21 September, 2010
When we start working with a new organisation, or we’re discussing a new project, we always kick off by asking one question… "what will success look like?". This provides an opportunity to hear what people are looking for, to see if different people have different priorities, and to discuss how best to achieve that success.
It’s surprising, though, how often we hear the answer: "Let’s go for the Guardian, the Times, the Mail, and the Today programme", or similar.
This is, in fact, an answer to a different question. It focuses on a tool, rather than an outcome or an end result. The point is, why do you want to be in the Times or interviewed by Evan Davies? What do you want to achieve? Too often this can get overlooked in the clamour for coverage and ‘profile’.
Mainstream news media are vitally important in highlighting key issues, raising public awareness and reaching key influencers. There’s no disputing their power. However, they are still only one of a huge range of ways to get your message across, and too often other options, which may be more relevant to your end goal, can be overlooked.
That’s obviously a big part of our job – to help our clients understand the other options. And we work hard to make sure people realise the role that direct engagement, social marketing and strategic partnerships, for example, can play. But when a Chair of Trustees, or a Chief Executive, is already certain that the best route is page four of the Daily Express, even if we can convince the communications team, they then face a difficult job selling our recommendations internally.
So this is just a reminder. There’s more to good communications that mainstream media relations. Don’t underestimate the value of face-to-face briefings, of publications, of relationship building and engagement. The media is a powerful tool, but in order to tap into the mainstream you’ll often need to tailor your message to fit the news agenda, rather than your specific audiences, and you’ll be running the risk of being bumped in favour of other news. So keep an open-mind and next time you try to picture what success looks like, you might find yourself offering a different answer.