In last month's column, we discussed some of the reasons why public relations programs are increasingly being used as a cost-effective alternative to advertising as a method of building and enhancing brands. In this column, we'll talk more about some specific PR activities.

Feature Stories. Story pitches can be developed for a wide range of publications, including daily newspapers and trades, as well as magazines and broadcast vehicles. Similarly, there are many types of feature stories, such as those developed for the business press versus lifestyle and human interest editors. Familiarity with a publication's editorial calendar and submission policies is critical. It's also important to develop story pitches that are timely and relevant to the publication's audience, so you need to read and identify articles that can provide a springboard for your story.

Keep your expectations for features in the business press realistic. I'm always amused by how often clients think they'll instantly find themselves on the cover of the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. As one would imagine, editors of major daily newspapers and leading online and print business magazines are inundated with hundreds of press releases and feature pitch ideas from PR agents. To be successful, a PR effort involves lots of research and daily monitoring of stories in targeted publications. The feature story pitch most likely to be heard will be one that:

  • Adds a new dimension to a recent story.
  • Introduces a new perspective on an often-reported topic.
  • Suits the subject matter of an issue on the editorial calendar.
  • Generally meets the editorial criteria of the publication.

In short, the more targeted your pitch to an editor and the publication's subject matter, the better your chances of getting noticed. Here are some other guidelines:

  • Think about the information you want to provide. Is it consistent with your positioning statement and is it timely and relevant for the reporter's readers/listeners/viewers?
  • Is there a local angle to the information, especially if you're pitching a local news organization?
  • Will the information you provide be considered too self-serving by the it really newsworthy?
  • Be aware that the information you impart may be important to current clients/customers as well as potential clients/customers.
  • Evaluate your editorial options. Sometimes a "Letter to the Editor" is more likely to get picked up than a press release or a pitch letter for a full feature. Op-ed pieces, if well prepared and timely, can also be very effective.

Press Protocols. Developing relationships with the press takes time and patience. There are also etiquette quidelines of which to be aware:

  • Don't try flattery on reporters or offer them gifts. They are the authors of the story, and it's their name and objective reporting that lends credibility to you and your company.
  • Do offer to review technical or complicated material for accuracy before publication, but don't ask to see the story before it appears. The story belongs to the reporter and it is not your right to review it in advance.
  • Be sure that if you send the reporter supporting materials, they are clear and complete. In the long run, it's worth it to do your homework up front when providing materials. It adds to your credibility.
  • Find out how the reporter likes to be contacted: email, phone, fax, or mail. As you can imagine, reporters are deluged with information, so finding out their preferred form of communication can go a long way.

By-lined Columns. These are extremely effective positioning and brand-building tools. My company ghost-writes monthly columns in several customer-specific publications on behalf of key printing executives or a company's technical expert. Columns can be pitched to local media outlets that don't have staff reporters or national publications that have had to cut on-staff writers in these hard times, making them more receptive to free content by outside agencies.

Broadcast Opportunities. Don't overlook opportunities that may exist with local radio and television programs. If your brand story is compelling and you have a spokesperson who is articulate, enthusiastic (for radio), and presents well (for TV), broadcast opportunities may not be as out of reach as you may think. Again, the key to success is development of a strong brand story and its relevance to the program you're pitching.

Next month I'll discuss ways to handle negative news situations, as well as other public relations vehicles, such as promotions.

Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte

© 2003 Charlotte Mills Seligman

August 20, 2003
Print & Graphics
Col#53, 8/03
Printing Journal
Col #53 8/03
Public Relations II
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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