Sunday, May 5, 2019

7 Tips for Your First Media Relations Job

Working in media relations or press affairs or whatever your industry calls it is very different from working in the media directly. There are a number of things I've learned over my first tour in Public Affairs (where I've spent over a month as U.S. Embassy Nairobi's acting Press Attaché - also known as Information Officer in the Foreign Service) that I thought I'd share. In no particular order, here are my top seven tips for your first media relations job:

  1. Nothing is more important than relationships. Relationships can make or break your success working with the press. Good relationships might mean a journalist contact WhatsApps you a photo of breaking news before it's been reported elsewhere or gives you a heads-up that they're working on a story that is very critical of you but they want to make sure they present your side of the issue, too. Bad relationships can lead to reporters avoiding your events or running with a story on your organization without even contacting you for comment.
  2. Tailor to the audience. Our audience is usually Kenyan, so you'd better bet we put distances in kilometers and amounts of money in Kenyan shillings. We want to make it as easy as possible to share our information and our talking points. We also work with our technical subject matter experts to condense things in a way that a layperson can understand.
  3. Visuals are king. Photos and videos are way better than press releases. I think I've seen more newspaper articles in Kenya written about our Tweets than our press releases.
  4. Keep things short. Really short. We keep our briefing handouts to one page, our press releases to a few paragraphs, and our videos to less than a minute whenever possible. Others can always reach out to you for more details.
  5. Not all members of the press play by the rules. Some individuals and media outlets have more professionalism and integrity than others. While you might be comfortable including some in off-the-record briefings, others may not be trustworthy enough. It's also easier to complain about a rogue reporter when they're part of an established media organization that wants to preserve the relationship with you - then you can contact the editor. With freelancers or bloggers, you might not have any recourse.
  6. You have something to offer, too. You can provide journalists with access to information, exclusive interviews, invitations to cover events, and a host of other things that their teams should value. You can pay for advertising, but you shouldn't have to pay for regular news coverage.
  7. Especially if you work for a large organization, it's worth the extra effort it takes to speak with one voice. We spend a lot of time jumping through bureaucratic hoops making sure we're using the same statistics and terminology, but it's absolutely worth it. Mixed messages from the same organization are confusing for everyone and can make you look incompetent.
  8. Most journalists are awesome. Like public servants, the vast majority of journalists I've met are motivated by a desire to give back to the people and by a belief in the importance of democratic institutions - where the Fourth Estate clearly plays a vital role. In a world of overloaded information, fake news, and other challenges, they're trying their best to make sense of issues of importance and interest so others can be informed. Although this might sometimes put our employers or industries in the ever-critical public eye, it's part of a larger, crucial mission any of us should find worth celebrating.

I hope this post was helpful for any new Public Diplomacy Officers out there or anyone else interested in media relations work. I've learned so much over my first tour, and I have to say working with the press is one of the most fun and exciting parts of my job!

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