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Media Relations: Strategies for Entrepreneurs

The media is important to entrepreneurs because it carries a business' message to customers, potential customers, and employees.

A good relationship with the media is a management tool that is critical for a long-term business entity. The strategy is one of getting it "right" - or in other words, exercising the intellectual discipline of thinking thoroughly when communicating with the media.

The media filters a business' information. Since seventy-five percent of the game with the media is a matter of candid disclosure, what makes a product/service new or unique? Is this newsworthy? What interests the reader is what makes the distinction. Given this perspective, what does a business want to achieve in its communications? It could be anything from raising capital, influencing the government, or recruiting employees. Such messages require executive-level attention when putting together a press release.

Message content should be carefully crafted by those intimately knowledgeable about the subject matter. Assisting the media's understanding of a product/service means giving the facts simply. Underestimating the media's intelligence and giving "spin" to information becomes transparent to the media. Such behavior makes a business' case look weak and undermines whatever credibility the media may have had with the enterprise.

Credibility is the most important asset a business can have with the media. Successful media dynamics require trust and a solid reputation for straight talk. Since the media has limited time and personnel, it will extend trust once to a business. Abusing that trust means inclusion in the media's "bad guy" list along with greater scrutiny and skepticism. A savvy business needs character, judgment, and thought to make media relations "smooth." Playing devil's advocate with itself may be a business' best defense when testing its assumptions and understanding the media's perspective. Such insight enhances a business' media relations for the better.

There are three kinds of information a business can communicate. Proprietary information is protected and shared only within the organization. Internal, non-proprietary information is shared with manufacturers, suppliers, and retail outlets. External public information is shared with the world and the media.

The media's job is to fill the news hole. A business delivering three stories to three different audiences causes confusion and inefficiencies. Preferably, the business should stick to one story and tell it to all three audiences. This eliminates the appearance of three different "takes" on the same message. The media will look for other perspectives on the story on its own.

There is honor in what the media does. It directly derives its influence/power from its credibility with its consumers. It understands proprietary data, honesty, and inclusion as a communications outlet for business. In return, it expects fair treatment from business for the job it does.

The following "tips" lend insight into understanding the media's mentality.

  • Anticipate and manage the changing tide of media coverage/treatment. The media is like a dog. It exhibits the "herd" mentality of pack animals with hierarchical/territorial instincts. This can translate into being either loved or hated by the media depending on the circumstances.
  • Work hard to win and maintain media attention. From the very first contact, build understanding and credibility with the media; but be aware of possible seduction and betrayal by it. Be careful and do not relax too much with it.
  • Know the "breed" of the media by doing the requisite research. In other words, realize that there are good and bad media types and know which ones with which to talk. Develop a familiarity with the media. Target the type of media exposure desired and the kind of information disclosed.
  • Involve senior executives when determining the business' public relations and targeting the media. Do not outsource these functions.
  • Keep training sessions short. The media is a victim of information overload. As a rule, it is skeptical. Some sure signs of "trouble" are when it suffers from stress, fatigue, boredom, and aggression.
  • Train the media by being consistent, honest, straightforward, and patient. Such treatment wins respect, understanding, and reciprocity. It also leads to personally and professionally rewarding relationships.

Marketing is not merely about the product but also about product management and the marketing function/strategy. For example, imagine a business with a high tech product that costs $10,000. This business targets households with an income of $100,000 per year. It chooses to advertise in publications read by higher income people - the audience it wants to attract. These publications include Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and the San Jose Mercury News - reputable media forums. Quality, not quantity, is the focus; therefore selecting premier business publications for its advertisements is strategically "smart" ink that appears in a credible environment where it can do the most good.

Successful media campaigns are integrated with advertising. Third party endorsements from financial analysts, industry analysts, and system integrators influence public perception. Avoid excessive "hype" and be prepared to absorb negative stories by waiting for them to blow over. Eventually, the media will find another story to chase. The relationship with the media one based on the ability to articulate, not socialize.

Written by Judy Kong, Analyst with TECHdivas.com