Bill Tyson, president of Morrison and Tyson Communications in Walpole, N.H., is one of the nation’s leading experts on national media relations. For more than a quarter century Bill has focused on helping colleges and universities get their stories told in the national news media. We’ve always appreciated Bill’s sound and well reasoned advice, so we’re sharing with you this excerpt from a Tyson speech on how to get started in the highly competitive world of national media relations. If you want to learn more about how to do effective media relations, check out Bill’s book, “Pitch Perfect” from Stylus.
Making your case with national media starts far in advance of writing a release or picking up the phone to pitch your story.
Media relations is a process not an event, consisting of a series of steps that should be the important part of your daily operations as a PR professional.
Once you have made a commitment to media relations as a critical activity in your public relations portfolio, the next step is building an understanding of your product. The best way to do this is to start a beat system in which you systematically and routinely meet with your individual faculty and key administrators—including the president—to update yourself and begin background files on research, professional activities and issues. This can open up a wealth of information that can be the base for many story possibilities, for example, reporting on new research, opinion pieces and background sources to media on current issues.
Knowing your product also demands that you keep on top of the news—keying in on how it relates to your institution and its people. It’s not enough to occasionally check online or pick up a newspaper or magazine to see what’s new. To be effective you must begin a daily routine of reading key media. These include local and regional media, The New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, major weekly and monthly news magazines, and academic and professional journals.
Your reading will soon allow you to pull together key background files on issues important to your people and also give you firsthand knowledge of what media are interested in and what writers are covering what subjects.
Having put into operation these three major steps: 1.) Making media relations a priority and sticking to it, 2.) establishing a beat system and 3.) keeping on top of the news along with starting background files on major issues and keying in to the writers of stories on these subjects, you should be ready to deal with national media.
Before approaching national media with a story idea you must have:
- A concise definition of what the story is.
- Explicit reasons why it can be of national interest.
- Knowledge of the medium and, ideally, the reporter you are about to call or write.
A lot of higher education public relations people take at face value a professor saying how significant his or her research is. They are sometimes pressured into calling the media with a story. As a professional with a reputation to protect you must guard against these situations occurring. It is your job to say no to stories you feel do not warrant national media attention. You are not doing your job if you allow people to pressure you into contacting media with a story you feel is inappropriate.
If a professor, for example, tells you her computer science department is the best in the country and deserves national coverage for its work, check it out. Ask her why. Find out what other institutions have comparable programs. Talk to others for more background. Find articles that support the claim. Seek out solid data to confirm the claim.
You should never call the media with such scanty information as “my professor says it’s the best program around,” and then rattle off a stream of generalizations as to why. The media need facts. Don’t expect reporters to do your homework for you.