In the PR strategies toolbox, the practice of media relations gives PR practitioners an opportunity to distinguish themselves while also giving their organizations an edge over the competition.
As earned media, stories placed through media relations efforts are cost-effective. These media placements also provide a third-party endorsement for an organization’s message — something that owned media does not achieve. Having the ability to calculate the equivalent advertising value of stories arranged through media relations allows PR pros to prove their worth to organizational decision-makers.
Stories placed through media relations keep an organization’s name and image relevant in the marketplace and on the minds of current and prospective stakeholders.
What’s more, excelling at media relations makes us, as PR practitioners, better at other aspects of our profession. The practice of media relations resides at the intersection of what’s important to the organization and what the media and public value.
In addition, relationships with reporters developed through media relations work will eventually become vital to any PR effort, especially in times of crisis communication.
Op-Eds remain the gold standard.
But as the number of reporters and news organizations declines, the practice of media relations is becoming more challenging — even as it rewards the most accomplished media pitchers. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of newsroom jobs in the United States fell by 26 percent from 2008 to 2020. With fewer newsrooms and journalists, media placements are more difficult and, therefore, more valuable.
When it comes to realizing the value of media relations, Op-Ed columns in newspapers are the gold standard. Read by influencers and decision-makers, these guest columns require our best efforts and most polished writing.
One advantage of Op-Ed placements is that they allow PR pros “to put a person behind the organization’s message and advocate for a particular position,” says Mary Yost, former editorial page editor of The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio.
It’s essential to follow the particular style of Op-Ed columns. “I cannot stress enough the importance of writing to the correct length as prescribed by the newspaper,” Yost says.
When ghostwriting an Op-Ed piece for a client, establish the background and expertise of the author, “Indicate the person’s point of view” and then provide a “rationale on why this position makes sense,” she advises. Communicate clearly. At the end of the column, “come back to the original point of view and what you want people to do or see happen.”
Newsletters gain clout.
An up-to-date media relations strategy should include pitching writers of email newsletters, as the medium continues to gain prominence. Platforms such as Substack and TinyLetter have made it more cost-efficient for reporters — some of whom used to work for major media organizations — to distribute their own subscription newsletters.
In a sign of the growing clout of editorial newsletters, journalist Hunter Walker, writer of “The Uprising,” a Substack newsletter that covers politics, recently joined the White House press corps.
When pitching your clients as sources to newsletter writers, look for those “who provide new angles and analysis on breaking news,” advises Michael Smith, a staff writer who covers college athletics for the magazine and news site Sports Business Journal, which also offers subscription newsletters. “Pitch individuals with insights that will help me write something thoughtful and reflective and tell readers why a particular breaking development is important.”
Newsletter writing has its own form that media pitches should fit. For his magazine stories, Smith needs three or four sources to interview, “but for our newsletter, one source is enough,” he says.
“The newsletter is designed to present information that is quick and easy for the reader to digest,” Smith says. “It is more quick-hitting and comes to the reader in shorter bursts. For example, I am looking for three takeaways from a current news event,” so “pitches need to be especially topical and add analysis to the news of the day.”
Jack Jeffery, APR, a lecturer in public relations at Appalachian State University, was previously a PR practitioner with a specialty in media relations.
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