Media relations

Er. Prabhat Kishore

Media involves not just publications, but Akashvani, Doordarshan & other private electronic channels. When an organisation or government is ‘in the news’, the objective of press relations may be simply to ensure that what is published is favourable or at least accurate. But for promotional purposes, the problem is more often to stimulate media interest in publishing information about specific subjects.

‘Mass Media’ includes Doordarshan, Akashvani, Private electronic channels, Newspaper, and large circulation magazines, as well as many more specialised publications. One’s press relation work will be with the press itself, often the business press in particular.

In every industrialised country there are dozens, hundreds or even thousands of business publications, serving virtually every industry, trade or profession. The people who read these publications are seeking information useful to them in their jobs or business. A single reader often is directly responsible for, or influences, very sizeable purposes.

Because trade and industrial publications are so specialised, their circulations are smaller, choose the right ones, trade and industrial journals regularly publish news and other information that general publication would not consider. If we are trying to reach trade, we also find out several different publications to reach the right people at various levels and in different kinds of operations. One way to identify the right business publication for our purposes is to ask people who fit into the business categories you are trying to reach which publication they read.

Although the business press can be our most promising publicity channel, it is rarely adequate as the sole medium for a publicity campaign, trade magazines do not reach everyone in every trade; small shop owners, for example, do not read them and top executives often read general business publications in preference to many of the specialised journals serving their industries. Moreover, if we are promoting consumer goods, in many cases obviously would want to reach consumers, not just the trade.

Daily newspapers, can achieve greater audience coverage than business journals. Newspapers also have a degree of selectivity which can be very useful, particularly in terms of geographical coverage. Newspapers usually serve individual cities or rural and sub-urban areas.

Consumer magazines are another medium, one should not overlook. Women’s magazines, for example, often carry articles and news items on products in the food, clothing and home furnishing areas. Travel articles are another favourite subject.

The essence of good press relations is of understanding what kind of material publications and other media want, and then supplying it to the extent possible. In all probability these will be a smaller group of publications that will be especially important for you.

Study these publications more carefully. Do they publish articles about specific companies or products? What seems to interest them about products? Are they interested in foreign statistics and trends, in personalities? Do they publish feature articles about whole industries, including those of foreign countries? Do their articles seem to be based on reporting (by their own staff or by outsiders) or on press releases? How is the publication divided up according to subject matter? Do they use photographs and if so of what subjects, and how do they treat them?

For the smaller number of magazines most important to us, it will pay to go a step further and get to know some of the editors and reporters.

An even better reason for developing personal relations with appropriate journalists is they will thereby get to know us. Editors of good publications do not decide what to print on the basis of friendship or in return for hospitality; their livelihood depends on publishing material their readers want. However, if an editor knows us and has been impressed with us as a serious source of useful information, he might well pause a bit longer over a press release coming from our organisation. 

To engage in press relations on personal level successfully, one must bring two particularly important qualities to the job: Knowledge and honesty.

Be candid with journalists. If we have information which we are really not free to reveal, say so frankly and do not attempt to avoid the fact with evasive replies. Do not deny a story that is correct. Make a point of becoming a source of useful information for reporters. Be scrupulous about being fair with reporters. If we have a piece of news, release it simultaneously to all journals.

The most common and practical way of disseminating a news-story is by sending it to the news media in the form of a press release. Publications rely heavily on press releases, sometimes like 80% or 90% of the press releases received by the better publications are almost immediately thrown into the wastepaper basket. The main reason so many press releases are rejected is what they contain is no news at all or no news of interest and that are badly prepared. Preparations of press releases should be entrusted to a professional publicity man.

To stand chance of being published, a press release must contain news. Concentrate on preparing releases that interests of a limited number of publications which are especially important to us, rather than to send out generalised releases indiscriminately.

A daily newspaper, for example, might run a short story about the visit of a high-level trade delegation but it would not be interested in the arrival of an individual businessman or the signing of a single agency agreement. For some trade magazines, printable ‘news’ may be nothing more than an announcement about availability of a news supplier, a large sale, a change in prices, the appointment of a news agency or sales manager or the launching of a new promotion campaign. Whether the publication is general or specialised, the one thing it will insist on is hard facts. Vogue generalities won’t do.

One technique in developing successful press releases is to give some background and interpretation to the immediate news.

The way a press release is written and set up can determine whether or not it is used by the publication. Top the release with brief head line that identifies the subject and, if possible, gives the gist of the story. Then summarise the entire story, with all the vital details, in the first short paragraph; what happened, or will happen; the names of the organisation or firm, the people and the products involved, date and time if relevant, the place. Also suggest in this lead paragraph the significance of the news. Then with simple sentences and brief paragraphs, fill out the story. Use facts and factual comparisons to impress. If possible, keep the story on one page. Always indicate where and from whom the editor can get additional information. Include also the telephone number. Physical presentation is also important, observing the following points:-

  1. Use paper with a headline especially printed for your press releases. The name of your organisation should also be prominent. The paper should be full typing-page size. The long ‘A4’ or full scape size is best.
  2.  Use only one side of the sheet.
  3. Whatever reproduction system is used, copies should be clean and legible.
  4. Double scape, with wide margins on either side.
  5. Always place the date of story at the top.
  6. No underlining.
  7. Indent all paragraphs except the first.
  8. No full stops between initials.
  9. Use quotations sparingly.

(10) If the story runs over, put ‘MORE’ at the bottom of each pages.

(11) At the end of story indicate source for information (name, telephone, telex, cable address, post address, email address).

Photographs can make a story, or at least give it more prominence and interest. In fact, a good news picture published with a suitable caption can be of more publicity value than 1000-word story. So consider sending photographs with press release when appropriate. Typical subjects include news products, events at a trade show, people in the news, a visiting mission. It is important to identify and caption pictures properly.

Photographs should never be clipped or stapled to their captions or to the accompanying release. Photographs are expensive to prepare and mail. You can reduce wastage by not sending them with release; instead indicate on the release that they are available. However, publications are more likely to use photographs when they arrive with the release. 

Maintain a photographic library with an index system. Keep one point of each photograph, but periodically weed out those you have obviously out dated. Aim to reduce as much as possible the waste involved in sending releases to inappropriate publications. To minimize wastage, develop mailing lists according to subject matter. It is always better to address releases to specific individuals on publications.

In some countries there are public relations wire services. For an annual fee, they will transmit your releases by telex directly to publications. This is especially convenient for general releases, and can save a lot of work and even postage and preparation costs. Critically a public relations agency, to take over all the work associated with preparing and mailing out press releases.

Of necessity, disseminating press releases will be your primary means of communicating with the press. However, when the circumstances are right, staging a press conference or reception is likely to produce more published material.

Basically a press conference is a meeting of reporters at which they receive news. Refreshments may or may not be served. A reception is a more elaborate affair, a meal may be served and the programmes include several events, such as talks, a film showing, and the presentation of an exhibit. The distinction is mainly one of the degrees. Press receptions are sometimes put on with nothing more specific in mind than to create goodwill with the press. At best this is a questionable use of funds.

From the publicity point of view, staging press gatherings can be more effective than merely dispatching press releases. But you have to offer journalists a reason to take the time to come to a press event. Food or drink is not sufficient. There must be news of real interest to the publication involved, and not merely news that could have been sent in a press release. The people whom the journalists are called to meet should be willing and able to answer questions. A press reception should be a standard part of publicity for trade missions and exhibitions.

The programme for a press conference can be quite simple, a brief introduction by the host, a prepared announcement or statement by the main speaker (or speakers), question period, and perhaps a fairly brief referencing, the period during which the reporters can chat informally with the speakers. Always remember that reporters are busy. Start promptly, and keep talks fairly brief.

You should brief the speakers and other participants on the purpose, the programme, which publications are expected to be represented, their interest and the likely direction of questions. 

The timing of press meet can affect the resulting coverage. You will have the best chance of drawing the journalists you want if you stage the affair during business hours (including the lunch hour) and perhaps upto one hour later. For the morning newspapers, the best time of day is around mid-day, and for the weekly and monthly journals, late afternoon. It is best to keep press reception for the press and not to invite others as well.

Invitations should be extended to individual journalists, not simply to their publications. Be sure to include the following information on the invitations: (a) The host, (b) Purpose, (c) Day and date, time and place, (d) The nature of the hospitality, (e) Signify, as with ‘RSVP’ that you would like a reply, and the name, telephone number and address, to be used for replying.

(Author is a technocrat and educationist. He studied Journalism and Mass Communication at Patna University)


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