Brands looking to get good press need to understand that newsrooms are always short-staffed. Reporters don't have a lot of time to work on stories. They don't even have enough time. Every additional hoop you ask a journalist to jump through before talking to you makes it more likely that the reporter will simply give up and go talk to someone else.
I recently spent 10 days trying to get in touch with an international organization that has been getting bad press for more than a year. One reason it has getting bad press is that getting through to its PR department is impossible. That makes it easy for its enemies to tell their story.
This kind of basic failure to follow simple common sense is quite common.
Here are some basic rules this organization fails to follow (and one it did follow).
Failure to include a prominent link for journalists on the company Website: Brands should have an easy-to-find link for journalists somewhere on the home page itself or on the About page. The link should be labeled "NEWS," "MEDIA," or something obvious like that. It doesn't have to be above the fold on the home page. Journalists aren't your Website's primary constituency (customers and distributors are). But don't bury it.
Having a prominent newsroom link was just about the only thing this organization did right. Things went downhill from there.
Failure to post prominent contact information: You should post information that journalists can use to reach you. There should be a central press inbox with an address like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, along with a phone number. Someone should be checking the email and the phone number at least twice a day -- of more often if you've gotten wrapped up in some kind of controversy.
This organization had no phone number or email listed anywhere on its press contact page. There was absolutely no way for a journalist with a question -- or an accusation from one of this organization's enemies -- to contact it for comments.
Failure to have a direct phone line to PR: This organization does list its central phone number on its Website, so I called that. I had to go through three robo-switchboard layers before I got to the voicemail of someone associated with PR and could leave a message.
Your PR department should have a direct-dial phone number. Don't make journalists run the robo-switchboard gauntlet to get through to a spokesperson.
Failure to respond to email: It took more than a week to get a response from anyone in corporate PR, and I had to do some digging to find someone who would respond to me. With some work, I found the name and email address of one PR guy. He didn't get back to me, so I found the name of another and located her on LinkedIn. Her LinkedIn profile doesn't list contact information, so I sent her a LinkedIn InMail message asking her to get back to me. She finally responded a few days later.
Fortunately for me, I have time. I have a few weeks to work on the project. Normal journalistic deadlines are measured in hours, or even minutes. Normally, a journalist who wants to get in touch with your company will look for a media contact on your Website, fire off an email, and then move on. If you don't return the email by the deadline, the journalist will either ignore you entirely or write a story based entirely on what other people are saying about you.
If you want to get good press, you have to be accessible. If you want to kill or blunt a negative story about your brand, spokespeople have to be reachable. The steps I've outlined here are just common sense. They should be obvious to anyone who's taken even a single communications class. And yet so many brands, big and small, fail to follow them.
What are some other PR basics that brands ignore? Let us know.
— Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, The CMO Site