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

By Boni Sones

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Page 6. How to promote your cause

  • Proactive PR

It is important that you begin to understand some of the rudimentary footwork of PR. So called “proactive” publicity refers to situations where you go out and seek publicity on behalf of your organisation. You are instigating the press attention by talking to journalists, speaking at a public meeting, or writing a press release to distribute to others.

You will have to think carefully about what you want to say and what you shouldn’t be seen to be saying. For instance, if you require more backing and resources it may not be wise to criticise others. Even in “proactive” situations you need to choose your words carefully.

Your annual report is the most important external communication you will undertake. It will allow you to get across some “proactive” messages and to release these to the press. Ensure it is written professionally with good pictures to illustrate the human interest stories.

Your key messages should be reflected in your annual report and all the literature you produce. Even if you go for the big launch of publicity you will still need to keep the pot on the boil by regularly drip feeding your messages out. Be flexible and adapt your messages over time.

Action: Write a “proactive” press release – get to know how you go about this and what comments will stand out and make good headlines. Make sure it contains: “Why? What? Who? Where? When? and How?”. It should have a direct quote from you, be one side of A4, and have a contact number. Once you written it you will be able to judge more effectively how well others are performing this role.

  • Reactive PR

“Reactive” publicity occurs when the media comes to you because something has happened. It may be that something is seen to be wrong in your organisation or that you are being asked to comment on something that is happening nationally or locally that your organisation has an interest in.

It is important that the chief executive is available to deal with these calls when he or she is asked for by name. Act as the educator of the journalist. Often their facts are not quite right, say you will investigate it, give reassurance that you will ring them back and ensure you do that in time to meet their deadlines.

You can issue a statement or put out a press release. “No comment” leads to cover ups and sagas and will prolong the negative publicity. Deal with the issue now, involve others in your organisation, and be accessible to journalists. Carry through your actions, do what you promised you would do.

Remember that people can and often do pick up on what you are saying when you are speaking at a public meeting. Ensure that you don’t invent policy on the hoof or don’t give away the new brand strategy before you launch it. Inform your press department or PR member of what you are going to say and talk through with them how it will influence the medias perception of you.

Action: Talk to your press team about their “reactive” PR strategy. Keep your mobile phone on, tell them you are willing to come out of meetings to talk to journalists. Ensure that you know in draft form the “lines” you are all going to take on this.

  • What works?

Even in a “reactive” situation you can get “proactive” messages out. In fact, this can be an excellent time to ensure that four of five of your key messages about your organisations real achievements are put across.

Every day on radio and TV you hear politicians and others doing this as they “rebut” the negative questions of others. Listen to these interviews and learn some of the techniques. The media is all around you listen and learn from it. Tune into local and national breakfast and drive time shows.

Also listen to mid-day programmes. Prime Ministers loved to appear on the Radio 2 mid-morning show. What local day-time programmes could you appear on?

Some chief executives of large organisations can be heard to say that “all publicity is good publicity”. This may not always be true but it can certainly help you to be noticed. There’s a great deal of production effort involved in attracting “proactive” publicity so when the media comes to your door for a comment grasp that opportunity and make the most of it. Be sensitive to any legal or confidentiality issues and take legal advice when necessary.

Action: Listen to some local radio and TV programmes. Which do you think are the best, what type of audience do they appeal to? Be aware of what the media is saying around you.

  • Who should I talk to?

Remember that different media cater for different audiences. BBC local radio has an ageing audience, while commercial radio often appeals to the young. The media knows who its listeners and readers are, it profiles them by age, sex and social class. It knows what their interests and lifestyles are.

This profiling allows you to target your messages too. If you are launching a campaign it may be that you want to reach a younger audience, or an older one. Or maybe you want to engage the free sheets because they get put through all doors regardless of age and income.

Don’t forget women’s magazines which are often on the look out for strong human interest stories, but remember they work to longer deadlines months in advance of their publication. Take the trouble to read some and find out which ones fit your target audience.

It is important that you ensure staff have thought about who you need to target your messages at and how you can reach them. Again the trade press is very important as not only will other opinion formers in your sphere read about what you are doing but journalists themselves use these as a primary information source. The media can help you represent your communities interests.

Action: Media Guardian on a Monday publishes circulation figures for the nationals regularly. Look up how many people read the nationals and how well the tabloids do in comparison with the broadsheets. Which is the best performing broadsheet, which is the worst performing tabloid?

  • Starting in time

You can’t suddenly expect people to change their opinion. Wise up to how long it takes to conduct a good media campaign, what resources need to be devoted to it, and have realistic expectations of what can be achieved.

Let others internally and externally know what you are doing when. Good “proactive” publicity takes a lot of production effort. Reliable press lists need to be drawn up, key messages need to be devised, case studies need to be researched and permissions granted. Sometimes MPs or ministers might be invited to speak at your launch but their diaries get very full so you need to begin by finding out when they or your patrons or celebrities are free.

Plan months in advance not weeks and get letters out quickly to those you need to help you campaign. Have your remembered to find out what events your launch may “clash” with? Think about how topical your launch is likely to be at that particular time. Imagine yourself in the shoes of the local or national journalist, ask yourself if you would cover the event.

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