Everyday, Monday through Friday, I put out a newsletter entitled, The COMUNICANO. If you want to subscribe, it's totally free, and you can easily sign up to receive it. The newsletter is an eclectic mix of stories affecting the changing technology landscape that effects us. Each edition can vary in length from about 8 to just over twenty stories that have caught my eye in the past 24 hours (72 for the Monday edition) and today, I ended it with an item from SPINSUCKS about Earned Media and company execs not taking time to talk with reporters.
The article got me thinking, a bit about the state of the industry, and a bit about my past.
For those who don't know, as much as I say "I'm not a PR guy" well I am and have been. What I'm not is a publicity flack as the craft of Public Relations is so much more than chasing the media to run the most recent news release. An therein lies a big problem today. Too much of PR is thought of as only publicity, and when an opportunity knocks, like the media calling you, as Gini Dietrich column points out, you better darn well talk to them.
This culture of being too busy to talk to the media doesn't help you, it hurts you. Too often I have seen clients beg off of media time and time again to "be in a board meeting" or "have a sales call then I have to do" or "I'm on my way to a conference." Sorry, but everyone of those excuses is lame because "being in the news" or having a comment surrounding a story a reporter is writing will only enhance your company and you in front of your board, customers and audience.
Today, media wants to hear from the CEO. So if you're a CEO, you better answer the call. If you're the PR person for the CEO, you better media train, and more importantly, relationship train the CEO to cultivate and maintain the rapport with the reporters and editors.
I learned to talk to the media at age 14. I was fielding questions, getting them answers, chasing down pro athletes (my first job was in PR with the Philadelphia Wings). I sat in the press box, ran to the locker room to line up players for reporter, called in scores to the radio and TV stations and even was "the voice" on radio reports. Reporters came to my first mentor, Sy Roseman, and I to ask questions and get answers. We were never quoted, but the story was often "our story."
A few years later the Philadelphia Flyers came calling and I took a position promoting youth hockey for them. We were called Hockey Central, and were a media dissemination service, but really we were a marketing entity that did everything from distributing information, plan and stage events and be a resource to the community. It was the foundation of future fans and is a reason why the Flyers have always been sold out. And that was the vision of the late Ed Snider, and it was my job to make that a reality.
What made us so successful was one thing. We talked to the media. Everyday. Everynight. Every weekend. When high school hockey became an everyday item in the newspapers and on the 11 o'clock TV news it was all because of what I started to do at age 14. Talk to reporters. This went up the ladder. Often I would talk to the reporters and that would lead to "can you get us the President of the Flyers" to talk to us or the President of The Spectrum. But over time, I became that spokesperson (around age 19 or 20) with the launch of The Flyers Cup and my role on camera with The Pepsi Shootout.
By the time I left the Flyers in 1988, I was talking daily to over thirty members of the media. I was on a first name basis with print reporters, talk radio hosts, sports anchors, producers and even camera crew members. We were so tightly connected that when I would pitch the story to come out to a City of Philadelphia ice rink at night, I knew what kind of sandwich to offer for each reporter and their camera crew from Koch's Deli or Lee's Hoagie House...yes, we fed the press dinner and the story. And we scheduled the events to start after the 6 o'clock news was over, so we could be on the 11 PM news or at 500 PM to make the early news cast and have the story rerun on all the nightly newscasts
Today's PR people often don't answer their phones. Some companies have removed the phone numbers from their Media page on the web site. And those who are listed rarely call back. But the blame is not really only on them. Reporters today are harder to reach than ever before. They are slammed with publicity chasers who are taught to "smile and dial" but not really build relationships. Inboxes get filled with pitches, but at the end of the day, it's all about relationships.
It's time to put the "relations" back into PR and stop thinking the P for Public is short for Publicity.