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Industry Opinion: How PR Can Help Break Through Major World News

The last few weeks has been an extremely busy in the world of communications, there was a Royal Wedding, Ultimate Fighting Championship match in Ontario and of course the United States finally found Osama bin Ladin.  In this edition of “Industry Opinion” we reached out to Martin Waxman, Managing Partner of energi PR and Deborah Weinstein, President of Strategic Objectives to find out “How PR Can Help Break Through Major World News”

PR In Canada: What is it like trying to get media coverage for clients when major news such as these events occur?

Martin – There’s no question that this was a huge news week – as opposed to a slow one – with the Royal Wedding, Bin Laden, the Canadian election, the CPRS Toronto ACE Awards – OK, maybe not that last one. Each of those breaking stories affect a large number of people in a significant way and make it all the more challenging for those of us in PR to engage media and bloggers with our ‘softer’ news. So we need to be creative, we need to understand the media we’re trying to reach and what interests them – and that means reading and following what they have to say on a regular basis – and we need to be flexible. And in our role as trusted advisors, we must be transparent with clients, explain the situation to them and be prepared to adjust our strategy and approach.
Deborah – It is always a challenge to make news. Timing and telling a great story to the right people are always key to spreading client news. Major, predictable news events such as elections, film festivals and Royal Weddings are to be avoided when making non-compulsory news announcements and hosting non-related special events or news conferences.
It makes sense since the daily consumer media is otherwise engaged and so is their audience. In the case of 9/11, a vast variety of PR events were planned and cancelled because it would have been tasteless and pointless to carry on. Thankfully, Strategic Objectives had nothing up to cancel, but the beauty launch we hosted the following week was well-attended and reported. Life goes on!

PR In Canada: Where do you typically turn to to stay up to date on world issues?

Martin – I think my personal style for keeping up is traditional meets new. I read the Globe and Mail – print and online everyday and scan the other papers. For pure pleasure, I pore over the Sunday New York Times print edition to find out what’s happening behind the scenes and to read some amazing writing. I still like watching the evening news on TV. But I get a lot of business or trends information on blogs or via links to online publications. And for breaking stories, I almost always hear about those first on Twitter.
Deborah – I am a voracious reader and use Twitter, newspapers, magazines and CBC Radio to stay on the leading-edge of news as it happens. Being ahead of the curve, or at least au courant, is mandatory for PR pros.

PR In Canada: Is there a certain medium that is often more responsive to covering client stories (when major world issues such as the above occur)?

Martin – I think we should consider your objectives and who we’re trying to reach. However, when something big is happening, we can always turn to trade media or niche bloggers – whose job or passion is to write about certain industries or subjects. If we’ve done your research and have built relationships, they’re bound to be receptive.
Deborah – Effective story pick-up depends more on story-value, the journalists you’re targeting and the beats they cover than their medium. It’s a universal truth that Assignment Editors/News Desk only wants to know about/cover breaking news in times of crisis, and generally, as a rule.

PR In Canada: Any tips that you have found really work?

Martin – First, I think we should step back and look at what’s happening and where we stand in the grand scheme of things. What may be big news for one group may not amount to a so-called ‘hill of beans’ in the larger context. It’s important for PR professionals to communicate that to our clients as honestly as we can. Second, we need to ask ourselves whether we can adjust the timing for our news or possibly tie it into the bigger story. However, it’s important to make sure we’re not being too opportunistic and that there’s a believable link. And we should never try to add a commercial message to a human tragedy like the earthquake in Japan or 911. That’s just wrong. The other thing, as I said, is to target our story to people who are really interested in it – possibly trade journalists or niche bloggers and then build momentum from there.

Deborah – You’ve got to tell a great story. Be innovative, original. Share meaningful info that’s relevant to the journalist’s audience. Do follow up. No story sells itself!  And, remember to say thank you post publication/broadcast.