Today I’m thinking about media relations — my least favorite PR task, but one our bosses expect us to perform in our sleep.
I’m thinking about MR because I’ll be teaching a course in the topic next summer, and for some years to come. It’s been 3 years since I last taught the class, and a good bit has changed — the influence of blogs most notably. The way we connect to journalists also has changed. I saw a tweet this morning claiming that 50+ NYT journalists are on Twitter. Me, too.
I need your help on this one. Because many of you do media relations day to day, you know the skills and the mindset it takes. So check out my list and leave me an idea or two on how to improve the course.
Here is what I think we need in a senior-level course called Media Relations & Publicity. Well, a first draft, anyway.
What students will produce:
A plan. The process begins by researching client and specific project involved. Students produce a situation analysis and detailed recommendations on how to optimize news coverage for a specific project or event. Each plan contains objectives and ways to measure outcomes.
An online newsroom. Students will customize a template and populate it with content relevant to their media-relations objectives. They will produce and post news releases, fact sheets, backgrounders, bios and a feature story. Each element must fit strategy and objectives, but we insist students write short- and long-form elements to test their writing skills.
What should we add to the newsroom? Still photos and video are an obvious answer, but keep in mind that most PR students aren’t competent in those specialties. A major challenge to PR education is the ever-expanding skill set required of practitioners. We’re workin’ on it.
A printed media kit. Why producing a media kit on paper? I’m not sure. But some employers still ask to see traditional portfolios, and I’m willing to sacrifice a few trees to help my students land jobs.
Media lists. Students learn to use a Web-based tool like BurrellesLuce for building and updating of media lists. The list becomes part of their final project, the online newsroom and all its content.
Media analysis. Each student will do a short paper profiling one of the target media outlets. Message: Know the gatekeepers you’re pitching and fashion messages to meet their needs.
What students must learn and understand:
Redefining “media.” Only 5 years ago this course focused on mainstream media only. Today we address relationships with freelancers who now provide tons of content to the MSM. Bloggers are also a focus, as are gatekeepers at e-zines and digital newsletters that serve vertical audiences. Also, traditional trade and professional publications. Who am I missing?
Blogger relations vs. media relations. Bloggers claim they require treatment different from the MSM. I’m not so sure. Like journalists, bloggers strive to tell a story that’s meaningful to readers and one that will elicit a reaction. They hate being spammed, but are generally receptive to information from sincere people who take time to learn their needs and interests. Sounds like media relations to me.
Targeted pitches vs. broadcast distribution. Certain high-impact stories must be sent to a broad list of media; others work best when offered to targeted outlets with a measure of exclusivity. Students must learn to distinguish the difference.
Social media news releases (SMR). We’ll spend a day talking about Todd Defren’s template for the SMR, and I’ll require my students to read Tom Foremski’s “Die, Die…” post. I love the concept of the SMR but am troubled by the resources it takes to produce one. I get it. I’m just not an early adopter.
Evaluation tools. We expose students to the many ways PR professionals measure media coverage — even discredited approaches like “advertising equivalency” (so they aren’t surprised when an employer asks them to do one).
Connecting to media. A few months back I wrote about Tom Foremski’s invitation to get to know him via Facebook. I’m seeking case studies on how PR pros use social networks to enhance media relationships via online conversation.
Practice pitches. In the final week of class, we’ll do mock pitches that mimic the interchange between media and publicist trying to sell a story. It’s one of the most intimidating tasks an intern or entry-level hire must tackle, so we’ll try to de-mystify it.
Write, write, write. Students will see a writing assignment every week for 15 weeks — 3 per week in the summer. At least 6 of those assignments will be done in class on a 60-minute deadline. They’ll write news releases, fact sheets, pitch messages, feature stories, backgrounders and talking points. They will adhere strictly to AP style and all work will be letter perfect on grammar, punctuation and usage.
Oh, yeah. AP Style isn’t required on Twitter.
What can you add?