Why Media Relations Is a Business Imperative


Guest Post by Aaron Cohen, President, Aaron Cohen PR

What does the superior vision of the beautiful mantis shrimp have to do with succeeding in media relations?

First some background: a recent study published in the journal Optica about how the crustacean’s eyes may usher in the next generation of driverless cars garnered coverage in prestigious publications like Scientific American.

The study was covered because a press release announcing it was written by professional science writers, and pitched under embargo to journalists with whom we have good working relationships.  My firm, Aaron Cohen PR, specializes in health care and science media relations, messaging and media training, and succeeds for clients because we have solid working relationships with journalists in all the important news outlets.

It was made possible in the first place because Optica’s publisher, The Optical Society, knows that consistent coverage in the press for studies like the mantis shrimp study increases the impact of their journal. Knowing that, they made a strategic investment in my media relations consultancy concluding that media relations is a business imperative.

Organizations, including associations or non-profits, which share the view that media relations is worth the investment can benefit from a new half-day workshop from my firm called “Creating Your Own Media Relations Program: Concepts, Skills and Implementation.”

There are lots of reasons for groups to engage with the media. Perhaps reporters have passed them over for inferior, but scrappier competitors. Or maybe a group has been around but nobody knows what they do. It could be they need help passing legislation, or hiring skilled staff in a very competitive job market and need to plug in the media megaphone.

Earning a way onto television and radio, and into the newspapers, by convincing a reporter to write about your cause, has so much more credibility than buying advertising.

Al Ries, author with his daughter Laura of, “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR,” said “never run advertising until the major publicity possibilities have been exploited.”

Ries is right because a TV commercial or a bus ad has almost no credibility, and an article in the Washington Post does.

Three media relations concepts are worth heeding. First, your group should have an overarching plan that guides your entire effort. You should draw a straight line from it to your organization’s business objectives and lastly, form an internal team whose members should have assigned roles in a media relations campaign.

As part of the plan, you must have a strategy – a specific articulation of the plan you will implement to achieve the desired result. Tactics will flow from the strategy and those are the specific actions you will take, like writing press releases or pitches.

For example, Optica’s strategy is to utilize media relations to create greater awareness of the contributions to science of optics and photonics. The tactic is to promote prominent, interesting articles including those about the mantis shrimp-inspired camera.

Even after developing a plan, articles don’t magically appear in Scientific American.

First and foremost, a media relations practitioner must have a relationship with the journalist. As one Wall Street Journal reporter said, “I think you took the right approach with me, which was: I work in a relevant field as you. Let’s have lunch and talk about our lives! That way I’m sure to pay attention when you email or call.”

The ability to write well is paramount. Press releases, which should be written infrequently, should be concise and written for journalists, not internal clients.

Email pitches should be written only for journalists who have a reason to care about the story you are pitching. Spend time reading their stories to best determine if your content matches their coverage.

Before undertaking a media relations program, companies should update their digital infrastructure. Website homepages should have an adequate, easy-to-find tab that functions as an online newsroom for journalists where media-friendly assets, like the media contact’s name, 24/7 phone numbers, and email addresses are found

Building a rock-solid, targeted media list is an essential building block. That way you find the right CNN producer, who will care about your story. Any organization should put extra time into reviewing every name on their lists and purge those who will not be interested in your story or your group.

Understanding how the media works in 2019 is a dynamic, ever-changing beast. While the advent of technology has improved the news-gathering process rather considerably, a story is still a story.

And anytime you have a shrimp the size of a lobster with bugged-out eyes that offer a window into the future of transportation, journalists will pay attention and news will happen.

About the Author

Aaron CohenAaron Cohen has owned and operated Aaron Cohen PR since 2014. He developed the new training course to supplement media relations, messaging and media training for clients. Aaron has been in communications for more than three decades, having worked in a succession of PR firms and as a radio journalist based in Washington. For more, visit www.aaroncohenpr.com