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Live from True Spin: Is Media Relations a Dying Art?

Live from True Spin: Is news irrelevant and is media relations a dying art?

GMT staff members are working from the True Spin Conference this week in Denver, Colorado. The following post is from Bobbi Russell.

Live from True Spin: Is news irrelevant and is media relations a dying art?
Panelists: Kimberly Larson, State PIRGS; Martin Kearns, Green Media Toolshed; Fernando Quintero from Rocky Mountain News.

We all know it’s increasingly difficult to get media coverage. There seems to be an incredibly shrinking news hole and slowly shrinking news staffs. Between national and international urgent issues and fewer reporters available to cover more issues than ever, we’re all wondering how we can make our issues visible and attractive. I attended this session and paraphrased remarks from the panel as well as feedback from the audience. Of course, I’m sprinkling in my own take on the issue here and there.

Fernando Quintero comments:
One of the challenges we face is that newspapers are going out of business and print circulation is decreasing. Outlets must rely on web presence and are now working on a 24 hour news cycle. Reporters are no longer working for tomorrow’s edition, but today’s website. Fernando stressed to the media folks in the crowd that it’s important to respond immediately to reporter requests in order to get into the same day’s news cycle. Fernando says this is one of the biggest changes in the print medium.

He also says we should call media outlets to task. That is, if you/your organization feels an outlet is covering just one side of the story, bring it to their attention with supporting facts. Know what the outlet has covered recently. Question the reporter/editor if the coverage has not fairly tackled the story from all angles. Be clear and concise and be ready to handle hard core questions. Offer to do a content analysis for the outlet of the issue that includes headlines, images and sources to identify a lack of representation.

Kimberly Larson comments:
Media relations isn’t dead but is a changing landscape. A couple of challenges that she thinks we face:
1. Bias. She suggests accessing the Fair and Accuracy in Reporting, www.fair.org, as the site looks at media bias throughout the years.
2. Media outlets are cutting costs. This means that there are fewer reporters and even fewer that cover certain beats. Most reporters are now covering two or more beats and working two jobs. They often get pulled to breaking news stories. They have less time to attend news conferences, so either make your event more enticing, or figure out alternative ways to release your news. Press conference calls are a great way to do this, as are pre-recorded sound bytes made available on your website.

There are also more freelancers coming on the scene, but that makes it harder for us, the pr folks, to track down the right person at the right outlet. Reporters, like all of us, are overwhelmed with work. So, what can we do to help? Make it easy for them. Cover your bases. It seems so simple, but there are really easy, low hanging fruit steps we can take to increase your changes of getting covered. So remember to: send timely news, abide by the reporter’s & outlet’s deadlines, include contact information, load all of your supporting materials (including photos & other visuals!) on your website and be available. Make your pitch concise and make sure it’s relevant to the reporter you’re contacting. Kimberly also recommends as resources the book The Future of Media and the organization, Free Press.

Marty Kearns’ comments:
Marty feels news is still relevant and proved his point by asking the audience a few questions:
--How many of you have clipped or emailed or clipped a story and sent it to a family member, friend, classmate – someone not involved in your organization?
--How many have received a story from someone in the same relationship chain?
--How many, when buying a new product, would rely on customer reviews, blogs and feedback from other consumers vs. relying on the corporate news site?

A majority of hands in the crowd went up for each question. So what does that prove? News is changing. Our job is to influence social networks to create change in policy and behavior. Media used to be the primary mechanism to do this, but now it’s easier to leverage the power of social networks to move a message and make an issue sing.

News is less predictable and circulations are decreasing. Competition is tougher and it’s harder to break through to reporters on your own. It’s possible that most of the people we’re trying to reach don’t read the news.

So, how to get the bang for your buck? How can nonprofits do it all with a small budget? Having access to so many tools and opportunities can possibly deter groups from trying new outreach efforts – choices seem overwhelming.

However, news feeds, RSS feeds, and content aggregators are helpful for reporters. Fernando says that since reporters have a limited amount of time and need to get enough relevant information to finish a story, it’s very helpful to have topics summarized and to have complex issues translated into common language. Salient talking points are extremely helpful.

One participant feels media relations is more important than ever. Even though information is getting out there in blogs and nontraditional vehicles, experts and spokespeople are still needed to confirm statistics and facts.

This was a great session with thought-provoking ideas. Bottom line is, we’re all facing the same challenges and we need to do better at actually working together to streamline efforts and pool resources. My take is that media relations is not a dying art. It’s a living, breathing, vital craft that is shifting with the way the public is shifting. More and more people get their news from blogs, websites, and email from friends. It’s important to think about magazines and weekend sections of newspapers to build relationships with news outlets. In addition to serving reporters, think about serving your supporters. Make every communication with your members count – use their power and interest to make even more people aware of your issues and to recruit new voices to leverage your message.

February 2, 2006 in Working with The Press | Permalink

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