In an era of shrinking newsrooms and disappearing travel budgets, we all are having a hard time finding editors and reporters with the time and resources to hop on a plane to pursue a story in response to even our most irresistible pitches. “Sounds interesting, but I’m swamped at the moment. I’ll keep you in mind for the future,” is an all-too-familiar response.
One answer is to reverse the equation and take your client to the newsroom.
Of course, desk-side briefings
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—so called because we often meet at a reporter’s desk or in a nearby meeting room—have been a PR strategy for years. And in today’s environment where reporters have less time than ever to consider story pitches, even a brief meeting over coffee at their desks may be turned down unless you’re bringing a client who has real news, or informed opinions on timely topics that reporters care about.
We’ve used the strategy successfully with two of our clients in the last year—a $100 million-plus asset manager and a large state university. During one of three New York trips with the asset manager, the CEO visited six leading financial news outlets and a total of 30 reporters, including a meeting with 14 Wall Street Journal staffers and a six-minute segment on Bloomberg TV. During a trip to Washington, D.C., a “smart grid” expert from the university was interviewed by 10 top energy reporters at The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Chronicle of Higher Education, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.
While these meetings don’t guarantee stories on your clients, we’ve found them to be valuable and cost-effective relationship-building sessions that have generated increased media requests for interviews with clients who previously flew under the radar of most reporters. After desk-side visits with a total of six top executives of the asset manager, we fielded frequent requests for expert opinions from reporters we visited, or from colleagues who were referred to us after our briefings.
Desk-side briefings are relatively easy to arrange, but we’ve found we need to adhere to a few principles to assure the desk-sides pay off for both clients and journalists. Here are our desk-side do’s and don’ts:
- DO time them when your client has news to break or opinions on timely topics. The university’s smart grid expert made his rounds shortly after the Obama administration made smart grid development an integral part of its energy priorities. The asset-manager CEO was invited to appear on Bloomberg TV because of his company’s successful track record in managing collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, which were controversial in the last fall’s economic crisis.
- DO provide media training to your key spokespeople before the trip to hone your key messages. Even executives accustomed to talking to reporters have found the training crucial. It’s especially important when two executives are making the visits together to avoid embarrassing contradictions.
- DO provide background information on all reporters on the itinerary, including recent articles they’ve written. Reporters inevitably perk up when their work is cited.
- DO leave behind easy-to-access contact information and succinct background data, and follow up just as aggressively as you arranged the desk-sides. Otherwise, reporters are likely to quickly forget about your client when they turn to the next story. During my years as a Wall Street Journal editor, I compiled quite a stack of slick company brochures from earlier desk-sides on my window sill—all unread and gathering dust—from PR people I never heard from again.
- DON’T overlook the key trade media covering your client’s industry. Often several outlets from a common publisher work in the same building, multiplying the number of placements that result from the visit.
- DON’T fret if breaking news causes a reporter to cancel at the last moment. That doesn’t faze the client if you have a busy schedule of visits, and the reporter may be more receptive to your next call because they remember – or you remind them of – the last-minute cancellation.
- DON’T pack the schedule so tightly that travel delays, interruptions or longer-than-expected interviews put you behind schedule, jeopardizing key interviews. In New York particularly, a car and driver can ease anxieties between appointments.
Ken Gepfert, senior vice president/public relations at Charlotte-based advertising, marketing and public relations firm Luquire George Andrews, has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, including 13 years at The Wall Street Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on LGA, visit www.lgaadv.com.