In discussions with organizations about their arsenal of marketing tools or "wish list," we often hear that though they see the value of a media relations program, they're just not ready to roll one out. But as we continue our discussions, we find that they are prime to take advantage of this powerful tool.

This article will consider the best time to roll out a media relations program and the benefits of developing one.

First Things First

You need a comprehensive website before rolling out a media relations program. A good website not only gives companies credibility but also makes a strong impact on reporters who are doing research for an article.

Having a professional site design, well-written copy, and helpful information will enhance a company's reputation and builds a reporter's trust. A company's website is one of the first places reporters go to find out more information about the topic they're writing about and sources they're interviewing.

Once a solid website is in place, a dedicated resource must be in place to identify company news on an ongoing basis. "But we have no news to share" is the usual retort.

All of the following can be news: a new hire, a promotion, an acquisition, a merger, a new building, a new division launched within a company, a new office space, an award, participation in a conference (whether speaking or exhibiting), a news article about your company that deserves additional exposure, a partnership with another organization, a customer win, a product enhancement, a book that a company executive wrote that supports the company's mission, a published whitepaper, a successful project that produced a happy customer, company executives who have opinions to share about their industry.

Finding news within an organization can be done by a dedicated person or team (typically, from marketing) willing to put on a "reporter cap" and interview heads of different divisions to understand the latest and greatest accomplishments.

Another way is to find employees interested in forming a "News Junkie" committee, the primary function of which would be to share and document exciting things going on within their various departments.

The committee should be made up of employees from different divisions, including marketing, product development, human resources, customer service, sales, and finance. The committee leader should be someone from Marketing and would be tasked with scheduling informal meetings (even brown bag lunches) on a monthly basis. At the start of the meeting, the organizer needs to make sure to set the tone of the meeting, paying close attention to everyone's valuable time. Then, it's time to watch, listen, and discover what's happening at the company! Of course, someone should take notes.

Setting Goals Is Key

Once your website is in place and there is news to share, the next step is to set realistic goals for your media relations program. Are you looking to increase Web visits, boost leads for Sales, secure media interviews to increase company awareness, secure speaking engagements, establish name recognition, maintain market awareness, get your company acquired, or attract capital investment?

After goals are set, select your target audience and tailor your messages. Then, develop a media relations strategy—an overall plan to help you achieve those goals. Identify the media outlets as well as the media relations activities that will help you accomplish your goals.

And that's when the fun begins—deciding on the tactics and tools to use to fulfill your strategy. Will your media relations program consist of active pitching, media tours, whitepapers, award submissions, or articles? Will you communicate those successes via press releases, newsletters, blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, email, direct mail, or a combination of them?

What are those tactics and tools? And how do you use them?

  • Active pitching involves outreach to the media with story ideas related to industry news, trends, and customers. It can also include commenting on a story a reporter has written, including your perspective, and then offering a company spokesperson as a source for a future story the reporter may write. Active pitching opens the door to a dialogue with a reporter. Although those conversations do not always result in immediate coverage, they keep your company and its spokesperson top-of-mind with journalists, increasing the likelihood that a reporter will look to you as a future story source. Active pitching also provides an avenue to discover the trends reporters are interested in and other stories in the pipeline.
  • Media tours are ideal if you are about to launch a new product or service. They can be done face to face or via phone. It's a good tactic that will forge new relationships with reporters and possibly earn you some excellent media coverage. A media tour might entail a single event or a series of them. You'll need a press kit, presentation material, and a representative to interact with the press.
  • Whitepapers can explain how your company's offerings solve real business problems. Because information overload is an issue these days, whitepapers should be only 4-8 pages long. However, they should still include enough background information to provide context; and, most important, they should still be convincing. Whitepapers can be considered news and so written about in a press release and pitched to reporters. Depending on the whitepaper's content, reporters may run it as a stand-alone article or include a summary of it as a news brief, letting readers (your possible customers) know it's available.
  • Submitting for awards is a way to put your company on the map. Winning awards can play a major role in generating recognition and gaining status within almost every industry, especially if revenue and management are strong. By submitting your company or your customers for industry awards, "Best Places to Work" awards, or personnel awards, you can maximize your success story.
  • Newsletters, whether print or email, are a timeless approach for keeping customers informed and building a solid customer base. Your newsletter should be ongoing, and it should include helpful information. For example, it might identify a trend within your sector, offer tips, or announce upcoming events, product upgrades, new hires, and recent promotions. It should have meaningful content. You need to think like an editor: "What will my readers find interesting?"
  • Bylined articles, strategically placed in key publications, will generate inquiries from prospective clients and drive traffic to your website. They are a great way to position your company and its executives as subject-matter experts in their respective fields. Trade publications are always looking for meaningful content; they often welcome bylined articles.
  • Press releases are a standard method of communicating newsworthy announcements to relevant media. The aim is to attract favorable media attention while providing reporters with enough information to develop a news story. When the news in the release is solid and properly pitched, the resulting media attention can be outstanding.
  • Email enables you to promote your products and services online. Email can quickly reach a large subscriber list. As part of a campaign, emails can be designed in HTML to increase brand recognition; with the right colors and logos, they can look similar to your own website. Best of all, you can even conduct online surveys and polls to get an idea of what customers think of your offerings. The results of such a survey can sometimes become news that you can promote!
  • Direct mail takes your message directly to the consumer, often in the form of a letter. It puts your message in the hands of customers at a time when they might be likely to read it—along with the rest of the mail they've received.
  • Blogs, often written by employees and integrated into company websites, allow for interaction between you and your customers via the commenting function. If that function is turned on, readers and visitors can post comments, sharing their thoughts or opinions on blog posts you have written. Often, blogs are easier for search engines to pick up. Perhaps one of the most powerful features of a blog is its syndication function. Blogs can be turned into RSS feeds. You can gain new readers, subscribers, and potential customers by letting them subscribe to your RSS feed.

Once you've decided on the marketing medium you want to use, then it's time to start "pitching, writing, mailing" all those great news nuggets you've discovered.

You can then let your fans (Facebook) and followers (Twitter) know about the great article that you just published, the award your company just won, the product that's officially launched, the newsletter that's now available, the byline article that your president just wrote, or the results of a survey you just conducted with your email campaign.

The Additional Benefits

A strategic, active (anticipatory), and ongoing media relations program that incorporates some or all of those tactics and tools will have a positive impact on your company's bottom line. Companies can cost-effectively accelerate overall growth and increase website visits.

In addition, a successful media relations program will build credibility for a company and its executive team, stimulate awareness and demand for a company's product or service (possibly creating positive buzz), and even enhance a company's reputation. In some cases, a successful media relations program can serve as a recruiting tool to bring talented folks to an organization and to retain current staff.

Gaining positive visibility and solid credibility creates goodwill for your company and exposure in your target market—an important prize in today's economy!

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The Case for Ongoing Media Relations and 10 Tips and Tools to Help You Spread the Word

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Lana Sansur is the director of media relations at Kinetics Marketing Communications. She can be reached via