The work of a Public Relations professional involves among others promoting understanding between and among different stakeholders. This involves reaching a variety of constituents with information. The media remains key to achieving this.
No PR campaign can be effective without the involvement of the media. Most PR departments of organisations as well as PR Agencies thus assign Media Relations officers with the primary responsibility of building and managing relations with the media.
Current Ghanaian Media Landscape
Ghana currently has a very saturated and vibrant media space with all of them going after the same sources of advertisement to meet their commercial needs among others. News stories that the media go after are largely political in nature. Social issues tend to receive secondary attention from the media. While the media exist to inform and entertain, their commercial interests also need to be met to enable them to achieve this primary responsibility. Subscriptions alone do not enable the media to cover their commercial needs. Corporate advertising contributes a lot to realizing media commercial needs. Thus Ghanaian media require payment from businesses in exchange for print space and airtime. The expansion of the media space in Ghana over time has meant that corporate advertising spend is having to be spread very thin. The media are therefore having to be deliberate about ensuring that they have the resources to survive. The media have therefore become extremely commercial. The media have become particular about editorial material whose content comes across as advertorial in nature. They are therefore very quick to spot the fine line between commercial pieces and news stories.
The years of media freebies are over, with media managers arguing that the media have to survive – fuel their operations and equip themselves to remain relevant, hence the need to be commercially inclined.
Media and Business communication needs
Media and Businesses depend on each other for survival. Media channels serve as critical channels through which businesses reach their audiences. Businesses remain important sources of information to fill media pages and obtain resources for media operations. Thus, businesses and media depend on each other to meet their commercial goals. Whereas most businesses are dependent on the media, they are also extremely careful about their media spend. The media on the other hand equally need business media spend to remain profitable.
As advertising becomes more and more expensive, Businesses, are spending less on advertising and employing the use of press releases which now are structured to be advertorial in nature. In recent times, this situation has become one of the main headaches of the media and their reaction is not to publish such press releases. The media are requiring adverts from businesses to publish their press releases. The other dilemma that the media face is that some media houses give such press releases wide publicity, meaning the media houses that refuse to publish them miss out on some public attention and possibly readership.
The current unspoken message from the media seems to be, “if you do not do business with us, then be prepared to pay for advertising rates in respect of your press releases sent to us”.
Some businesses also seem to be of the view that the use of digital media saves them from having to spend on traditional media. They even seem to believe that a Media Relations professional is not required in respect of social media communication. With the advent of digital media, therefore many organisations no more attach any importance to the media relations role. They are of the view that media relations have nothing to do with digital media but more associated with Traditional media.
They argue that, why waste money in building relationships with the media, when you can use the same resources to enhance your brand reputation with a wider unknown audience, who does not need relationship building. My advice is that although digital communication is essential and it has gained roots, you relegate media relations at your own risk.
Those of us with years of experience working in the media believe that media relations remain critical for every business. The orientation that the media relations role is no more required in most cases comes from a limited or inaccurate understanding of the role of the Media relations professional. The Media Relations person is often wrongly seen as one who uses his relationships in the media to get news published for organisations or help to ‘do damage control’ in crisis situations. Another wrong perception of the media relations person is that they organise payment of SOLI to the media. Media relations is a key component of the Public Relations function with important strategic responsibilities including building and maintaining enduring relationships with all media channels in a sustained manner for mutual benefit. Thus, delivery of the requires a planned and sustained effort to create and maintain goodwill with media personnel and organizations.
Through my 15 years of practice as a journalist and Media Relations Consultant, I have learnt some lessons that I deem essential to becoming a good media relations professional. I have summarized these lessons in 5 simple thematic areas.
Be a friend
I have learnt to have a relationship with my media friends that transcends business hours. The traditional hours of 8am to 5pm is not enough if you want to establish a proper relationship that will last years. Relationships are first and foremost the basis for friendship. Be their friend. Call up and check on your media friends, hang out with them, sympathize and enjoy with them.
Have a Plan
Have a plan. You cannot succeed without a well written comprehensive plan spelling out what you want to do. Your plan must contain basic but essential information like, who is it that you want to engage, when do you want to engage them, how often do you want to engage them and what form should the engagement take?
To be able to establish and maintain a good relationship with the media you must first earn their trust and confidence. Be truthful. Your word must be your honor. Do not be dishonest.
Have a budget.
The reason why people shun media relations is that it requires a dedicated budget. There is no free lunch. Resources need to be assigned to maintaining the channels through which you communicate with valued stakeholders. The cost of handling a crisis is much more expensive than maintaining a good relationship with the media such that you can work with them in good times and difficult times. Have a dedicated budget even when it hurts the organization most.
Please endeavour to be civil when dealing with media friends. Be polite, kind but firm. In situations of misunderstanding keep a calm demeanor and composure. Be careful how you handle ‘paparazzi’s’. The self-styled journalists will gate-crush your events with a self-entitlement attitude. Remain resolute and stick to your list of invitees but be polite in your handling of uninvited media personnel Remember that the paparazzi you treat with disdain today, will be the one assigned to your programme when they join a media house that you invite to a programme.
In conclusion, media relations require expertise and attention on the part of the practitioner. Every organisation needs to take media relations seriously. If you think it’s expensive, wait till crisis hit your organisation.
Bernard Allotey is consummate Communications Professional with media relations as his speciality. He is an account lead with Media plug, a Media Relations Consultancy, which specializes in media buying, stakeholder management, media intelligence and event management.
Bernard Allotey holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the African University College of Communications and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration respectively. He has had working stints with Ghana’s premier Communications Consultancy, Stratcomm Africa. He also worked as prime time radio producer, a presidential and a parliamentary correspondent.
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