Views: Build and maintain media relations for business impact

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MEDIA relations is about building and maintaining relationships with the press and knowing how and what they write about… it’s not about ‘schmoozing’ media, writes Lydia Hoye.

It’s about smart, value driven relationships that connect the right story to the right audience, at the right time for a business to gain exposure. Media relations has always enabled reputations to be built, framing a story that helps a brand be seen in a relevant and meaningful light to the prospective audience.  

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Right now, best practice for media relations is about understanding the dynamic between social media trends and what interests people, good quality and well messaged stories and the need for a journalist to create content that gains clicks and keeps people scrolling through a story. 

An important part of media relations is media mapping. This looks at how the media coverage driven by media relations evolves a brand’s communications journey. It indicates how media relations needs to be developed with certain media and which media need relationships maintained. Brands want to see an evolution in their media relations, expressing new messaging and in new titles to gain the widest and most meaningful exposure. 

Media strategy

Media strategy needs to meet PR and business objectives, so deciding on a strategy takes both aspects into account. PR objectives focus on the message and how it’s delivered and then marrying this with understanding the business objectives helps a media relations team focus on the desired action they want an audience to take. 

A media strategy thinks about the outcome of the coverage gained so it can demonstrate business value and ascertain which channels are most important. The value of media relations isn’t just in awareness building through press exposure though, the strategy will determine things like the weighting of backlinks directly to a product page to drive sales and how a landing page of information can help build customer affinity to a brand. A solid media strategy will have the results in mind from the start.

The next stage in devising a strategy is defining the messaging that will resonate with the target audience. These messages need to be fit for media relations and not sound like an advertising message. Then a target media list is created which is aligned to the audience a business wishes to reach.

Story development then comes from market knowledge, current or future trends for thought leadership pieces, social media listening to respond to trends, as well as the fact that most categories and topics will have popular months of coverage that ebb and flow through a year (this is also often linked to key calendar dates and ‘national week of’ style media opportunities). 

The evolution of media relations

Media relations has changed greatly in recent years, and it’s always interesting to see the ‘trends’ over time. For example, during Covid the increase in research stories were seen as people were more likely to take notice of data driven stories. In addition, during this time brands couldn’t easily create activations or ‘new news’ around product development so a back to basics media relations strategy was paramount. 

Perhaps the most consistent trend in recent years is the number of journalists using social media to find or create stories. 44 per cent of journalists now use social media to pick up on trending topics using hashtags such as #journorequest/ #PRrequest. Additionally, over a third of journalists (37 per cent), now say they won’t cover a product unless there’s data showing trends and how the product solves problems for their readership.

The rules of engagement have also changed with a huge decline in media relation teams reaching journalists over the phone, with 95 per cent of journalists stating that they now prefer to be contacted via email which has impacted how media relation teams sell into press. Snappy, catchy subject lines on emails are a must to attract a journalist’s attention as well as made-ready picture and video assets as 30 per cent of journalists now use multimedia (images, video, graphics) more than they have in the past year.

Demonstrating ROI

To demonstrate the value of media relations, a business leader needs to understand the role media relations takes. Media relations shouldn’t be an afterthought, used as and when a business wants to shout about something. Media relationships are just that, relationships, and they need time for the media to understand a business.   

It’s about setting expectations of what a business wants to achieve from the start and working on defining that together. Understanding which titles the business wants to be seen in, and then creating a strategy to make that a reality. 

A well placed piece in the press can make a world of difference to a brand – I’ve seen huge gains, from a start-up brand procuring a US investor from an article in The Times, to a client appearing on Sky News and gaining international recognition.   

Any media relations strategy worth considering won’t have PR Value or AVE as a metric. Those metrics don’t mean anything. There are many qualitative and quantitative measures that can really enable a business to assess the value of media relations beyond the piece itself.  

Some measures include CPT (cost per thousand) to assess coverage alongside marketing disciplines. A 4-star rating system to see how hard that piece of coverage works for your business so there is greater understanding of the strength of exposure. 

Media relations should also be linked to Google Analytics to look at backlinks of coverage if direct sales are generated from coverage and how many new and existing users are driven to a website.

Balancing expectations

Any business leader thinks their business is worthy of great press coverage and so they should, but some fundamentals are important to understand when managing expectations and balancing this with what a journalist wants to write about. Some core things to remember:

Expect your media relations team to be clear and upfront about the quality of the story you want to tell. They are experts in media relations and do this every day, so they know how the media works and what’s possible.

They should manage your expectations on if and when a piece of coverage will land. Some stories take time to hit in the press so quick wins of coverage aren’t always possible and just because you might think there’s a story, it doesn’t mean there is an editorial story and they should consult you on this.

Editorial control remains with a journalist, this means they will write the piece and a media relations team can’t dictate what it includes. The role of the media relations expert is to ensure they are targeting the right media, with the right message or story, at the right time and the journalist has all the information including access to spokespeople. Note that factually incorrect information can be requested and changed but the editorial tone can’t.

A deadline is a deadline, and a journalist won’t wait, so sharing assets, having access to spokespeople and a full story in a timely way is crucial.

Lydia Hoye is founder of consumer communications agency Bound to Prosper. She has been in PR for 18 years, consulting global consumer brands with strategic PR that have driven business results and memorable, awarded campaigns. She is passionate about supporting progressive, human centric brands with incredible PR to help them lead their industries.