It may be counterintuitive, since we are a media relations company, to write a blog telling our audience why they simply shouldn’t bother engaging with the media – or employing an agency to do it for them. Sounds a bit like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot, doesn’t it?
But don’t be fooled. In our humble opinion (and our decades of experience) it can be far more beneficial to advise potential clients why they shouldn’t rush into firing out press releases or cold calling the city desk of the Financial Times, than it is to tell them why they should be doing it.
The crux of the matter is that investing in media relations is a lot more complex, and requires a lot more effort and forethought, than the typical “let’s get some PR around this” attitude seems to suggest.
Often, we find, telling a potential new client why they shouldn’t be investing in media relations can pave the way to a much more fruitful partnership in the future – delivering excelling results for both them and for us. Telling a client “no” can sometimes be a win-win.
Intrigued? Read on…
Here are 10 reasons why your institution should NOT invest in media relations
You don’t know what you want to accomplish
Investing in PR without first giving thought to why you might be doing it, or what you might want to achieve is a sure-fire way of setting yourself up for disappointment. There is a pressure for institutions to be present in the media simply because “everyone else is doing it”, but employing a PR agency doesn’t instantly guarantee success for an institution. Before you decide to embark on a media campaign you need to consider why you’re doing it; what targets have you set? What do you want to get out of it? And most importantly, is media engagement an effective way of meeting those goals?
You need a quick fix
Media engagement should not be a means through which to attempt to quickly fix a passing image problem or gain fast appeal. Your approach has to be genuine, measured and have a long-term goal in mind to have any real impact or success.
You haven’t got the desire (or the budget!) to stick at it
Building any relationship with media takes time – both in its planning and in its implementation. Behind the scenes, and beyond the press clippings, a lot of work goes into analysing news trends, understanding an institution’s needs and messages and how these might effectively integrate with what readers want to know and journalists want to write about. It takes strategy, it takes consultation.
In short, you cannot expect the best results from one-off campaigns, or intermittent bursts of activity. Relationships need to be nurtured rather than turned on and off like a tap. The most effective media relations come from playing the long game.
You only want to talk about yourself
Many institutions make the mistake of thinking that they can dictate what a journalist writes, or that they can enter a conversation only talking about themselves and pushing their own agenda, and are disappointed when those journalists omit them from the resulting article.
Believe it or not, journalists aren’t sat at their desks waiting to be told what to write about. They’re looking to provide news, share fresh perspectives, investigate and provide their readers with a fuller picture of the matter at hand. As such, they often have their own ideas. If you enter into a discussion with a journalist without being willing to understand their objectives and provide them with something that can be of use to their reporting, they will not quote you.
Any institution with a good handle on media relations makes sure its spokespeople can speak beyond their own walls and agenda. They can comment on an industry-wide scale and with a wider interest in mind. As a result, not only do they get quoted more frequently, readers see them as well-informed, well-connected and as an influential, trusted source of expertise. You don’t have to be advertorial to boost your reputation. In fact, being overly advertorial in the wrong arena can have the opposite effect.
You’re short on time
A commonly held misconception of media engagement is that you can employ a department of media-focused staff or a PR agency to handle it all for you – outsource the work and do little else until the results roll in. The truth is that these staff can only accomplish so much without support from the wider institution.
For effective media relations, an institution must be prepared to work in partnership with those handling their public image. This requires spending time sharing ideas and passing on information to your agency or in-house teams, and also sometimes doing your own research and keeping an eye on relevant news. It also requires you to be available – often at short notice – to provide an interview or comment for a journalist.
You can’t meet a deadline
There is no faster way to fall out of favour with a publication or to damage your institution’s reputation than by missing a deadline you’ve previously agreed to. Journalists often have strict timeframes and agendas to keep to for their work and, if you have agreed to give an interview or a quote, you will be expected to be able to fall in line with their stated deadlines. Failing to do so can lead to you, and your institution as an extension, being seen as unreliable – and this is a hard image to shake. Whether working with large publications or small online platforms the rules are the same; meet the deadline you’re given and, if you cannot, give the journalist as much advance warning as possible so they are not inconvenienced.
You’re not reflecting your external efforts in-house
Writing op-eds, giving interviews, sharing student success stories and highlighting faculty research are all fantastically positive media engagement activities, but these can be further enhanced when these efforts are mirrored in the activities your institution engages in in-house. Your website and social media presence needs to be active and engaged; sharing stories and media successes with your followers and prompting further discussion, interest in your work and all serving to further raise your profile. If you cannot support your media successes when they happen, you have less opportunity to see how your activities are having an impact in the wider world.
There are few tangible ways to monitor (or put a figure to) PR or media relations ROI, but actively engaging with press coverage when it occurs, and taking the initiative to share it further and canvass opinion in the aftermath is just one of many smaller actions that can help an institution understand how their efforts may be having an impact and, as a result, how efforts can be adapted to be more beneficial in future.
You’re not willing to consider media training
It’s not easy to give a good interview. Even if you’re an expert in the matter at hand, hold a senior position and are used to being listened to, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a natural when one-on-one with a journalist. You may need to engage in some media training before you get started. Any effective media relations expert should tell you if its needed. Your job here is to listen, and to take their advice.
Engaging in media relations isn’t all about clocking up press clippings, it’s about taking the right steps to make your institution and your spokespeople media-friendly and engaging so that they can spread your message in the most effective and compelling way possible. You are the expert in your institution and its core values, your media team are the experts in – you guessed it – effective media relations. Take their advice and commit the time and attention to making sure their efforts are not wasted.
You’re not committed to your message
Every institution needs a voice, an idea, and a perspective on the world to differentiate itself from others on the market. This point of differentiation can be tricky to find but, once you have it, effective media relations can help you amplify that message to your desired audience. Long-term media relations can help reinforce the ideas you share time and again, helping your institution craft a solid public identity. As such, it’s important that you can commit to a message, or a perspective, before you step out into the spotlight.
Every audience your institution engages with will demand authenticity – whether in the way you market your programmes, describe student experiences or how you share your institutions values and ethos. This expectation is also true of the media. Journalists will know if you’re trying to talk about something you have little grounding in, or are “padding” out an idea or perspective for your institution that, in reality, does not hold much weight.
You haven’t done your research
Lastly, (a bit of a shameless plug - hey, we are PR experts after all!) all of the above is futile if you haven’t done your research into who is best placed to make your media ambitions a reality. Is it an in-house team? Is it hiring an agency? If so, is a specialist sector agency or a larger outfit the better choice?
Is it a mix of all of the above?
Whatever your choice, you need to be sure that the individuals you entrust your media strategy to have displayed that they; understand you and your institution and its needs, what your objectives are, how your desired media operates, and how you can make the two meet – even if you can make the two meet, or whether you need to re-consider your plans.
After all, sometimes, the best media relations experts are the ones telling you “no”.
We at BlueSky Education aren’t afraid to do that when the need arises and, as a result, we continue to achieve consistently fantastic results for our clients across global media.