By Al Madison
At its essence successful public relations is all about story telling — and every corporation, non-profit or trade group, no matter who they may be, has a great story to tell. It may take a while to identify and massage your company's story and it may also take some practice to refine delivering the messages and preparing for questions, but once you've settled on the dimensions of your story and who is best equipped to tell it, then it becomes very important to determine which audiences and stakeholders you need to influence – who needs to hear and understand your story.
Of course, the media is an audience in and of itself, but more importantly it is a pipeline to your key stakeholders – a conduit that also needs to understand your business. Every organization needs to communicate and develop a dialogue with its stakeholders. If you are a regional or national organization an excellent way to efficiently reach these constituencies is through regular media tours — which are simply a set of pre-arranged face-to-face meetings where reporters, editors, editorial writers and producers from news organizations can interview your spokesperson and write about it. Media tours usually cover multiple media markets in cities and can last for a few days or in some cases much longer.
Certainly it is usually easier and less time consuming to just pick up the phone and talk directly to reporters, but in many cases this is a much less impactful approach. Reporters need to be stroked and coming to them and meeting with them on their own turf can go a long way in helping to sell your organization's story.
There are at least three reasons to conduct media tours. First, it is important that the media and your stakeholders know you and understand who you are and how you fit in. Developing a relationship and a familiarity with your audiences is an essential element of successful communications and regular contact with the press is important. Secondly, when you have a specific message to disseminate or news to make, or if you are in a position where you have to answer complicated questions, than it can be done through media tour outreach. Finally, when you need to manage and influence editorial opinion – it is essential to go out on the road and talk with newspaper and magazine editorial writers and editorial boards in order to seek fair and balanced opinion coverage.
Scheduling media tours takes long-term planning and commitment. It may take a month or more to organize a media tour – from identifying where you need to go, to arranging meetings, logistics and doing the necessary preparatory work – developing a fully-formed message and background materials, training for interviews and practicing answering tough questions. But it is clearly worth it.
Companies or industries that are controversial or under attack often utilize campaign-like media tour road shows to fight back and tell their story. Pharmaceutical managed care and insurance companies regularly put senior executives and researchers on the road to discuss positive developments in their companies as well as to answer difficult questions that the media and stakeholders might have. The media never will understand your business better than you do, so if you fully prepare, you will almost always have a significant advantage. Additionally many media people have probably never met people from your industry and welcome the opportunity to learn more about different types of business or organization.
Foreign governments often put their leaders on the road to tell their stories and their spokesperson can be a Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Ambassador or other diplomat. Governments with close ties to trade, immigration and other issues regularly meet with the U.S. media to tell their stories and maintain solid relationships.
The more that organizations are active in aggressively telling their story to their key audiences, and in investing in public affairs and marketing outreach activities such as media tours, the better understood they will be, the greater acceptance they will have, and perhaps even the more successful they will be.
Al Madison is president of Madison and Company,
an international public relations firm
with offices in Washington, DC.