Gaining editorial media coverage will be a key tactic in generating awareness and support of infrastructure projects, but its primacy will be determined by market research and internal stakeholder liaison. The application of strategic alliances will also help give credibility to the project and expand its communication ‘footprint’.

Media relations needs sophisticated PR application

Identifying and applying an appropriate approach to media relations will be close to top of the list for communication directors.

How needy, for instance, are senior stakeholders (e.g. organisational hierarchy, government ministers, ministerial staff etc) for extensive media coverage, whether this coverage is beneficial for reputation, community stakeholders or getting the job done?

The reality of some stakeholders’ needs may not reflect communication best practice. It’s not an issue of whether this is good or ‘not good’, it is a question of adapting to the political situation in which organisation and, hence, its communication exists.

[This is the fourth of a six-part ‘case study’ series on devising communication strategy for an infrastructure project, but can also be applied to non-infrastructure-related initiatives.].

Elements that PR media relations activity should include

  1. The creation of a database of journalists, including information on individual journalists’ informational needs, the history of their perspective on the project and potential future angles and information that may be of relevance to them. Ideally, a record of all interaction with individual journalists will be kept, but often this sort of information moves too quickly to capture. In many cases, a media enquiry/interaction log can be kept.
  2. The cultivation of relationships with specific, strategically important journalists and editors, and those with a great interest in the project should be undertaken on a consistent basis.
  3. Ensuring site visits are provided for the journalists and they are given fresh news angles and content to run with.
  4. Recognising that conflict is of key interest to metro media in particular. Relationships are critical here. Gaining balanced coverage is often the best one can hope for. Seeking supportive coverage all the time is not viable. It is important that these messages are consistently hammered home to internal stakeholders.
  5. Radio will be key in many contexts due to its reach and utilisation by commuters in the morning in particular. Radio will often also leverage off morning print coverage, early which enables multiple placement of positive news, whilst also providing an early warning of further critical questioning. Conversely, if incorrect, unbalanced or problematic information is included in morning print media, the organisation can proactively seek out radio presence to put its perspective on the record and undermine the claims of the print outlet.
  6. Generating guidelines for interaction between organisational employees and the media, including notification to the communication teams when the possibility of such interaction may occur and not undertaking media interaction without communication support and guidance (if at all!).
  7. On the other hand, open and willing communication with the media is a default and it may be appropriate non-‘official’ media spokespeople to speak on certain issues and for certain opportunities, especially if this helps create connections between stakeholders and the organisation (i.e. humanise the edifice!).
  8. Identify and cultivate spokespeople relevant to the strategy. This may well include a corporate overarching spokesperson, an engineering spokesperson and possibly a social/society spokesperson who talks about benefits of the project to local and other communities. The latter area will ideally be covered by the corporate spokesperson, but this may not always be possible. Potentially the head of comms could cover off on these issues but it is best if the PR person isn’t the spokesperson except for media and events and media of lesser importance (always a difficult call).

Strategic alliances: PR or marketing communication?

When cultivating strategic alliances, identify BIG organisations – business, sporting, community, councils –that have much to gain from the infrastructure, or are somehow involved in its development. They will provide 3rd party credibility to the organisation.

Have a plan in place to integrate the alliances’ own activity/content into the communication, especially the digital content strategy. There also needs to be an approach put in place that has the organisation’s content syndicated through whatever comms mechanisms the alliances have – a mutually beneficial outcome.

Be aware, that whilst the forming of strategic alliances and the sharing of content has multiple upsides, the organisation needs to be self-conscious about maintaining its point of difference and positioning. Alliances should enrich the difference by providing a bedrock of context, relevance and support that allows this to occur with greater impact and resonance than would otherwise have been the case.

For some, media relations IS public relations (and that’s pretty much it). What are your thoughts on this? What can you add to the points about what approaches should be applied in a media relations program? What business area should look after strategic alliances – are there specific occurrences when PR should be responsible for them, but not others?

The next post in this six-part series talks about the website, social media, digital and database tactical elements of the communication strategy. Previous posts talked about approaches to public relations, market research and target audiences; the listening, conversational and adaptive characteristics of excellent communication strategy; and the Holy Trinity of PR.

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