Back to basics: Devising a media plan

A media plan is a key building block for successful media relations, and should be part of PR 101. Thom Weidlich reports on what should be included.

A media plan is a key building block for successful media relations, and should be part of PR 101. Thom Weidlich reports on what should be included.

Because it flows from a company's business and marketing plans, a media plan is an integral part of a company's mission: to make money (though there may be shorter-term goals such as branding). It is also a strong foundation upon which PR endeavors can be undertaken, and client-agency relationships can be formed. The media plan helps keep client and agency on the same page, so to speak. From the get-go it sets expectations and, in the case of overeager clients, can keep them at a more realistic level (helping them understand that their new mousetrap may not make the cover of Time or Newsweek). "You need a media plan for the same reason you need a map to get from one place to another," says Joseph Panetta, an SVP at Marina Maher Communications in New York. Indeed, each element or stage in a media plan follows from the previous one. The basic elements of a media plan include situation, goal, target audiences and publications, spokespeople, strategy, tactics, and evaluation. It covers all the things used in PR campaigns: writing press releases, creating media kits, readying VNRs, writing bylined articles, and calling journalists. Most plans are for a year. But an overall media plan may contain (or take on) "mini media plans" for, say, a product launch or an executive appointment. Because of the plan's duration, it must be flexible; indeed, several experts refer to the need to treat a media plan as a "living document." Major events such as war will always change a media approach. This year HomeBanc Mortgage in Atlanta partnered with the University of Georgia Bulldogs football team to build Habitat for Humanity homes. When scandals over drugs and the selling of championship rings plagued the team, HomeBanc had to pull back on some of the early media outreach, according to Mark Scott, the company's VP of marketing. A media plan should start with a "situational analysis," which describes what the image of the company or product is now and what needs to be changed. For example, San Francisco PR agency Allison & Partners did this for new client the Alliance of Chief Executives, which fosters dialogue among company leaders and is looking to create organizations across the country. The agency conducted a survey with current members to get feedback on what benefits they get out of belonging to the group. Next comes the goal of the coverage. India-based iCode, which makes software for small businesses, is "currently embarking on a PR campaign to increase its visibility in India to attract more qualified talent when positions open up in our Bangalore office," says VP of marketing Steven Toole. It is compiling a media plan for that. The plan should include the messages for each audience. Often the agency will have to help the client develop these. Scott says that HomeBanc has four messages: customer-service leader in home financing, fast-growing innovative company, dedicated community partner, and employer of choice. It should also include who the spokespeople will be (for example, the CEO or CFO) and what their messages will be (they may differ). Next, media ambitions need to be outlined. Taking a scattershot approach to picking the media outlets to target will result in disappointment, angry journalists, as well as give PR a bad name. Toole of iCode says that before the company brought its PR in-house, its former outside PR agency was targeting a cookie-cutter list of technology publications; he says he has been able to increase exposure by 650% in six months by aiming at small-business publications, whose readerships are iCode's potential customers. Bonnie Harris, president of Wax Marketing in St. Paul, MN, says the plan should also list the order of pitching various titles. For example, sometimes landing in USA Today will hurt chances of getting in The New York Times. On the other hand, coverage in web publications might lead to ink in a large daily. The plan should include a timeline of when outlets will be contacted, taking into account lead times. The information for each reporter in the media-plan document may include contact information, contact preference, pitch angles that might appeal to him or her, and when coverage might be expected. It should include who on the PR team will contact which journalist. The media plan, which will probably be in a Word or Excel document on the agency's server, should be updated regularly to note the status of the individual pitch. A crucial element is to determine ahead of time how the success of the plan should be measured. You may decide what percentage of targeted publications you hope to get any coverage in. Other factors may be whether your key messages are included, prominence of placement, or use of artwork. Rodger Roeser, VP at Justice & Young Public Relations in Cincinnati, tracks success by setting up key performance indicators such as how many hits the company has gotten over the last five years and comparing them going forward. Harris of Wax Marketing uses an ROI model determining cost-per-thousand impressions based on the media retainer. Many agencies say they conduct weekly phone conversations with and provide monthly reports to their clients on the results of the media plan. "A media plan is useless unless everyone involved knows what's expected of them," says Sandra Beckwith of Beckwith Communications in Fairport, NY. If you aren't getting any coverage, or any of the right kind of coverage, the plan isn't working and needs to be reevaluated. ----- Technique tips Do make sure the media plan's goals align with - and grow from - those of the company's business and marketing plans Do start off by conducting a situational analysis to determine what the company or product image is now Do see to it that each member of the PR team knows what his or her responsibility is Don't create one message for all audiences. For example, have separate messages for business and consumer audiences Don't say in the plan that you are going to target major daily newspapers. Specify which ones (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal) Don't stick with a plan that isn't working. If you're not getting ink, reevaluate

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