The Why and How of PR for chief executives and busy professionals

By Boni Sones

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Page 10. When should I begin?

  • Why not now?

You could start writing your press release now or contacting journalists but have you stopped to think who your target audience are and what key messages you need to convey.

Find out what others think of what you are going to say and how people are likely to react to it. Many chief executives nationally have lived to regret their slips of the tongue. Of course your approach can evolve and become more strategic as time goes but even when you first set out you do need to deconstruct what you have written and said to make sure it does not backfire on you.

You should certainly start planning your PR campaign now and for the months ahead but think through how the story will develop and what your next move will be. Journalists love to ask leading questions “are you going to?”, “when will you?” – think through the journalistic footsteps and make sure you can keep up with them. They often think into the future for you, so ensure you have done that too and you won’t be caught out.

At any one time you should be able to call on two well trained spokespeople who can promote your work.

Action: Think where your organisation will be in one years time, what will you have achieved and what will you want to happen next? Write down the messages that you want to convey now to get you to that point.

  • Recruiting your PR team

In the short term the PR team maybe you and one other. As your organisation grows you will want to take on specific people for specific roles. When recruiting ask to see the work of those you interview not just the press releases they have written but also the coverage that they have achieved. Ask them to name some journalists they know and ask them where they would place your stories?

At a junior level it is good to set a test to get your interviewees to write a press release. Have they been on a Plain English course, are they writing in Plain English? If you are interviewing journalists for this role make sure they realise that they are not always in a position to call the shoots anymore. How will they react to someone being rude and demanding to them? How will they encourage others in the organisation to give them information?

It is important to recruit someone who has a good telephone manner. Social skills are very important in this role and you need to recruit someone who is outgoing and sociable not shy and retiring. If you are promoting someone from within ask if they want to go on a Plain English course of if they need more training?

Action: Think about the personality of the person you want to appoint and the skills they will need to do the job effectively. Write these competencies down in a list.

  • Using your contacts

As chief executive you will already be in touch with networks of people both at a local and national level. These people might be able to invite you onto a public platform to speak to convey your external messages or they might pass on the name of an agency, individual or journalist who is a specialist in your field of work.

These are important introductions so as soon as a contact name has been given write it down on the back of a business card. Take care to build up a data base of such contacts as they can be extremely helpful.

If you have a problem with the media share it with your contacts and ask for their advice. It is reassuring to know that others have also encountered similar situations and they will be able to give you good advice on how to proceed. The media is remarkably predictable and you don’t have to deal with it alone.

Action: Think of one of your network of contacts who has been through a rough ride with the media. Ask if you can meet them to pass on some tips to you in how to handle your media calls

  • Devising your messages

This is the most important part of your media strategy. You may have already commissioned research so you know what you want to say, but you may also be starting from scratch.

It is difficult to get across jargon or technical or funding issues unless you simplify those messages. Take your messages down a few generations and see how others react to them in this simplified version. Are they still accurate, how will others interpret them and will your target audience understand them?

In any one interview situation you can realistically only get across two or three of your messages. Prepare five or six bullet points but if in the paper or the broadcast you have managed to convey two of these you will have done well.

Being realistic is important if you want to get accurate messages out over a period of time. Once you have done this, you can build on what you have said to impart more information and understanding in the months to come.

Action: Write down six bullet point messages that you want to convey. Practice talking out loud and saying these to others.

  • Are you all on message?

So you know the messages but do others? Put your key messages on your internal intranet, publish them in your newsletter or staff magazine, post them on the noticeboard and keep them updated regularly.

Questions and answers are a remarkably good and effective PR tool both internally and externally. Devise your own Q and As as if you were both the journalist and interviewee. Get agreement to them and distribute to others.

Journalists are increasingly using Q and As as if they had carried out the interview themselves. They may take what is written and put it in quotes as if it came from the chief executive directly. Q and As can also help to motivate volunteers and staff internally and act as policy guidelines.

Action: Write down ten questions that a journalist may ask you and then ten questions your own staff and volunteers may ask you. Answer the questions and use them to tell others what you think and what they should say.

  • Remember

What your communication objectives are both short term and long term?
Who your audience is?
What your messages are?
What communication tools you are going to use to achieve this?
What resources you have at your disposal short term and long term?
How to evaluate the effectiveness of what you are doing?
How to adapt to changing circumstances?

Action: See if your PR plan answers the above questions – it may only be two sides of A4 but it will help.

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