Communicating With The Press During The Rough Times and Through A Recovery

Kathy_Zoellerby Kathy Mattson Zoeller, published in Bacon’s mediamap.com

Many senior executives dread seeing their name in print and being misquoted especially if the business is going through or coming out of a difficult time. It’s going to happen every now and then but shouldn’t deter you from staying in front of the press – especially during the current economy when many factors hampering business growth are completely out of your control.

When speaking with the broadcast, print, business, financial or trade media, you’ll obviously have a number of things to remember and consider, including what you are going to say about the current state of your business and the industry, how you will explain the impact of geopolitical risks and uncertainty among customers and what you will divulge about your growth strategy, cash flow and profitability. You have already worked very hard to develop and hone clear messages that address these concerns. Now is as good a time as any to start talking. Here are a number of items you’ll need to consider when creating your media outreach plan.

Stick To The Point

Every executive spokesperson must be extremely clear about how he or she is going to describe the company and its near term outlook to the press. The key messages you’ve worked so hard to create must therefore be well rehearsed before you ever pick up the phone or meet face-to-face with a reporter to conduct an interview.

Each message should be communicated in one or two sentences. Make sure that you stick to the point and don’t ramble or leave yourself open for a reporter to ask you a question that throws you off balance and leaves you sounding defensive.

Train The Spokesperson

Tap two or three other senior executives to speak with the press so that in the event you are not available someone else will always be trained and ready to talk to a reporter. Make sure that the executives you select exhibit confidence and a genuine interest in helping the media write interesting, positive stories about your business. All spokespersons must be able to clearly articulate the facts about the business and economic risks you face today, the actions you are taking to address these risks and what impact those actions will have on the future success of your business. Know these messages backwards and forwards!

Work with your PR counsel to develop a Q&A document that answers every possible question you believe a customer, employee, partner, shareholder, reporter or industry analyst might ask. Make sure that for each and every answer you include some reference to your key messages. Then practice, practice, practice and practice some more.

Don’t Get Stuck on Difficult Questions

Handle the tough questions quickly. If you feel it’s necessary to expand on a difficult question, add an example or reference and then move on to a new topic.

If you can’t answer the difficult questions in one or two sentences, you may run the risk of looking like you’re trying to hide something or that you don’t know the answer and are bluffing your way through. It’s okay to tell the reporter that you think the question is a good one and then pause to collect your thoughts before answering.

Don’t let a reporter bully you. If you feel that the reporter is trying to steer you in a direction that’s clearly off topic, it’s okay to disagree and bring up a subject you feel is more relevant to the business at hand.

Make Public Relations A Priority

You need public relations counsel during this difficult period as well as during a recovery. Your audiences are still here and they want to hear from you. Wise public relations counsel can help train you to deal with the media during this time. In the event you experience a crisis, a trusted PR advisor who is intimately familiar with your business can offer valuable input and support. Once you have navigated through the rough times and are in a better position, your public relations counsel can help you develop new messages and publicize good news when the economy strengthens.

A 16-year veteran of financial services, healthcare and high-tech corporate communications, Kathy Mattson Zoeller is President of Mattson Communications, Inc., (www.mattsonpr.com) a business-to-business corporate communications and financial PR firm. Mattson Communications is known for its strategic assessment of a client’s PR needs and for executing communication programs that generate superior results. She can be reached at 312-988-9352 or kathy@mattsonpr.com

Public Relations Is A Powerful Tool For Establishing And Maintaining Credibility

Kathy_Zoellerby Kathy Mattson Zoeller, published in Bacon’s mediamap.com

Your business success and credibility rely on the support of many different communities. Yet simultaneously communicating with multiple audiences can be a complex challenge, given their distinct – even competing – timelines, preferences and information needs.

Effective public relations can help drive your business goals and can establish and maintain your credibility. Without an integrated public relations plan, your company risks any number of negative consequences ranging from anonymity to unfavorable impressions among your most influential targets.

Accurately Capture Your Company’s Essence

The most important task your corporate communications director or public relations counsel can do for your company involves strategic positioning—a process that creatively distills the essence of your business into key statements. These statements then become the guideposts you and your communications director or counsel use to help establish and maintain credibility across all of your audiences, including customers, employees, shareholders and the business, trade and online media. If you position your company and its products clearly and consistently to all of your audiences, you will begin to build credibility with them. You will also gain their trust and attention when you interact with them again and again.

Harness The Media To Establish and Build Credibility

Most of us are enormously influenced by the media and what it has to report on any given subject. There is no greater benefit to your company than a positive mention in a printed article, a newscast or online publication. Relentless media coverage of your company and its products, especially if the coverage is predominantly favorable, maintains credibility.

Following are some ways in which you can grab and keep the media’s attention, earn third-party endorsements and start to build credibility.

  1. Take the time to build awareness – give key media targets enough information to build interest of new products and services. Think ahead and start to build attention prior to product launches. Build some mystery around what you are about to unveil. Create excitement for your product, especially if it offers advantages and benefits over the current field of offerings. Taking the time to build awareness will spark interest about you and your marketplace from key media targets.
  2. Focus on what differentiates you – prepare corporate messages that refer to exactly what your company is and how its products stand apart from others in the field. If you prepare accurate and clear communications materials such as corporate fact sheets and summaries, conference presentations, FAQs, press releases and Webcast/conference call outlines that exhibit appealing news angles and offer facts and figures as to how your products are different than the competition, you will be more likely to secure coverage from target publications.
  3. Anticipate the media’s needs – accurate, quality information provided in a timely fashion is fundamental to maintaining credibility. By anticipating the needs of a busy editor or reporter, you become a valued resource and help ensure consistent press from your target publications. If the media is currently focused on a new product in your industry that may spark competition, stay on top of the latest trends and address how your company’s products and services will better meet the needs of the marketplace.

Secure Endorsements From Authoritative Sources

Quotes from authoritative sources, such as customers, strategic partners and industry analysts carry weight with all of your audiences. Offer these sources to the media for input into their news coverage and build these quotes in case studies and byline articles that you produce for marketing purposes. Making customers or strategic partners available for media interviews on your behalf builds greater credibility and enhances positive word of mouth about your company and products.

Build Rapport with Industry Analysts and The Financial Community

Industry and capital market analysts— increasingly important third-party influencers —can help you fuel momentum for your public relations outreach program. Once you have established yourself as a credible source of information about the issues facing your marketplace, analysts will want to hear from you. Take the time to schedule company briefings either by phone or in person at least twice a year— more often in a fast-changing market space. Additionally, financial community presentations and speeches that portray your firm’s vision, financial and operational capabilities will also build credibility and may help you secure strategic partner introductions.

Seek Exceptional Advice

Just as only a highly trained electrical engineer can design the intricate circuitry for tomorrow’s technology, only a communications expert can effectively navigate this delicate process to craft messages, develop a strategy and help you establish credibility with sensitivity and dexterity. Make sure that you have a strong, media-savvy player on your marketing team who can demonstrate thorough understanding of each of your target audiences and what it will take to build credibility with your publics.

Working effectively with the media takes tremendous energy and persistence. So consider hiring or contracting with a corporate communications specialist with deep experience in corporate communications and business and financial public relations. Look for a solid, straight-shooter who has proven expertise in pitching stories to high-profile reporters at national business and financial publications, select broadcast mediums, as well as vertical trade publications.

Start now to properly position your company and build your credibility for the future.

A 16-year veteran of financial services, healthcare and high-tech corporate communications, Kathy Mattson Zoeller is President of Mattson Communications, Inc., (www.mattsonpr.com) a business-to-business corporate communications and financial PR firm. Mattson Communications is known for its strategic assessment of a client’s PR needs and for executing communication programs that generate superior results. She can be reached at 312-988-9352 or kathy@mattsonpr.com

Versatile Public Relations

Kathy_Zoellerby Kathy Mattson Zoeller

Executing an excellent public relations (PR) program is an important way to reach customers in a timely and relatively inexpensive fashion. Since customers are the foundation of all cash flow, successfully aligning a strategic PR program with your company’s overall marketing and sales program is critical.

When hiring a PR team leader or searching for the best PR counsel, two fundamental skills should be in place to sustain your program. Obviously, the practitioners need to be creative and capable of building a strategic program that drives top-line sales, but they also need to be genuinely interested in the impact PR expenditures have on your company’s bottom-line. Seeking PR counsel with real world business experience who have quantitative and analytical skills necessary to drive PR productivity is a must. Any PR counsel worth your time and the company’s money must be willing to be held accountable for performance.

Following are some practical steps you can take to measure the success of your PR program:

Analyze Audiences

It is fundamental to your PR strategy to decide which audiences you want to focus on and which you don’t. If there are specific customer audiences which are highly engaged, tend to regularly buy from you and do so with little handholding then it may be best to focus more of your PR dollars here. When FP Mailing Solutions, a postage meter manufacturer and direct competitor of Pitney Bowes, initiated a rebranding campaign to expand marketshare, it integrated the brand strategy into its PR, direct marketing and dealer sales channels. PR counsel worked with the company’s CEO and marketing director to target industries where small to mid-sized buyers were likely to upgrade to digital postage meters and make additional mail center product purchases. Over a three-year period, the PR program promoted the company’s new brand messages, latest digital meter products and management’s industry vision. PR counsel focused on the leading vertical trade publications in FP Mailing Solutions target industries, as well as small business editors in leading daily newspapers and select national business magazines. The results – the company solidified brand awareness and captured marketshare points.

Gather Data

To effectively promote your company’s products, you will have to invest in public relations. Before you initiate a new PR program, gather up data on past PR expenditures aligned with a product’s sale figures. For example, study the sales results of the last new product your company promoted and launched at a trade show. The new business personnel who manned the trade show booth should be able to quickly generate the sales data for those customers who registered in the show booth and then purchased the promoted product. Pick only those new products where you spent PR dollars. You may have spent dollars on developing press kit materials for the show, such as a product launch release, case study or related technology byline article. If you devoted PR dollars to pitching the product to the press in advance of the trade show, collect and review all of the articles that appeared in print following the show. This sales and article placement data will give you a better understanding of those products which do and don’t deserve more PR program dollars.

Target Media

Even when you know your target audiences, it is often a complex task to decide which media outlets to focus on. Digital, print and broadcast media all compete to grab your customers’ attention. When conducting a business-to-business PR program, it is important to optimize the allocation of your PR dollars so that you are targeting the medium that grabs readership among your core audience of decision makers.

Measure What’s Important

It is critical that the PR program delivers on some established metrics that are specific to your company. You need to have assurance that PR dollars are spent in a way that will achieve the company’s business goals. For example:

  • Ask your PR counsel to keep you informed of the number of article and product news briefs placed in publications with the greatest reach to your core audiences.
  • Make sure your customer relationship management team charged with taking incoming sales calls asks how the customer heard about the product and your company. If the caller indicates a trade magazine or business publication article, make sure that information is shared with your PR counsel.
  • Well written byline articles, case studies and feature articles placed in your target media outlets are also an indication that the PR effort is paying off.

Your PR counsel needs to be attuned to your productivity improvement and return on investment needs. Therefore, companies today need versatile PR practitioners who offer both creative flair and financial discipline.

A 16-year veteran of financial services, healthcare and high-tech corporate communications, Kathy Mattson Zoeller is President of Mattson Communications, Inc., (www.mattsonpr.com) a business-to-business corporate communications and financial PR firm. Mattson Communications is known for its strategic assessment of a client’s PR needs and for executing communication programs that generate superior results. She can be reached at 312-988-9352 or kathy@mattsonpr.com