Monday, September 20, 2010

a change is gonna come...or it has already started

Reminding me of my favorite Sam Cooke song, this week's readings discussed the changes in the PR industry and how these changes affect the way non-profit organizations should go about receiving good media coverage.

Ch. 5 starts by talking about the emerging trend of freelance writers. Freelance writers are becoming a common trend among media because it is often cheaper to pay freelance writers than to have full-time employees. This makes it more difficult for non-profits to get their organizations out into the media because it's harder to make solid contacts at a specific news company. Luckily though, even freelance writers often have specific topics they prefer to write about and are often hired by the same medium several times. As an example, here's an article from The Huffington Post (an entirely online newspaper!) written by a freelance writer, Terry Gardner, (who has a few specific topics she continually writes about) about a non-profit organization, Sustainable Works. Also, after taking all these PR classes, I realize that this was very likely pitched to Gardner by a PR professional from the organization. This article from The Huffington Post leads me to the next point from this chapter: the Internet! The Internet is completely changing the way journalism works and the flow of information. While it means PR professionals have possibly thousands more influentials to watch (the blogosphere is huge now) and communicate with, it also opens thousands of doors (including the organization's own website) to get the organization's name out for a much lower cost than traditional media. The book says it well with "Bloggers-Eliminating the Gatekeepers."

With these now thousands of options for media coverage, there are many steps/aspects to earning good coverage. Ch. 7 is long - in fact, the longest chapter in the book - which I think just emphasizes the point that receiving good media coverage is very important and one of the keys to success for social change. The chapter starts by talking about the importance of relationships with reporters, a point it continually makes throughout the chapter and in other chapters of the book. I like the way Karen DeWitt, a VP of communications for a social justice organization in DC, puts it, "You have got to get to know reporters, and the best way to form relationships is to bring something of value to the relationship" (quote taken from book). Reporters are constantly bombarded with story pitches. Having a story with something interesting or different can help your story cut through to the front of a reporter's mind.

Much of the chapter also discusses the various ways a PR professional can make it easy for reporter's to get information. One of the ways suggested is to have a press room section on the organization's Web site. This section should include information on the organization in easy-to-read formats (backgrounders, fact sheets, etc.), links to articles mentioning/featuring the organization, press releases, multimedia (photos, audio/video clips, graphs, etc.) and contact information. The book also suggests telling reporters when new information is posted so they also know what's happening. I like this idea because it adds a sense of timeliness to an organization's happenings which is key for news stories. Something that kind of caught me by surprise was the extensive use of the telephone in dealing with reporters. I guess since I've basically grown up with the Internet and mainly communicate through e-mails and text messaging, I didn't realize the impact the telephone still has (Also, I kind of detest talking on the phone. There is something about not being able to see someone that throws me off.). Telephone still seems to be a way to reach a reporter quickly and with a short, concise spiel ready, it can communicate easily without wasting the time of the reporter. Also, the telephone is often used for interviews, audio press conferences, and even radio tours. I guess I'll have to get over my thing against telephones. I will obviously use it in my career.

Alright, the last main point I want to talk about from Ch. 7 is the planning and details of press conferences and major events. I never realized the amount of work, research and planning that goes into both of these. You must alert and invite media well in advance and send multiple reminders (makes sense as I said before, reporters are bombarded with pitches). A lot of planning must go into choosing and setting up the physical locations of press conferences and major events. Training spokespeople and choosing the right visuals are also key for success. While more for major events (though it applies to press conferences too), the production is very important. The book compares it to a theatrical production which I think is pretty accurate. Of course, another key to press conferences and major events is the evaluation. This is something that is emphasized in every PR book I read, every PR class I take, every PR blog I follow. You don't really know if something was a success until you evaluate it. The main reason this is so important is because this shows what worked and what didn't so you know what to change in future events. I'll admit this also sounds like one of the really fun parts to me. It's a chance to see if your ideas were a success and often leads to a second chance if they didn't. All in all, the changing industry has affected the way PR professionals work, yet traditional methods are still popular and some tried-and-true aspects have stuck around (like research, planning and evaluation).

On a side note, I don't know if this means I'm in the right major or just kind of a nerd (possibly both), but I think the Freedom Forum's Newseum sounds really cool! It's definitely on my list of places to go if I ever make it back to DC.

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