Be your own media

DesertLife Alice Springs

A little birdy told me (Photo: DesertLife.com.au)

Are we witnessing the death of the media release?

When was the last time you got media coverage for your business or organisation through a media release?

With the proliferation of social media tools at your disposal, why do you need somebody else to approve your story and twist it their way instead of doing it yourself?

In the last few years working with Northern Territory businesses, I have been confronted by these questions.

As a marketer on one hand and a former journalist on the other, I would like to share some thoughts, particularly from the small business point-of-view.

Why do you need mass publicity?

The first question we must ask when we plan to get ‘press’ coverage for our business or organisation is why? Why do we need it?

While awareness is important to any business, I would argue the only real awareness that counts in awareness within your target market and their influencers. That is, people who buy or use your product/service and those who influence such actions.

I have often questioned the value of all the effort that goes in to getting a brief mention in a few column centimetres of newsprint or a brief mention on television or radio. Workflow is interrupted, extra planning takes place, staff are distracted, and then the mention comes and goes as a small blip within the ever-hungry, ever-spinning news cycle. (It is with relief I note that the PR industry has finally moved to distance itself from shonky practice of measuring the value of news coverage in ‘advertising equivalents’ – the area or time devoted to your story is costed as if it were advertising.)

There is no doubt that those associated with the business/organisation get a buzz, but the buzz of ego can often be a far cry from the ringing of tills.

This is particularly the case when the product/service being discussed is not readily applicable or available to the mass audience.

While the result of press coverage can sometimes yield measurable rewards, it is often the case that businesses/organisations find that they have been misquoted, the emphasis of the story has been skewed, or that they have been lobbed together with competitors, watering down or conflicting with their desired message.

As a former journalist, part of me must defend the journalist’s right to interpret the elements of the story and present an angle she believes is most relevant to her readers. And herein lies the rub.

Why entrust your message to a stranger?

It is right to point out that a journalist should be dispassionate in their reporting and free to include or exclude facts and people as they see fit.

But when you have important messages to convey to your publics, is this a risk worth taking?

One one hand, we do know that having a third party write about you or your business carries more integrity and value than you buying space and blasting your advertising message (it is commonly thought that only 14% of us trust advertising).

On the other hand, what is the value of that third party involvement when the story is wrong or unflattering?

This is where social media and social networking can play a role.

Creating your own channels of direct communication to your target market through a blog, website, videocast, photostream, or social network, gives you a chance to communicate clearly and directly.

As long as you can plan your messages coherently and your offerings are valuable to prospects and clients, you can take back control of your communication.

Some prospects or clients might stay in touch with you via these means regularly, or you might find that by building your ‘Google footprint’ or mass of articles answering questions of interest to your target market over time, you gain a greater profile in search engine results when prospects or clients go searching for you.

Ironically, it is not uncommon for journalists to pursue you for comments when they discover your content as a result of a story idea they decided to research.

This happened for Mark Carter, a solo wildlife expert running a guide and survey business in Alice Springs. It was his very niche writings about bird watching and observations that made him jump out of search results when a journalist from one of the big, Saturday magazine publications in Sydney went hunting for story and picture ideas in his field in relation to a developing news angle around eco-tourism.

The next step

Does this mean we just focus on the needs of our customers and prospects and ignore the urge to seek bursts of mass publicity?

I would argue that sticking to our knitting and making sure we are creating relevant content that meets the needs of customers and prospects should drive what we do. But at the same time, keeping a weather eye on story trends in the press can give us some opportunities to help reporters get new angles on stories related to our fields, when the time is right.

Again, we, as business owners/managers, have the responsibility of getting inside someone else’s mind. Every day we must try to get inside the minds of our customers and prospects, but for successful communication through media outlets, it helps to understand what reporters ‘need’ to cover the topics of the day.

Please share your thoughts through the comments below. There are bound to many other angles and opinions on this topic and I welcome them. As always with The RITE Series, we are looking for the Territorian experience and are keen to include your comments in our summary publication to be created during October Business Month.

 

 

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