- Crystal Carroll, PR director, Ulta Beauty
- Ann Marie Gothard, VP, global corporate media relations, Henry Schein
- Chris Jones, VP of comms, FanDuel
- Kelly Marin, director of product marketing, Notified
From ESG to employee-related matters to bottom-line-moving strategies, the responsibilities now under communicators’ purview have never been greater. Still, media relations remains atop their daily to-do lists.
However, the manner in which it is done and the targets of those efforts are vastly different than ever before and continually evolving. A quartet of industry leaders recently joined “The new rules of media engagement,” a Notified-hosted webinar presented to help communicators stay ahead of the game on this vital, ever-evolving aspect of PR.
Podcasts picking up
Traditional journalists remain the top targets for most communicators – 90% to be exact, according to a recent Notified/PRWeek survey that asked PR pros to identify media members who remain “very relevant” to their outreach efforts. Those same respondents, though, identified a rising force in this conversation: podcasts and their hosts. And our webcast experts doubled down on this sentiment.
Henry Schein has “made a significant investment in podcasts as part of its media mix,” reports Ann Marie Gothard, the company’s VP of global corporate media relations. The challenge is “finding the right ones that fit with your brand, message and target audience.” And she has each member of her team focus on doing just that, with a particular concentration on topics including sustainability, the future of work and customer experience.
It’s also important to “find someone who can convey your story in a way that digs deeper than your regular messaging,” adds Gothard. To do that, communicators need to “invest in a meet-and-greet with podcast hosts because that informal conversation can really change the dynamic when it comes to the day of the interview.”
As a brand in the emerging market of sports betting, FanDuel has tapped into podcasts including Bill Simmons’ The Ringer, The Volume podcast network with Colin Cowherd and Audacy to fill “a large awareness gap that we have to close,” explains VP of comms Chris Jones. Podcasts are also being integrated into PR efforts because for an event such as the Kentucky Derby (which took place on May 6), FanDuel can “get further into the culture of the country about things such as what are people drinking and wearing in ways that traditional media can’t," he explains.
In the beauty world, “podcasts are an excellent way for brands to connect authentically with an engaged audience on a specific topic,” suggests Crystal Carroll, PR director at Ulta Beauty. And podcasts can increase executive visibility and “drive thought leadership as we think about those key messages we want to get across. Our spokespeople can showcase their own personality while also giving a little bit more personality behind our brand.”
Podcasts are “an excellent storytelling tool and offer an opportunity to control the narrative and dive deeper into our POV,” she adds. The best way to find the right podcast partners is “think like a consumer, listen to the conversations that are taking place and see how your brand or a particular message that you're trying to convey connects with that audience.”
“Podcasts as a targeted communications channel can provide good content that can be repurposed, reused and continue the story in other mediums,” advises Kelly Marin, director of product marketing at Notified, “whether for thought leadership, executive visibility or general communications campaigns.”
Roundtable participants included (clockwise from top left): Carroll, Gothard, Marin and Jones.
Face-to-face still preferred
Nearly half (47%) of survey respondents believe that it makes a material difference to meet in-person with the media.
In the beauty space, believes Carroll, those face-to-face meetings are critical for establishing relationships and “getting to know the editors that you want to be covering your brand or your message.”
Prep work is essential for understanding “what an editor likes, what they may not like, what they like to cover, what they don't cover,” she continues.
A broader return to in-person meetings and events has made Gothard realize how much “having that conversation completely changes the dynamic of the relationship.” Not only can a PR rep or senior executive “hear what's on their schedules, but also share industry trends.” Providing information “on what we're seeing or hearing from our customers is another way to be a resource without necessarily asking for that coverage,” she explains.
The key, stresses Jones, is to not “treat your relationships with the press transactionally. Whether you're meeting with them in person or virtually, making a personal connection will always be an advantage.”
“Nothing replaces that energy exchange of being in the same physical room,” says Marin. Conversations flow more naturally and it’s easier to “discover some of those personal things [that really make a difference in establishing relationships], such as where did they go to school, what are they interested in, what are they dealing with right now. Things beyond what they’re on deadline for that make a huge difference to media relations.”
Perfecting the pitch
Getting the pitch right is critical. For any PR pro, familiarizing yourself with a journalist’s or influencer’s work and preferences prior to pitching them is an essential component of this. Eighty-four percent of survey respondents said they prioritize this. Another factor the Notified/PRWeek survey brought to light as being vital in this regard is keeping outreach topical and informative, something nearly four-fifths of respondents (79%) feel they do well.
Local and smaller outlets must remain on all PR pros’ radar, as well – something upon which a majority of survey respondents (57%) focus greatly. Meanwhile, fewer than half of those who took the survey (44%) are more inclined now than previously to offer a full exclusive to an outlet to secure coverage.
FanDuel’s Jones sees both sides of that latter point. While his site offered an exclusive about its NFL partnership to The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, he readily recognizes how vital local media is for a business such as FanDuel “that behaves nationally, but is regulated at the state level. We are dialing up local outreach into what we would consider states that matter to us.”
Exclusivity is reserved for those topics “that we want to make sure we get right coming out of the gate,” Gothard adds. As a global company, Henry Schein balances a unified global message with a local market strategy. The focus in local communities is on “our brand, our people, things that we're doing in the community that are important for that business, especially for the recruitment purposes,” she notes.
As one of the nation's largest beauty retailers, Ulta Beauty relies on local media to help “build community within the areas in which our stores are located,” points out Carroll. Nonetheless, exclusives remain “an effective tactic not only to guarantee coverage around something that we are currently launching at a particular time, but also to align ourselves with an authoritative source.”
When deciding whether or not to offer an exclusive, first “do research about what recent stories have been written by journalists,” Marin recommends. “Knowing which companies, spokespersons, products and services they are talking about can help you make decisions about whether they might be reaching the most relevant audience.”
Tools of the trade
When it comes to media relations, PR tools are proving to be extremely helpful. Nine out of 10 survey respondents said as much. In addition, they got specific about the areas in which PR tools benefit their efforts the most, among them: monitoring earned coverage (83%), measuring results and performance (75%), managing media contacts and lists (72%) and distributing press releases (65%).
It’s vital for Henry Schein to monitor daily earned coverage to determine “if our core messages came through, got picked up and are being seen by the right target; if we added our unique perspective or insights into an ongoing discussion or introduced a topic or perspective no one's talking about,” Gothard explains. In addition to assessing the impact, the organization takes a forward-looking approach “to extract the learnings to help not only our decision-making, but also our strategic planning.”
FanDuel relies on PR tools to help measure results and performance. However, those results are most effective if “we know where we're going to put our efforts before we do so,” Jones explains.
All media relations efforts require strong interpersonal connections.
“The effectiveness of your outreach is rooted in how good your media lists are,” adds Carroll. Her advice: Start by pinpointing which media to target for particular messages. That database can help a PR pro "see around the corners and keep abreast of the movement that is happening across the industry,” she counsels.
For most companies, press releases remain “a foundational component of a communications strategy,” notes Marin. A press release can “get news distributed in a targeted way at a time when it can be harder to get somebody out to dinner.” And critically in this era of misinformation and 24/7 access, a press release can serve as “an official source of trusted information that has come directly from the company spokespersons and has been approved by the top,” she concludes.