By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

If You Mess Up, Dress Up and Fess Up

An artfully-shot scallop dish on a magazine cover may be all that the reader sees, but behind it lies a one-hour drive with the magazine editor, a shared meal over wine and a snail-mail thank you letter, all planned out months in advance.

Always remember that reporters are human beings, so going out of your way to make them feel respected and valued is worth the effort. The handwritten letter is one of my favorite secret weapons. It’s part of the PR toolkit that I’ve developed during my 30 years in business with Marshall Communications.

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that there’s so much more that goes on behind the scenes in the world of PR. Connecting with people so they know, like and trust you is necessary for truly successful public relations. It’s a skill that some are born with, but it can also be learned.

I recently shared some of my favorite tips as a guest on an episode of the Higher Education Coffee & Conversation Podcast with Cheryl Broom. Whether you’re just starting out in PR, or a professional who wants to learn how to advance your craft, we discussed important strategies for relationship building, crisis management and getting your clients in the public eye.

If You Mess Up, Dress Up and Fess UpPress releases are so last century: Build relationships through ongoing communication

As a PR professional, your success means getting your client’s name out in the world, often through journalists who will share their stories. But press releases aren’t the best strategy anymore.

While I still send press releases as standard procedure, I increasingly rely on social media to connect with journalists.

I’ve found that social media is a better way to communicate with journalists. But, if you’re new to social media, Twitter is a great starting point. Here’s why:

  • Journalists’ inboxes are flooded with irrelevant emails from strangers who are looking for publicity. It’s easy to get buried in spam.
  • Twitter tends to be more conversational and niche-oriented, making it a powerful tool to discover journalists who focus on topics that align with your clients.
  • Hashtags allow you to search and follow specific topics and stay on top of real-time information related to your clients.

When you find a journalist who shares your niche, that’s when the true relationship building and information exchange begins. Start by liking their tweets and engaging in online conversations with them. Then, once you’ve gotten to know them and they’ve become familiar with you, use direct messaging to discuss potential work with your clients.

It’s a tried and true strategy that I’ve used for many of my clients, including a novelist specializing in thrillers featuring Saudi Arabian women.

I knew that journalists often look to put a human face to a current events story, so I started to search for journalists writing about authoritarianism and the conflict in the Middle East. I searched for pertinent hashtags and quickly identified writers who could benefit from knowing my client.

Connecting your clients with writers who share a niche is a way to create mutually beneficial relationships and secure publicity for your client.

Offer new and relevant information by ‘newsjacking’

Every PR professional should be following what’s going on in the news every day.

Stay up-to-date with news and use real-time information to pitch stories about your clients. It’s a strategy called newsjacking, and it’s an effective way to localize national stories.

Does your client have a personal story or an area of expertise that could enhance the public’s understanding of a current event? If so, pitch the idea to reporters.

For example, I have a client in Maine who is the sole manufacturer of COVID test swabs in the U.S. They are a logical fit for pandemic-related stories. Introducing them to the appropriate journalists is a win-win.

Clients who have deep knowledge about a newsworthy topic can also exercise ‘newsjacking’ through op-eds or quotes as subject-matter-experts or thought leaders. The key is to offer journalists and editors new and relevant information while also responding quickly to their requests.

Often journalists are operating on tight deadlines. If you promise something, deliver it, and deliver it quickly. When you become a reliable source, journalists will start coming to you more frequently for contacts. They’ll also be more willing to help you out when you need help getting publicity for your client.

If you mess up, then dress up and fess up

Crisis communication happens. When working in high-pressure situations, you’re moving quickly, and a story is often developing in real-time.

Having strong relationships with local reporters is especially beneficial in times of crisis. When a connection is rooted in trust, reporters are more likely to work with you as you develop a plan of action for your client.

How you handle the media requires poise and honesty. If you mess up, you need to, as I call it, “dress up, and fess up.”

Create a “buy more time statement” that allows you to temporarily keep journalists at arm’s length while you collect the facts needed to respond to their questions. This statement can be a simple announcement about an upcoming press conference or a scheduled meeting for journalists.

Gather a team of key players and start developing a message map with talking points that ensure consistent messaging.

Once pertinent details have been gathered, it’s time to get on camera or meet with journalists to share facts. The longer you delay, the worse-off your client will be.

Avoid “no comment” at all costs. You may as well say you’re guilty. Journalists need to find something to say during breaking news. If you respond with “no comment,” they’re going to look elsewhere and start digging. Before you know it, they’re asking your janitor to give input on the topic.

Crisis management is such a crucial part of my business that I created a PR course on message mapping, which can help you keep your content flow on track by coordinating key and supporting messages for your clients. In the course, you’ll find four video training modules, a 24-page message mapping workbook and a bonus lesson on message mapping for COVID-19 to prepare you for even the most challenging PR scenario.

Go the extra mile

Ultimately, to work in PR you must master the ability to communicate effectively and cultivate relationships.

Be useful not just to your clients but to reporters and editors, too. Get to know the people behind the bylines. When someone needs a quote or a photograph, figure out a way to make it happen. Your helpfulness will be remembered.

With the right tools, practice and an approach that puts relationships first, you can build a solid PR presence in any niche or situation.

For more expertise about personal branding and other aspects of public relations, listen to The PR Maven Podcast®, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.