November 12, 2012

What to Expect When You’re Expecting…Media Coverage.

As some of you may know, I’m expecting my first baby in December. Of course, What to Expect When You’re Expecting is de rigueur reading for any mommy-to-be. Waiting for a baby is a lot like waiting for a project to get its C of O. Enough already. And because the blessed event is so long in the making, it’s easy to delay or forget to create a plan to announce your news and celebrate the victory.

There are so many great outlets available to help AEC firms disseminate news and information about their practices, from horizontal media, to the business press, to niche design magazines, to clients’ trade publications, and increasingly blogs and webzines. So what should you know about utilizing these channels to communicate your news with clients, prospects, and competitors?

Plan ahead.
Don’t wait until the week before the ribbon cutting to develop your media plan. Most well placed articles and timely media coverage are the result of an organized and systematic effort. Different media outlets have different news cycles and lead times. For instance, design publications like Architectural Record and Dwell finalize issues months or even a year in advance of an issue drop date. The horizontal media i.e., major national newspapers and magazines, have shorter editorial cycles—usually. Typically an accepted story will appear within a few days or weeks, but not always.

Get your priorities straight.
When developing your media plan, ask yourself: What are my goals are for the media coverage? How will I know it’s been successful? Answering these questions will help you prioritize your list of publications, since most news outlets want the exclusive on a project or story. For instance, if your goal is to generate top of mind awareness with corporate real estate brokers or facilities managers, being published in CoreNet Leader or BOMA Magazine might be more valuable than a feature in the Boston Globe. If you want to connect with affluent homeowners in the Boston area, you might reap greater rewards from a feature in Boston Globe Magazine than a mention in Architectural Digest.

Be prepared.
Before you approach an editor with a great project or concept for an article, make sure make sure you can respond to requests for additional information or materials promptly. That means you need to have all of your assets in order, including professional photography and project narratives, as well as the participation of key leaders in the firm.

Most importantly, make sure you have the appropriate permissions in place. It’s critical to obtain buy-in from clients and, if possible, arrange for them to speak with the media about how the project has impacted their organization.

Answer the question: “What’s in it for them?”
Whether you dream of appearing in the New York Times Home Section or on the pages of Facilities Management Journal, you have to adjust your perspective on your news or project. Editors receive groundbreaking projects and story ideas all day, every day. What makes yours stand out from the crowd? Why is their publication the right venue? How does telling your story help them stay ahead of trends?

Be flexible…
Sometimes an editor or writer will take a story in a different direction, based on emerging trends, the publication’s point of view, or its audience’s interests. Of course it would be ideal for the media to tell our story verbatim. (Or would it?) Beyond fact checking for accuracy, we can’t, shouldn’t, and shouldn’t expect to have control over the specific content of an article or segment. Instead of agonizing over this lack of control, concentrate on how you will leverage the media coverage once it appears. How can you spread the word to those contacts, clients, and prospects that don’t read a particular publication or watch a specific program?

…But not a pushover.
That said, know when to walk away from an opportunity that simply doesn’t align with your firm’s interests or values. For instance, if a project was accepted for a feature but the magazine refuses to give you a publication date, consider moving on and sharing it with one that will commit to publication on a specific schedule, even if it isn’t your first choice. (What good is a project if no one knows about it?) Or if a publication decides to reframe your story concept such that it no longer helps your firm achieve its PR goals, then thank the editor (profusely!) for his time, (very) politely decline, and find another writer or publication who might share your take on things.

Work it.
Ultimately, the value of any media coverage is in how you leverage it. Today’s news will be archived or in a circular file by tomorrow. So, as you draw up a PR plan, make sure to spend as much time strategizing how you will turn the media coverage to your firm’s advantage as you invest in obtaining it.

Be realistic.
Finally, be realistic about what media coverage can achieve. PR is great at generating top-of-mind awareness and positioning your team as experts. Very rarely are PR and sales directly correlated. Looking back on all the stories I’ve placed, there is just one that was directly responsible for a firm receiving a new commission. Positive PR will never replace the need for a robust business development strategy and consistent implementation.

Wishing you lots of luck in placing your stories with the media outlets that inspire you. Drop me a line with any success or horror stories!

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