Posts tagged ‘media relations’
July 7, 2014
When someone once asked Yogi Berra what makes a good baseball manager, he replied, “A good ball club.” Similarly, if you asked me what makes a good public relations professional, I’d say, ‘A good client.’
Here’s an illustration. In September 1987, I had just started a job in Chicago with a Jewish advocacy organization, and it was exactly on the eve of a visit by Pope John Paul II to the U.S. One of our leaders from Chicago was going to Miami to be part of a small delegation to meet the Pope. Could I, my boss asked, call some local Chicago media outlets to see if they might be interested?
Until then, I had never done any sort of media relations work for anyone (I was a writer and editor working on the other side of that divide). But I made some calls (this was before e-mail), and, much to my surprise, all the local TV stations and daily papers interviewed my guy and ran nice pieces about the meeting. Even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, everyone around me assumed I did.
The lesson: sure, it helps to have someone who knows which calls to make and can shape how a client presents itself. But there’s no substitute for a client with a good and highly relevant story to tell, especially one that contributes to an issue that’s playing big in the news already.
Like most local news outlets trying to insert themselves into a big national story, the Chicago media were looking for any hooks that would be relevant to the Pope’s visit. And they got it when they heard that a Chicago Jewish leader would be part of the Pope’s audience. It was a small part of everything else the Pope was doing during that trip, but it just happened to give media what they wanted: a local angle. Who knew? Certainly not I, at least not then.
Now, I don’t want to be accuse of false modesty. I’m not saying that we in the public relations game don’t do anything and that we just wait to get lucky (which I was in September 1987). In fact, much of what we do is to try to find elements of a client’s story that we think will connect nicely to dominant narratives already bouncing around the media. When we do, we maximize the odds that some journalist (and maybe many) will want to include our client’s views and information in their pieces.
It’s not about our relationships with editors and reporters, as so many of our clients assume and some p.r. professionals misleadingly suggest. Yes, it helps to know some people on the inside of various news organizations. But that means nothing if we don’t have a story that they’re likely to want to hear and repeat. Some of my biggest hits were with journalists I’d never met.
We can’t usually know for sure what will sell. I’ve had client stories that I thought would interest no one but that got a lot of attention and others I thought would be hot that no one would report. But there are some rules of thumb that help us get the most out our pitches:
- Relevance. You don’t have to be a careful consumer of news to know that there are, on any given day, a half dozen or so national stories that eat up the lion’s share of media attention and conversation. The same probably goes for any other news segment: local news, specialized trade outlets and so on. It helps to understand what those big stories are, especially before they hit, whether they have any staying power and where, if at all, a client’s story can fit into them. It may be that the client has nothing relevant to say about those stories. In that case, it’s important to find out what is being said about other, quieter stories and who is producing that coverage. What, you must ask, can a client offer that will help illuminate that story more and better educate audiences who care about that story?
- Credibility. Is the client an expert on this issue? Does it have relevant information that few others can claim? Do people really want to hear what this client has to say? Without such credibility, it’s hard to induce any reporters to pay attention.
- Illustrative examples. It’s not enough just to have an opinion or to speak in general or in the abstract. Media organizations want to be able to cite concrete examples of experiences or initiatives that help illustrate what the issues are truly about. Can you point to activities or scenarios (preferably recent and photogenic) that can help journalists illustrate the story they’re writing? That’s where you will score.
- New information. It’s not called “news” for nothing. Reporters want to be the first to get information that no one else has, and if you’re the one who can supply them with it and it meets most and maybe all of the criteria above, you just might get coverage.
- Something that answers “Why should I care?” As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, what you and your institution think is important may not be what most people think is important. You have to address the issues that most people care about — something in the broader public interest. How will what you say affect, for example, the economy, people’s personal needs, the direction of our geopolitical aims, the well being of the local community, or, as was the case in 1987, the state of Catholic-Jewish relations? Answer those questions and you will heighten your chances of getting coverage.
Again, this is all rule of thumb. It’s impossible to predict exactly what will sell and what won’t. But I can guarantee that unless two or more of these elements are at play, you’ll have a shot at some coverage.
March 28, 2014
The incident surrounds an article about Trump by McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed, the online news / entertainment / click-bait (or whatever you want to call it) site. According to the New York Post, after a request to allow Coppins to interview him during a trip to New Hampshire (“Trump was there to deliver a political speech widely seen as being aimed at running for president in 2016 and not for New York governor this year,” the Post said.), Trump turned to his media advisor, Sam Nunberg, to ask whether or not he should do it.
Trump said his first reaction was not to do the interview, saying, “I understand what Buzzfeed is.”
“But Sam said to me, ‘This guy is a friend of mine. It’s going to be a great story. I have confidence it will be fair.’
So I actually did the interview as a courtesy to Sam.
“But I said to Sam, ‘If this guy writes a fair story, that’s fine. But if he writes a wise-guy story, you’ll be fired.’ And I said to Sam, ‘OK?’
“And Sam said, ‘OK.’ ’’
Coppins wrote what is actually a pretty interesting, but not terribly flattering piece. I can see how Trump might consider it a “wise-guy” story, but then, as you’ll see, Trump provided some undeniably weird material, which Coppins recorded. Was it accurate? I don’t know, but it all seems plausible.
“After the article appeared, Trump acknowledged, ‘I called [Nunberg] in and said, ‘Sam, you’re fired!’ Trump said the article was filled with ‘inaccurate reporting’’ and presented flippant or out-of-context remarks.”
[Sigh] Where to begin? Based only on what I read in this Post article (there might be more to the story, but I sort of doubt it):
First of all, it might surprise you to hear me say that I have a little sympathy for Trump on this. But only a little. He was apparently conscious enough to know what BuzzFeed is, and, based on that, was hesitant to give an interview in the first place.
I don’t blame him. While I think there is a time and place for BuzzFeed’s offerings – hey, it can be fun to read sometimes – Trump is too colorful a character to expect any media outlet, much less this one, to leave out his unsightly blemishes.
Second, his advisor, Sam Nunberg, was a bit naïve, to say the least, to think that a relationship with Coppins would produce a puff piece. I can hear the editors saying, “Dude [I don’t know why, but I imagine Buzzfeed people say “Dude” a lot, but I’m stereotyping], bring me back a good one. Something juicy.” The truth is, there aren’t many news outlets that would think differently. Trump’s entertainment value, particularly when he deludes himself into thinking he’s a viable candidate for public office, is just too hard to resist.
To be sure, Nunberg had to go with his gut to a certain extent. I’ve been there, too. We have to evaluate what we think is likely to happen when we engage with a reporter – even if he or she is a friend. To a certain extent, we always have to take a leap of faith that the reporters will live up to their assurances to be fair and thorough.
Still, ultimately, the control is completely out of our hands. Contrary to what our clients and the uninformed think,wWe p.r. people do not “control” reporters (at least not in the U.S. – things are different around the world). We try to maximize the chances that things will come out well . Sometimes — but not often– we get burned.
If my client was as sensitive to unfavorable coverage as Trump seemed to be in this case (amazingly for a guy who’s so in love with getting into the media), I’d say, “You really shouldn’t be doing media at all,” or, at the very least, I can’t guarantee you anything, so don’t do it if you have a queasy feeling.
More strategically, what did either Nunberg or Trump think they were going to get out of BuzzFeed, even if the article had pleased Trump. While it promises wide circulation, I’m not sure BuzzFeed would give Trump the credibility he needs to mount a campaign for public office – or whatever the hell he thinks he’s trying to accomplish.
I feel a bit sorry for Nunberg, but he had to know that working for Trump was never going to be easy. But I also feel a bit sorry for Trump, who, after all, trusted his advisor to give him good guidance. He should have known better himself, especially considering that he gave extraordinary, behind-the-scenes access to the reporter.
I also feel sorry for all of the rest of us who seek out good and serious news reporting and who too often see news organizations eating up valuable media real estate and air time with Trump’s crazy rantings.
Trump photo by Gage Skidmore