May 9, 2006
Excerpts: Robin Hood Marketing by Katya Andresen
Marketing for not-for-profits has never been a simple job; neither was that of Robin Hood's plight to help the residents of Sherwood Forest by plundering the rich folks of Nottingham. To help, Katya Andresen wrote Robin Hood Marketing; while intended for those who run not-for-profits, it has applicable lessons to everyone. ----- Robin Hood Media Savvy Approach the Media as a Target Market WHAT THIS CHAPTER SAYS
- We should treat the media like an audience.
- Most journalists face at least five challenges on a daily basis: they must become instant experts on a mind-boggling array of topics, they have to be fast, they need to be first, they are expected to be accurate, and they are required to tell an interesting story.
- If we understand the challenges and can help reporters cope, we gain a big media-relations advantage.
- To reach members of the media, we need to market to them on two levels. First, we need to establish some sort of psychological common ground with members of the media and offer them incentives for covering our story. Second, we need to sell the story.
- To apply the principles in this chapter: Focus on building solid relationships with a select group of journalists; then pitch them newsworthy stories that advance our cause. Every chapter in this book has begun with a corporate marketing campaign, but this one will not for a good reason. If we want to truly understand the media and master the art of working with journalists, we should not look to the private sector. We should look to the members of the media themselves. When we enter the mind-set of journalistsin the same way that we probe the hearts and minds of our other audienceswe gain the knowledge and insight we need to reach them effectively. We should treat the media like an audience. We need to learn what they are like, know their values, and identify the kinds of rewards they seek. Then we should appeal to them with that perspective in mind. ----- Robin Hood Rule 9 Approach the media as a target market, not as a mouthpiece for the message. The need to market to the media just as we market to any other audience is a powerful yet commonly overlooked concept in media relations. I worked as a journalist for Reuters, Associated Press, and several newspapers, and, in that time, people seldom approached me with a sound understanding of the media or of my needs in covering a story. In fact, most media-relations peoplewhether they worked for a company or a nonprofitsimply called me up and asked whether I had received their press release or media kit. They viewed the media as a means of getting their message out, not as an audience with a mind of its own. A small group of media-relations people got it. They built relationships with me and gave me newsworthy information. They contacted me when they didnt need anything to pass on interesting rumors and intelligence. I always took their calls, and I usually listened to them. By taking a similarly audience-centered approach, we too can raise our chances of being featured positively in the media and getting our message heard. To approach members of the media as an audience, we apply all the marketing principles weve covered in this book. We must connect with them, offer them a benefit exchange, and make our message memorable (in other words, CRAM our message to them). We should then deliver that message in the right tone, at the right time, with the right messengers. WHY MEDIA RELATIONS? Although taking a marketing approach to media relations takes time, doing so is worth the investment of effort. The media can play a big role in calling attention to an issue, shaping public opinion, or motivating people to take action. Consider a well-known analogy. A hiker is walking beside a rushing river and sees people drowning. He jumps in and starts pulling people out of the water one by one. After awhile he gets tired, but more drowning people keep tumbling down the river. Then he sees another hiker passing by and cries out for help. The other hiker looks over but keeps walking, and the first hiker desperately demands to know how he can refuse to help. The second hiker replies that hes going upstream to fix the broken dam that is sweeping people into the water in the first place. The moral is that every problem has immediate solutions (downstream) as well as longer-term causes (upstream). For example, pollution may be contributing to childrens asthma in urban areas. Managing the childrens asthma attacks by providing them with inhalers is the pressing downstream concern. Upstream, the solution may be to require strict emissions standards for factories in order to clean up the air. The biggest players in influencing or solving upstream problems are the media and elected officials. This chapter focuses on the media, although its worth noting that marketing principles can be used also when lobbying political figures. (See Interview 1 at the end of this chapter.) Its worth investing effort in reaching the media with our messages so that we can raise our chances of participating in upstream solutions and gain attention and exposure we could not afford to buy in the form of advertising. We may even succeed in interesting the media in addressing our issue as a part of civic journalism. News outlets have covered race, poverty, and other issues in in-depth series in response to major news events; in the process they engage community members and good causes in the story and the public debates about the issues. Because we are a good cause and not a profit-motivated corporation, we have the potential to win over certain journalists and make them our allies in covering the problems we seek to solve. But to get to that level of exposure, we need to first understand members of the media. UNDERSTANDING THE MEDIA Perhaps because Ive worked for both the media and nonprofits, I think members of the much-maligned media are not so different from people working on good causes. Members of the media tend to be passionate, relentless people committed to what they perceive as a greater good: reporting information. That descriptionthe passionate, relentless pursuit of a perceived greater goodshould sound familiar. Many of us share those single-minded tendencies. In addition, most members of the media are underpaid and underappreciated. They are not compensated like Sam Donaldson or Katie Couric. They work hard for little glory. We, too, know something of that level of commitment. Let me humanize the media further. Although reporters ideas of what is important, true, or untrue may not be the same as ours, members of the media usually perceive themselves as trying to fairly tell the story as they see it. Their corporate employers seek to reinforce that image, which is why most media conglomerates describe themselves as reliable centrists. CNN calls itself the most trusted name in news, while Fox News has trademarked the phrase fair and balanced. Many people would not agree: in fact, the most common criticisms I hear of journalists are that they are lazy, sensationalistic, or sloppy. Why do we have that impression? Keep in mind the following. Most journalists face at least five often competing challenges on a daily basis: they must become instant experts on a mind-boggling array of topics, they have to be fast, they need to be first, they are expected to be accurate, and, above all, they are required to tell an interesting story. These challenges are closely tied to the reporters values and drive much of their behavior. If we understand the challenges and can help reporters cope, we gain a big media-relations advantage. Lets take these challenges one at a time. The first is that the members of the media must become instant experts on many issues. When I worked for one wire service, I filed one to three stories a day, seven days a week. I covered everything from a plane crash to a coup dtat to the AIDS epidemic. I sometimes had as little as fifteen minutes to understand an airports visual flight rules or the difference between the sound of mortar and rocket fire or the incidence of rural maternal-child HIV transmission. Beat reporters also face this challenge. For example, if a journalist covers crime regularly, she may know a lot about the topic, but if a shooting takes place at a school, she needs to gain enough of an understanding of school security and teenage social dynamics to tell a coherent story. The second challenge is the enormous pressure to be fast. The twenty-four-hour news cycle has created real time pressures for journalists. They must constantly find and report fresh angles to a story. Related is a third challenge: most news organizations not only want their staff to be fast, they also want them to be first with a story. When I worked for wire services, my editors called the bureau soon after I filed big stories to inform me how many minutes and seconds my reporting was behind or ahead of competing news organizations. The fourth challenge is the need to get the story right, which is often at odds with the pressure to get it fast and first and with the reality that the reporter may not intimately know the subject matter. No matter how thorough the journalist or how talented the editor, this pressure inevitably leads to mistakes. Im not excusing inaccuracy, but I am pointing out that errors are often less about laziness and more about the challenges of reporting new information in haste. The last and most important aspect we should understand about news reporting is the quality of the story. At the end of the day, to keep their jobs, members of the media need to tell a good story. As a result, they look hard for conflict, drama, and tension. Those are the aspects of a story that make a gripping novel, and they also get a story on the front page or at the top of the hour. Reporters want to find a protagonist, an antagonist, and an important stake so they can grab the attention of their audiences and sell their stories. If that requirement sounds familiar, its because the media are CRAMing their stories just as we CRAM marketing messages. Remember, CRAMing means establishing a Connection with the audience, promising a Reward, inspiring Action, and sticking in the Memory. Members of the media have to find a way to make audiences feel connected to a story from the first or second sentence so people will take the action of reading, watching, or listening in return for the reward of information or entertainment. If their work is not compelling and memorable, reporters wont reach their audiences. Their outlets will be out of business. This is yet another natural overlap of journalism and the marketing of good causes: both require an ability to sell a story. When I was a foreign correspondent, I had to CRAM every story well because its hard to get people far away to care about events unfolding in places like Laos or Madagascar. In marketing work, we also have to convince people to carein our case, we want them to care about our cause. This reality and the five challenges weve discussed shape reporters goals: getting information quickly, out-competing rivals, and telling a good story well. When we understand these goalsand help reporters achieve themwe can begin building relationships with journalists and mastering the art of media relations. SELLING A STORY To reach members of the media, we need to market to them on two levels. The first level is establishing a relationship with the media: we need to find some sort of psychological common ground with members of the media and offer them incentives for covering our story. The second level is positioning the story we are trying to convince the media to cover. Think of the first as selling to the reporter and the second as selling the story. Lets take an example. I once was asked to pitch a story to CNN International about a project to prevent HIV and AIDS in Thailand. That was a tough sell because the story wasnt new. In fact, it was the main health story coming out of Thailand, and every member of the media in Bangkok or visiting Bangkok had covered it. I needed to offer a compelling reason to the CNN correspondent to take an interest (in other words, I needed to sell the reporter), and I needed to prove I had material that would make the story of interest to international viewers (in other words, I needed to sell the story). I had followed the work of one Bangkok-based CNN correspondent closely for some time. I noticed that he was especially interested in the increasing urbanization and industrialization of Thailand and often produced stories dramatizing the changing face of the country. He also had a sense of humor and often covered quirky angles to stories. Obviously, he also valued good visuals because television was his medium. Because he was a busy man based in traffic-choked Bangkok, I also figured that the closer those visuals were to his home base, the better. These observations told me that if I could frame the organizations AIDS work within the trend of urbanization, I could connect with his interests. Offering an uplifting or amusing visual element would make the story even more attractive for him to cover. In return for covering an AIDS project, he would get the reward of a unique story angle with minimal effort. Fortunately, I had just the project to profile. My organization was working with garment manufacturers to offer HIV/AIDS education to young women from rural areas who had come to the Bangkok area to work in factories. The women were young, nave, and away from home for the first time, and they were at high risk of contracting the virus. Through the program, they were asked to attend educational sessions during lunch hours, where they got instruction on preventing the disease and on using condoms. The sessions offered a nice visual for the story. Then I thought about the story I wanted to tell and the message I wanted the viewers of CNN International to receive. The AIDS crisis in Southeast Asia was well known; in fact it was perhaps too well known. The fact that one apocalyptic story after another was emerging created a sense of helplessness and compassion fatigue in many people, including potential donors, around the world. A positive story showing how an aid agency was addressing the problem was a message more likely to motivate people to support the cause than another dire story. The story we choose to sell should advance our mission. We dont simply want our name in the papers; we want the right message in our audiences minds. I pitched the story as a rare piece of good news, and, in order to create a sense of urgency, I emphasized to the reporter that the best footage would be at a training the following week. The correspondent liked my pitch, and he did the story, complete with footage of laughing young garment workers blowing up condoms like balloons and swatting them back and forth to each other. Prevention never looked so fun. The story broke through the clutter because it connected with peoples need for some AIDS news that was uplifting and entertaining. It sent the message that supporting such efforts was a way to create good news, and it showed the impact of the project in a memorable way. It met my needs and the reporters. This process may sound time consuming, but consider the alternative. In the time it took to learn about the correspondent and shape the pitch, I could have sent out fifty press releases. But it is highly doubtful that any would have resulted in a favorable television story aired in dozens of countries. Its often wise to focus efforts on one influential outlet in this way because if the outlet covers the story, other outlets are likely to take its lead. Local press picked up on the CNN story. Press conferences and media releases have their place, but they should never come at the expense of building solid relationships with a smaller group of members of the media. These relationships work because journalists need them as much as we do. The relationships that members of the media have with well-placed, well-informed people willing to trade information and able to help them meet the daily challenges of their job enable them to get good, accurate stories first. As a journalist, I spoke with a few diplomatic sources several times a week; our trading gossip and facts served our mutual need to be informed of political developments. One person in particular proved especially valuable in providing information and quotes to be attributed to diplomatic sources. On the evening of July 4, 1997, in Phnom Penh, I saw him at the American Embassys Independence Day party, where the whos who of Cambodia was gathered. It was a rocky time for the country. Tensions had been escalating between the coprime ministers, and the rumor mill was in overdrive with predictions of an imminent breakdown of the countrys fragile coalition government. For political observers, this development was not altogether surprising. If you can imagine George W. Bush and Al Gore having resolved their election dispute by becoming co-presidents of the United States, then you can fathom the tenuous nature of Cambodias government, which was born out of a UN-brokered compromise after disputed election results. In fact, at the party, the royalist side of the government was conspicuously absent. Over the blare of Sousa marches, I quietly told the diplomat why only half the government was represented at the event. CoPrime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh had abruptly left the country hours before, and rumors were flying that the other prime minister was poised to take sole power. My source provided an interesting nugget in return. You see the general over there? he asked me. When I spoke with him just now, I said I would see him on the golf course tomorrow, like always. But he said no. The diplomat looked at me over his glasses. He said hes busy tomorrow. Sure enough, the tanks rolled at dawn the next morning, and CoPrime Minister Hun Sen seized sole power. This is a dramatic example, but these exchanges typify relationships with the media. We dont have to give journalists the scoop of the year to have those exchanges. We simply need reasonably relevant, interesting information that meets the needs of the reporter and tells our story. HOW TO USE ROBIN HOOD RULE 9
- Decide Which Messages to Place in Which Media Before we even start to court members of the media or to take their calls we want to decide which messages in which media would best advance our agenda. I cant emphasize this recommendation enough. Public-relations professionals, and Ive been one, typically judge success by the number of times an organization is mentioned in the media. But this statistic is fairly meaningless if we have communication aims beyond name recognition. Getting our name in the media doesnt necessarily advance our agenda; getting our message in the media does. We want to selectively approach certain media and carefully craft the responses we give to media calls according to the message we want readers, viewers, or listeners to hear. We also need to remind ourselves to look for openings, the times when our audience is most likely to receive our message. Finding openings will help us prioritize our media targets. We then want to cultivate relationships with the reporters in those media and devise a strategy for handling incoming requests from key media.
- Cultivate Relationships We build relationships with members of the media by making their job easier. Remember that they need instant expertise and they want to be first with a good, accurate story. We want to help them on all those fronts. Providing such help requires that we become intimately familiar with the stories our priority media outlets cover and the work of key staff at these news organizations. We want to find out which staff members cover the issues important to us. We want to understand a reporters individual needs, whether he or she is a science writer for Time, an executive editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal, a producer at Fox News, or a correspondent for Living on Earth on National Public Radio. Reporters have drastically different personalities, interests, and needs, and they attract different readers, listeners, or viewers. They arent equally receptive to a story on global warming and one about a Kansas State football win. Know each reporters style, interests, and favorite topics and create short profiles of them. When we interact with them, we can refer to their work and interests. Even jaded journalists are usually flattered to know someone has been following their reporting. Then add to these profiles over time. Each time a member of the media calls, make a record of the kinds of questions they ask and the type of information they are seeking and file it away for future reference. Invite them to lunch and ask them about the stories they are following. Send them useful bits of information or propose desk-side briefings on topics they follow. Give them well-written fact sheets and background information on key issues that they can keep in their files and use when they need that kind of information. This interaction keeps us updated on reporters needs while building relationships. It gives us the ability to strengthen our connection with them over time. If we offer them resources with no strings attached, they will likely feel favorably disposed toward us in the future.
- Pitch Stories
As we build relationships with reporters, CRAMing them as an audience, we also need to be CRAMing specific stories. Public-relations people like to call the process of CRAMing story pitching. Reporters ask three questions when they are evaluating a pitch: Why now, why is this news, and who cares? If a story is timely and newsworthy but irrelevant to their readers, they wont cover it. If its newsworthy and relevant but lacks a sense of timeliness or is old, its probably not going to make the cut. And if its not newsworthy, its not a story. Defining newsworthy is an incredibly subjective exercise. For US Weekly, the kind of sushi that actor Demi Moore ordered at Nobu is newsworthy. To the New York Times, its not remotely interesting. We need to draw on our knowledge of the reporter and the outlet to know the stories that are news.
If we dont have a huge breaking news storyand usually we wontwe can devise other ways to make a story timely, newsworthy, and relevant. Here are some ideas:
- Provide an exclusive. If a media outlet gets an important story first, it may consider it big news because a scoop makes the station or publication look good.
- Make it different. A story that is new, novel, or original is news because it has what a journalist friend of mine calls the gee whiz factor, which lands stories on the front page or the top of the hour.
- Involve a big name. In our star-obsessed culture, the involvement of celebrities can add a gee whiz factor to a less interesting story.
- Be at the extreme. Any kind of superlative that can be claimedfirst, biggest, smallest, oldestcan constitute a gee whiz factor.
- Play up the stakes. Most kinds of conflict or controversy are also news. The media love stories with a protagonist and an antagonist and the drama and emotion that they can bring to an issue.
- Be part of the solution. The media are often covering the negative impact of the issues were seeking to address. We can position our cause as a rare good news story because its offering a promising solution to a problem in the news.
- Put a face on the story. A compelling human-interest angle of any kind is news because journalists are always looking to put a human face on their stories.
- Make it local. A local angle on a national story is news to media in our community.
- Provide pictures. A story with great visuals is always news for television and print media.
- Designate and Prepare Spokespeople
If we succeed in pitching a storyor if a reporter calls us about a storywe need to be well-versed in handling interviews. Designate a spokesperson and train everyone to refer all inquiries to him or her. Anyone within our cause who comes into contact with the media should be knowledgeable and trained in key messages and handling interviews.
When it comes to interviews, remember to prepare, stay on message, and stay in control. When we prepare ahead of time, we know our messages, have thought of snappy words to express them, and have made a list of interesting stories, examples, and analogies that are suitable to our audience and that illustrate these points. In the heat of an interview, its easy to forget this supporting information. We want to compose a mental library that we bring into every interview. Preparing in this way is easy enough if we have an interview scheduled in advance, but if a reporter calls us unexpectedly, under deadline to write a story, we have less time for preparation.
Nonetheless, we want to give ourselves at least five minutes to collect our thoughts. Offer to call the reporter back immediately; then take a few moments to write down the key messages to convey in the context of the story and prepare some examples, statistics, or analogies that bring the messages to life.
The next requirement is to stay on message. We want to convey just one or two key ideas and not stray from them. State the headline idea simply and plainly from the start and reinforce it throughout the interview. Dont disguise it in jargon or highly complex language. Dont panic if the reporter is asking questions that stray from the message. We need to provide answers to media questions, but the answers dont have to exactly match the reporters
agenda. Public-relations people refer to blocking and bridging, which means using certain phrases to steer the discussion to our message. For example, we can say:
- Whats important to remember here is that . . .
- What that means in practice is that . . .
- Thats a good point, and it gets back to the key issue, which is . . .
- Let me put that in perspective . . .
- The bottom line is . . .
- I have a story about that . . .