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Local Columns

May 2, 2012

Susan Miller: Beware a big mic with no message

ANDERSON, Ind. — Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan recently noted, “This is the problem of the world today: Big mic, no message.”

The ever-expanding realm of social media provides an opportunity for ceaseless communication — helping create the “big mic” problem Ms. Noonan noted.

Unprecedented access to the media megaphone can make it tempting for businesses to tout their messages everywhere, but how effective is such a mass strategy? A fire/aim method to earning publicity is wasteful and can even be damaging to a marketer’s brand.

Businesses sometimes ask if they can “blast out” their news. They’ve seen ads that offer to distribute a press release to thousands of media for a fee and think their publicity problem is solved.

Like most “too good to be true” promises, this “blast” approach rarely garners strong coverage.  Effective publicity — the kind that puts a message in front of the right audience — is cultivated through relationships .

A publicist isn’t necessary to get your news in front of your desired audience, but some research and effort is required. First, make sure you know who you wish to reach.  

Is your audience located across the nation, regionally or locally? Do they tend to visit certain websites? Do they read the business trades and local paper?

Once you’ve defined your audience and the opinion sources they trust, identify the right person to contact. You can send an email to the editor contact, but identifying the person who covers your type of business, whether it’s a blogger, Tweeter or traditional journalist, will be more effective.

Before making contact, review the contact person’s coverage. Do they present “just the facts” or do they tell a story with their reporting? Is their tone irreverent or serious? This insight will guide how you approach them with your publicity pitch.

Now to the “no message” portion of Ms. Noonan’s observation. When you contact the media, be sure to explain how your message aligns with their readers’ interests. Why do their readers need to know about your product or your company’s earnings? What problems can you help their followers solve?

Email is a good first means of contact, but realize that journalists receive dozens of press releases and emails every day. Follow-up with a phone call within 24 hours, but always ask if the contact is on deadline before launching into your message.

Finally, no matter how good your pitch, sometimes it takes face time to build a relationship. Consumer and financial services media tend to be located in New York and Washington, D.C.

One of the most valuable investments business communicators can make is to go to the media and chat with reporters about their interests. These desk-side chats establish a level of credibility that’s hard to achieve with a “blast it out” approach, and can position businesses as trusted sources for future stories.

Don’t be shy about grabbing the mic or the megaphone — just make sure you have a message to tell and that it’s going to the right audience.    

Susan Miller is owner of Ewing Miller Communications, an Anderson-based public relations and marketing consulting company. Her column appears in The Herald Bulletin on Thursdays. Write to her at susan@ewingmiller.com.

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