Last Friday was the ‘Liaising with the media’ session of the PR Mentor program I’m running for small businesses. As public relations practitioners, there are behaviours which are just second nature to us when it comes to contacting journalists. But for small business owners like my ‘PR mentees’, this unfamiliar territory can be a little… nerve-racking.

So here are my top five rules of engagement which will make your next media call much more informed, tailored and most likely, successful.

1.     Understand the media

A good place to start is by reading the publication, listening to the radio program or watching the television show you are planning on liaising with. Understand the sort of story they are covering and their style. Also, be aware of these simple rules for each media type:

Print

-         Daily newspapers file their stories in the afternoon – Contact them in the morning

-         Monthly and quarterly magazines have long deadlines of up to three months – Plan ahead of time

-         Good, high resolution photography is very important -  Invest in professional shots of your management team, products, etc. You will be able to use these not only for media requests, but on your website, brochures and more.

Online

-         Online news is instantaneous and forever

-         Low resolution images are sufficient

-         If they have an e-newsletter, avoid contacting them just before the e-newsletter is due to be distributed (e.g. the SmartCompany e-newsletter is distributed everyday around lunch time, so it is best to contact them in the afternoon)

Broadcast

-         Will it be pre-recorded or live?

-         Keep your answers as succinct as possible

-         Use this interview technique to get your answer across: Point – Reason – Evidence – Point

Learning to liaise with the media

2.     Understand the journalist

Before contacting a journalist, read articles they have written or stories they have covered so you get a better understanding of what they report on, their interests and their writing/broadcasting style.

3.     Understand what’s topical

Making sure your story is newsworthy is one way to get you noticed – and published! But media outlets also often have their own pre-planned agenda. Many publications develop features lists for the year ahead with main topics to be covered in each issue and content deadlines. These lists can be obtained from the editor or advertising representative.

Knowing in advance what topics your key target media will be covering will help you tailor your approach and present them with information that will be relevant to them. A win-win situation!

Another way to identify upcoming story angles is through SourceBottle, an online service that broadcasts journalists’ and bloggers’ requests for sources of information. Topics of interest can be chosen when you sign up to SourceBottle so you get only those requests relevant to your area of expertise.

4.     Deadlines – be responsive!

 Deadlines. Deadlines. Deadlines.

The media work on deadlines. It could be three months, three weeks, three days or three hours. No matter what, the more responsive you are at providing them with the information they require within deadline, the higher your chances of publication are (or at least keeping a good relationship with the journalist).

So if a journalist asks you for information on your organisation, the first question to ask should be: ‘What is your deadline?’. And stick to it!

5.     THEY have the last word

A story on your organisation could be written, filed and confirmed by the reporter who interviewed you, but until you see it printed or hear it on radio or television, victory cannot be shout. Your article could be cut out by the editor at the last minute for a number of reasons (lack of space, more important news, etc.).

For ongoing PR tips for small business, follow me on Twitter: @KimLarochelle