
If you are an entrepreneur, a PR professional working for a client, or an employee promoting your firm, there are only two methods. Of course, the two avenues are extremely wide. There are dozens of lanes taking you there. This is of vital importance to anyone who wants to understand, execute and exploit the power of public relations. Before answering your client or boss who orders you to “Get me on the front page of the New York Times!” it’s best to understand, or to explain, how PR and news work together.
First, What is News? That’s the key. Getting a story in a publication because you want it there, or your boss demands it, doesn’t matter. Remember, journalists, speakers, bloggers and other influencers are not stenographers. They will ask you “What’s in it for Me and my audience?” In other words, use my previous checklist and pretend you are on the receiving end. Answer this:
What’s the story? Why should I care? Why should I care NOW? In other words, What is News? The Media College website lists the criteria for news:
· Is it new?
· Is it unusual?
· Is it interesting or significant?
· Is it about people?
Marketing Profs list some additional filters: ”Timing. Significance. (“The number of people affected by the story….”) Proximity. “The number of people affected by the story is important.”) Prominence. (“Famous people get more coverage just because they are famous.”) Human Interest.” Now that we understand the nature of news, let’s explore two ways join the larger conversation.
1. Making the News. This is the most common form of public relations. It involves storytelling and when it’s successful, these stories are seasoned by context, impact and many other factors. Most of the time, companies looking to make the news want to promote something fresh: a new car, a new app, a new university building, a new CEO or other significant hire, a change of business plan, merger, winning a new award or getting a new order from a major customer, something of this nature. This is what clients and your boss typically want. Hey, we are growing and changing, we want everyone to know about it.
Other ways people attempt to make news include bylined articles written for an independent publication, Opinion-Editorials (not about you, but concerning a controversial topic), social media (blog posts, tweets, photos, videos, etc.), content marketing on your website and more. The great thing about social media is you don’t always need reporters as your filter. But let’s be honest. It’s a lot easier for Intel INTC +1.37%, Ford, Steph Curry, Taylor Swift, a politician or any well-known brand or a celebrity, to make the news. It’s much harder for unknowns. Even in a small group, a press release, some tweets and a few photos are like tiny rain drops falling into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Anyone can post, and everyone does, billions of times a day.
Some firms make a splash by creating their own events or by speaking in front of a prestigious group. This can be great, but it can also be time consuming and expensive, with no guarantees of coverage. Many colleges and universities create news with surveys and original research. The UCLA Anderson Forecast is a great example of economic research conducted every quarter for Los Angeles, California and the nation which yields insight on current business trends. When released, the findings and conclusions make news around the nation in a variety of business media which reinforces the reputation of the university and school as a leader in business education. Most entrepreneurs and small businesses cannot afford such expensive and lengthy research in broad subjects. For those firms, it may be more feasible to conduct simpler phone and email surveys of peers, clients and suppliers. With enough insight and planning, a brief series of questions that result in new information that illuminate a certain issue might be newsworthy to the trade or local media.
2.Following the News. Opportunity Knocks. You answer. This is when you notice a story in the news, and respond. It could be a plunge in the stock market due to the selloff in China; new candidates for NFL coaching jobs; the economic effects of droughts or snowstorms; a terrorist attack; the popularity of quinoa and what it means for farmers and grain prices; overturning the Citizens United decision, etc.
For breaking news, most journalists need an expert to comment on a situation in real time via a phone interview, video-conference, live video interview, Tweet, email or IM, or other communication quickly. Reporters usually contact their usual list of suspects, experts whom they know or trust. With some quick thinking, these instances can lead to great new connections and media attention.
When the story isn’t immediate, entrepreneurs can insert themselves into a trend. These are usually feature stories, in contrast to news happening today. If more law firms are cutting deals on hourly prices in return for guaranteed monthly retainers, and your attorneys signed a big deal like this with a major client, that’s one instance of a trend.
The third way to follow the news is when it lands on your front door, with a thud. This is crisis PR. You’re in a crisis when you don’t make the news, the news makes you. Take Volkswagen. When they were accused fudging the results of their emissions numbers, they had to respond quickly to questions from media around the world. Constantly. For weeks.
So let’s see how it works, Making the News and Following the News. Here’s an example. Let’s say you own a company that specializes in fixing and maintaining World War II airplanes. I know, not the most exciting situation. Most people want to represent Apple AAPL +2.09% or Drake. Good luck. Now back to reality. Making the News. Remember the checklist: Is it new? Is it unusual? Is it interesting or significant? Is it about people?
Without a new plane for the public to view, (one that was flown by Elvis Presley or Charles Lindbergh), a new type of solar panel you invented to power planes of the future, or a mechanic who used to work for Elvis or Lindbergh, this one isn’t easy. In other words, welcome to PR. Otherwise, it’s a Story about Nothing, and “Seinfeld” has been off the air for a long time.
Good PR pros dig deep to find pearls in piles of mud. When in doubt, here are three tips for making news out of very little: Go Local. Milestones. Trades. Local media are always looking to promote local personalities and businesses, especially if there’s a human interest angle or other hook. Anniversaries or awards sometimes work, such as, “Forty years in business, what has changed in Kenosha, Wisconsin since you started?” The next best bet is to read the trade publications and create a profile story, such as the most unusual or significant collection of planes or a similar story. It’s a specific story for a narrow market, but that’s what trade publications are for.
Now let’s look at following the news. Here’s how to look for a trend. Let’s say you notice the Ryan Aeronautical ST3KR plane, also called the PT22, WII-era primary trainer used by the Air Force built in 1942, has suddenly gone up in value. Why? Maybe a group of collectors have emerged, maybe museums noticed there are fewer left. Bring these facts to the attention of a reporter, and/or write a blog post, and insert yourself into the story as an expert.
Sometimes, a story falls from the sky. When actor Harrison Ford crashes his ST3KR on a golf course in Venice, California near Santa Monica, you could have been listening to the radio. An opportunistic publicist or entrepreneur would call the media, give them information about the plane, when it was built, its safety record, how many are still in operation, and other data.
Make the News. Follow the News. This is public relations. Understanding the news will help you make the most of your time, and get your more recognition with journalists and in social media.