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The personal touch: a guide to media relations angling.

As a die-hard angler, I often relate media relations to the fishing techniques expounded by fishing gurus Al and Ron Lindner, publishers of In-Fisherman magazine.

Their tactics are based on "structure fishing:" learning about the environment you're fishing in and then personalizing a bait presentation to catch the specific fish you're after. For instance, you would consider the topography of the lake, the time of day, the season, the cover (weeds, logs, rocks), the color and acidity of the water and what the particular fish likes to eat.

Of course, another school of fishing says: "Put your worm on the end of the hook, dangle off the side of the dock and see what you'll get" or cast your lure until something bites.

To say the least, you can make a lot of comparisons between fishing and media relations.

Unfortunately, I think, there's a greater number of people who practice the latter school of fishing. And the same holds true for media relations. A lot of time and money is being wasted and a lot of clients are going hungry waiting for their public relations professional to produce a string of good, solid placements.

The Personal Touch

But I, and many successful public relations professionals, practice what I call The Personal Touch' toward media relations. It's a practice which in the long run will produce results: trophy size placements.

Simply, The Personal Touch is, like structure fishing, a matter of learning and thinking like a reporter and subtly persuading him or her to write a story through proper presentation of yourself and your story idea.

There's a down side though. The Personal Touch approach takes a lot of time, practice and patience, and from what I've seen and heard, there's more interest in making the numbers. For instance, mailing 500 press releases, calling 200 reporters, making a press tour of 20 cities. You may produce a zillion clips this way, but are they the right clips?

A case in point: Three solid placements, one each in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Associated Press and The Las Vegas Review-Journal not only kept the phones ringing off the hook for one of my clients, a small, relatively young software firm, but also were responsible for 80 percent of the placements generated for this client within a six-month period. We compiled more than 50 clips reaching more than eight million people.

Having developed and implemented media relations strategies for over two dozen clients, with products ranging from overnight packages to chocolate tortes, I have used many tactics in my effort to persuade a reporter or editor to write about a client. But the one technique I always seem to come back to is The Personal Touch."

Know What You're Fishing For

The main thing you should do is get to know the publication and the reporter to whom you would like to propose a story, and learn about his/ her needs. This sounds simpler than it is, which is why a lot of anglers opt for throwing their worm over the dock.

And, as many fishermen believe, the most important aspect is thinking like your target. For those of us who are ex-reporters, this seems almost second nature and provides us with a great benefit in dealing with the media; but as a growing number of practitioners graduate with PR degrees, this becomes even more vital.

Here are some Personal Touch or presentation tactics you can use to help you catch that "lunker" placement:

* Read publications you're trying to place stories in.

* Read as many publications as you can relating to your client's business and pick out similar information among them. Compile this information and propose it as a trend story, in which your client is included, to a particular publication, personalizing it for their readers.

* Look for story angles. Editorial opportunities exist in some of the seemingly most overlooked places. For instance, maybe your client's executives are using the state-of-the-art computer equipment to improve the performance of their meetings-this is a story Industry Week recently published. Keep a file of hot story ideas (your special sure-catch lures) for just such an occasion.

* If you can't get hold of a particular publication, call in advance, ask for the editor and learn if her or she covers the type of story you would like to propose.

* Call in advance to get the right address, editor and correct spelling of the editor's name before you send even one piece of mail. This not only cuts down on the cost and time of resending news materials when they're returned, but it also eliminates the embarrassment of calling and 1) finding out it hasn't arrived or, 2) the editor's been dead for over a year.

* Call in advance of sending out new product information to alert the editors that information is coming and that they should watch for it. If they don't want to see your news materials, well, you've just saved at least 25 cents.

* Write personalized letters. A reporter can spot a form letter a mile away.

* The personalized letter gives you a chance to summarize your story idea and allows you to tell the reporter exactly what you want him or her to do with your news materials. Remember, the letter doesn't have to be long. A personalized letter is especially effective with an advance telephone call.

* The Pitch Letter. Sometimes a reporter or editor will tell you to submit your ideas in writing-no telephone calls. Great. Make sure to personalize it to the editor's publication (definitely make sure you read the publication in advance); make sure to tell the reporter what you want done with the story idea 'Please consider the enclosed information for a profile about John Doe, president of Company XYX"), and make sure to tell the reporter what you will do next ("I'll contact you next week to discuss the story idea').

Don't worry that your letter is too long-provide as much information to tell the story-but be sure you tell the reporter what you would like them to do with the story idea within the first three paragraphs.

* Always send your card to improve the reporter's ability to get back in touch with you.

* And always follow up. When you follow up with an editor or reporter don't limit the conversation to "Did you receive my news kit?" Ask the reporter again to write your story idea. And always offer the reporter the opportunity to speak directly with the client or an executive with your company. If the answer is No," brainstorm with the reporter. Ask why the story isn't appropriate. Ask if a portion of your story would fit in an upcoming trend article.

* Keep a log of your calls and letters to an editor. Not only does it improve the efficiency in which you keep track of your efforts, it also will improve your communication with a particular editor. Imagine saying to an editor, About a year ago, when we spoke, you said you would be interested in writing about my company. I wrote that down and now I'm following up to tell you what has happened to our company and why it would make a good story for your magazine.

* Arrange for reporters to meet your client or selected company executives in person at every opportunity-trade shows, conferences, or when the executive is in a reporter's city. There's no substitute for a chance to "press the flesh.'

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, "But this takes a lot of time and energy and my boss is screaming at me to get some publicity for the company.' The Personal Touch may take more time to develop, granted, but in the long run, it has saved me in many such emergencies. It also benefits you by providing longer, more positive, better positioned stories than before. You may also find your company mentioned at times when you weren't expecting it.

Let me give you another example: I developed a long-distance telephone relationship with a software reporter. From one perspective, the relationship hadn't amounted to much, a few small mentions in his computer column. Then, one day, out of the blue, he called me. He had just been given an assignment to write about educational software for USA Today and wanted to know if I could supply him with information about my client's products. The result: My client's product not only led the article but also was described in a third of it.

Stephen Dupont is an account executive who specializes in media relations for Colle & McVoy Public Relations, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:DuPont, Stephen
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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