Name: Johna Burke
Bio: A PR practitioner for over 20 years, I use my expertise in media relations, public relations, measurement, and analysis to act as an advocate for PR professionals and the PR profession. I joined the BurrellesLuce team in 2000, after 12 years as a BurrellesLuce client when I was Director of Public Relations and Investor Relations at U-Haul. Now as Executive Vice President of Marketing and Sales at BurrellesLuce, my PR approach is “Truth first, details second.” I’m a member of PRSA, AMEC Social Media Work Group, Measurement Conclave, and IABC, where I was also the Southern Region Chair in 2009. Outside the office, I’m passionate about my family, which includes my three Boston Terriers, and using my Seinfeld trivia powers to bring about good.Twitter: @gojohnab; LinkedIn: Johna Burke; Friendfeed: gojohnab; Facebook: BurrellesLuce
Posts by Johna Burke:
- Does this pitch pertain to their specific geographic area?
- Does it pertain to the journalist’s specific reporting areas? i.e. an investigative reporter will have no use for the announcement of a new restaurant location opening
- Does the publication run the types of story you are pitching?
- Is this really newsworthy? Yes, it’s frustrating when clients demand coverage for something we know isn’t really news, but sending a journalist an irrelevant release just so you can tell the client you sent it will not help your case when you have something of true value in the future
A couple of weeks ago I attended the press conference and media event with U.S. Rep Trent Franks and Mia Robertson and her parents (part of the Duck Dynasty family) for the Mia Moo Fund. My niece, who also attended, was born with a cleft lip and palate, so the Robertsons’ admirable charity and the congressman’s invitation for Mia to speak was particularly meaningful. Amidst all of the Duck Dynasty fanfare I was most impressed by the master spokespeople, Mia’s parents, Missy and Jase Robertson.
The Scene: Your beloved daughter was born with a cleft palate and wants to help other kids with the condition, so you help her start a foundation. A congressman born with the same condition helps raise awareness of the condition’s struggles and provides leadership support to the many children affected. Your daughter writes a speech for the event and you take your family to Washington, D.C. The media interviews begin and you are asked about abstinence before marriage and your family patriarch’s controversial remarks. This IS media relations.
While it’s always imperative to prep answers to easy questions before a media interview, this event reminded me about the importance and potential perils in lack of preparation on the really tough questions. Mia, Missy and Jase all have strong conviction for their subject matter and their passion resonates in every syllable. That kind of conviction isn’t as easy for the average spokesperson, so in lieu of family conviction and faith, make sure your spokesperson is mindful of these quick tips:
Relevant news topics: If anything is trending in the news even tangentially related to your industry make sure to address the affects to your organization’s mission.
Key messages: All messaging related to the topic and also key messages as they relate to other potential topics that could arise during an interview. Always have strong sound bites.
Importance of rapport: Being relaxed is the goal, but looking relaxed is essential. Body language on camera can indicate when a spokesperson isn’t prepared. While you can’t avoid the tough questions your spokesperson’s ability to build rapport will translate into a more confidence which translates to their ability to control the interview.
A stand-out moment from the interviews was when Mia was asked “What is the coolest part of having a new lip or new palate for you?” Eleven year old Mia responded “I don’t know” and the reporter followed up with “So, no comment. But you’re much happier now.”
No, she didn’t say “no comment,” she answered a bad question honestly. Based on her initial interviews I have no doubt Mia will be bridging and saving reporters from their own bad questions in no time.
The Mia Moo Fund tagline is “Every kid deserves a smile,” and this event gave a proud aunt and PR person a lot of reasons to smile too. Thank you.
Did you have to Google an explanation of how the US Soccer team lost last week and still advanced to the next round of the World Cup? I did. While I was delighted with the result – the home team advancing – it wasn’t initially clear how they had pulled off such a coup. Once I better understood the brackets, that all ”wins” are not created equal, all “goals” weigh very important and that someone else losing helps, it made sense. It’s actually quite similar to the media relations ecosystem and enforces the importance of having qualitative and quantitative elements to any analysis program.
Brackets: Each day there’s a lot of competition for quality editorial real estate. Depending on your industry or vertical market and what’s happening that day, there’s a built in demand for certain types of coverage and dominant ”players” will get a lot of attention. I’m sure we all feel like we are in our own ”Group of Death.”
Win: While you may get some coverage, a true ”win” is subjective. For many organizations certain qualitative elements – i.e. positive tone, appears in a key outlet, features key messages and builds your organization’s reputation – is required for a true win.
Goal: When building your brand, every story is a brick in the foundation. Not only for the obvious SEO, but also for learning and developing messages that support overarching business objectives.
Someone has to lose: No matter how amazing your story, event or issue, a breaking issue will take precedent. When everything goes perfectly and all of your interviews lined up go through without a hitch, it’s a good day, but some days you’re Portugal.
Almost any aspect of business can be placed into these same elements. The real takeaway is to always do your best and play to win. Even in the toughest groups those teams who are conditioned and wholly prepared for the elements along with the slings and arrows of circumstance will prevail. Always keep your eye on the goal and with your best players at peak performance you’ll increase your chances to score.
If you don’t make the goal initially, you’ll ideally develop your strength where needed or identify the weakness that gives you an advantage and succeed the next time. Manage expectations and have contingency plans. One real dire risk of only using quantitative metrics in media analysis is on any given day you could be Portugal (look equal to a former campaign or program) but the overall score does not reflect comparative ”results.”
Disclosure: I write this as a former coach. I coached the Sharks (my brother’s soccer team for five-year-olds) to a winning (6-2) season, so I know a thing or two about the game and what it takes to win.
Media contact databases have long been considered a critical tool in the public relations pro’s arsenal. But such contact lists must be used with discretion, careful targeting, and common sense.
The purpose of a media contact list is to provide PR pros with contact information for relevant journalists, not to provide a recipient list for an impersonal press release blast. This may sound like Public Relations 101, but when journalists receive press releases that aren’t relevant to their beat, location, or publication, they get frustrated, and it gradually erodes the quality of relationships between public relations and journalism:
On mission to stop receiving stupid press releases that have nothing to do with my work. @BurrellesLuce is main culprit
— Dave Lieber, CSP (@DaveLieber) June 18, 2014
Media lists should be but one small component of our outreach efforts. Especially in 2014, when within minutes we can call up all the articles a journalist has written, take a look at his or her Twitter, and assess whether our information is of interest. Media lists cannot and should not be a substitute for meaningful, personalized connections.
Here are things you must consider for every journalist before sending them a pitch or press release:
It’s time to stop taking the short view of just sending a press release to say it was sent to X number of people. If it’s not relevant to most of those people, it’s not only the same as not sending it, it’s worse. Think of the long-term implications of repeatedly sending irrelevant press releases: it trains journalists to tune them out. It’s a classic Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf scenario: no one will listen when you finally have something valuable to say.
Though it might not seem like it, journalists and PR pros are fighting the same battle. We’re all fighting to do more work on less time in a saturated medium. So instead of using the challenge as an excuse, use it as a way to better relate to our journalist counterparts. It can only make it better for all of us.
Heels vs. flats; of course there’s a difference.
No, this isn’t a misdirected post intended for 5inchandup; this is very much about media analysis and intended for those of you who rely on technology alone to gain insights from your news coverage.
How are shoes relevant? Because if you rely on software alone to tell the story of your media results, you’re potentially sawing off the branch you’re sitting on – the branch needed to demonstrate the value of your media relations efforts to your organization.
You see, I love my Jawbone Up Band and app, which tracks fitness, food, and sleep. It provides me a baseline to understand how active or sedentary I am day to day. On any given day I wear heels or flats – some days both. There’s no way to log this into my app, but I feel the difference in my legs and shoulders depending on the weight of my computer and whether I’m wearing flats or heels. My app consistently tells me the number of steps and distance I’ve traveled, but without the ability to qualitatively alert my device to the external factors (heel height, weight of computer bag, flat or hilly terrain), the app is limited to what true insights I can gain.
The same goes for your media coverage.
All media coverage is NOT created equal. Often times an outlet is a primary sorting field for many organizations, but depending on the goal, a hyper-local outlet could be far more influential based on the measurable objective. Example: An organization has a production plant in Bisbee Arizona. The media relations department has a goal to reduce talent acquisition costs by 10 percent for the fiscal year. This includes recruiting more local talent who do not require relocation services. In this example, it’s easy to understand that The Bisbee Observer, the town’s weekly newspaper, would be far more critical to achieving the goal than, say, The Arizona Republic. Unless your goals are aligned with your efforts, it is nearly impossible to show anything more than activity.
One common misconception in the marketplace is that public relations practitioners have to settle for the metrics provided by their software because they either have no extra time to drill into the results qualitatively, or it’s too expensive. That’s simply not true. In order to better understand if you are making progress toward achieving your goals (and ultimately saving money on efforts that are not supporting the end goal), you can work with a random sample of your coverage to glean real insights.
Granted, if you are reporting on only a sample (i.e. Google Alerts) of data, the challenge becomes more problematic. Without a larger purview your ”sample” could be very limited and as a result, your insights and ability to project future actions and insights is equally as limited. The ”cost” of not doing deeper analysis could be much more costly to your organization if you continue down a path that is not garnering the results needed to achieve your goals.
While I’m not a digital native, I love my technology. I wear it, carry it and I’m lost without it should a battery need charging. At the end of the day there are other factors that let me know my Up Band is really working, and those results are reflected on the scale, in blood pressure results, and in overall well-being, things which my device alone cannot provide. There’s no silver bullet to health and without adding insights to the fast metrics available, there’s no silver bullet to bettering your communication efforts as they relate to supporting your organization.
This weekend I heard a lot about the controversy surrounding money and the NCAA big games. The NCAA makes money selling broadcast rights to the game; networks make money from ad sales; schools make money on ticket sales; and coaches make millions. Who’s not making money in this situation? The players.
Professional athlete I am not, but this plight reminded me of a situation I deal with daily, in which the revenue options of publications and publishers are circumvented, while public relations and advertising firms, which rely on those same publications to broadcast their message, continue to thrive. In fact, most PR pros recognize that traditional media is still incredibly influential in building a brand and telling a story, and media relations undisputedly plays a significant role in benchmarking and demonstrating results in the development and success of public relations campaigns.
So if the media is so important, why the misconception that the information that demonstrates results should be cheap or free? It’s not Google’s fault; they’ve already determined that news access is a loss leader to advertising revenue. But if there were no high-quality journalist-produced content to search, Googling would be a whole different ballgame, and the lines would be further blurred between editorial content and advertorial, if there were a line at all.
Apologies for the strained metaphor, but let’s extend the comparison to consider what the implications are in the NCAA version of content and media monitoring:
News alert = big game is televised
Article headline = Quarterback Makes Perfect Throw to Downfield Receiver
Article snippet/link = Receiver doesn’t miss a stride, but two linebackers are on his heels
Paywall = Broadcast signal dies for everyone except those who pay for a premium cable subscription or those with a credit card willing to pay extra to watch on demand.
PR using only alerts = Looking at the final score and using that data point to determine if a “play” was a success or failure.
PR using comprehensive copyright-compliant content = Provides play-by-play analysis, and sets up brand “linebackers” in the same or better position in the future to impact future outcomes.
Those PR pros who work diligently to secure placements for their organizations are the NCAA coaches. These PR pros are high-value with honed expertise; in fact, PR pros are doing so well, the 5WPR recently reported that they “achieved record-high financial revenues” in 2013. Such success warrants an increase in fees and retainers. But if the field is empty (i.e. high-quality editorial content further erodes), and there’s no way to broadcast a message, monitor its progress, and continually reposition, it’s like coaching an empty field, and suddenly, that value is gone.
So why is traditional media perceived as no longer having value? Because the digital age made some things free – or seem so. But the truth is, we’ve been paying for traditional media content since its inception. We paid for newspaper subscriptions for decades, so why is it no longer “worth it?”
With more access to metrics and our social habits, we should be leveraging all of the information to make our brands smarter; have a world-class offensive plan. Instead, too many people are taking shortcuts (like looking only at headlines instead of the full content) and sacrificing quality for quantity. If trends continue similar to those in this 2012 report, public relations’ value will continue to grow. But if you’re not working to curate information strategically or seeing everything included in your media content, it’s like watching every sports game simultaneously on a 20-inch screen. Sure, you can see there are games – many of them, all the size of postage stamps – but in the bid to see “everything,” you sacrifice really seeing anything at all.