By Sharon A.M. MacLean
Most leaders of commerce and the community want media coverage for their organizations. They understand the power of journalistic exposure for their mission and recognize that space in traditional media is at a premium. Invariably, these influencers also want reporting only under these conditions:
- If it’s positive
- If the message is controlled
- If they look good
A veteran broadcaster who, as journalists are fond of saying, moved to the “dark side” of public affairs published a new book this summer on his perspective from both sides of the microphone.
The Honest Spin Doctor is a 93-page account by Grant Ainsley for people who want to pitch the media on covering their story. That’s his photo above this blog. It’s also for those who want to avoid deeper scrutiny by journalists and find themselves in a news maelstrom. Either way, he says it’s possible for CEOs, politicians, and spokespeople to be honest in their relationships with reporters.
What’s captivating is Ainsley’s recall of names and details throughout his career. He’s also candid about his fear of the unknown, especially when Ainsley decides to move out of the broadcast booth and into the world of corporate communications.
The award-winning journalist uses breezy story-telling to deliver his lessons. Yet, don’t underestimate the modest approach. Ainsley describes several real-world examples of how miscalculations by poorly prepared spokespeople went terribly wrong. Anyone remember former chairman of BP Tony Hayward and the blown-out well of Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico? Or Lululemon Athletica Founder Chip Wilson and the stupid comments he made about women’s thighs?
Edmontonian Grant Ainsley started his radio life in 1977 as a disc jockey at CKSA Lloydminster before moving that same year for a job in the newsroom at CFQC Saskatoon. He returned to Edmonton in ’78 for news posts at CHQT followed by 96 K-Lite as news and public affairs director for 10 years. The guy paid his dues.
The move in 1992 by the CRTC to allow radio stations to cut back on the spoken word prompted Ainsley to change his profession. He joined the City of Edmonton’s public works department in communications before taking on The Alberta Home Builder’s Association as CEO for 12 years.
The Internet was just starting to take hold in business life in those years and much change was afoot in the world of media.
This book comes at a time when employees also want to see their leaders become more vocal in sharing their perspectives about the future. They want their chief to alert them to what’s coming down the pike so they can prepare themselves, as well. Increasingly, employees want to know more about the values espoused by their executives and understand who they are as people and what really drives their thinking.
These precepts make a leader today and applying Ainsley’s ideas for getting along with the media make good sense, too.
Here’s some of his notions that stood out for me. But you can get this book for yourself at www.grantainsley.com to find more.
1. Build a long trap-line
This is the foundation for any solid media plan—heck, any marketing plan. Ainsley encourages readers to build a database with these details:
- Names of reporters and outlets
- Email addresses for reporters as well as assignment editors in print, radio, and television
- Contact details for relevant bloggers
- Contact information for weekly newspapers
- The B list of names for people who are not members of the media but who are relevant to the story.
2. The media release is king
- Develop an announcement in the way a reporter might tackle the story. Find out the W5: who, what, where, when and why. And how.
- Learn the position of a reporter by following their by-lines or Twitter feed
- Keep the media release to one page
- Include a quote from a spokesperson
I would add that media names be organized into separate tiers, based on their social authority and influence.
There are many social tools to help you find influencers, including Followerwonk, Klout, Topsy, Commun.it, and Group High.
3. Timing is everything
Ainsley likes Monday morning announcements at 11 am because reporters generally are thirsty for news at the start of the week. He also likes to schedule television news conferences at 11.30 am.
He doesn’t talk that much about the print media, so I recommend becoming aware of daily and weekly newspaper deadlines as well as magazine closing dates. Reporters and opinion columnists also have different writing styles and cut-off-dates.
4. Supply a variety of content formats
Develop a complete media kit with these contents:
- Media release
- Fact sheet
- DVD with a memory stick
- High resolution photo of key players
5. Embrace social media
There’s every opportunity today for organizers to cover their own special events, says Ainsley. If a reporter or assignment editor won’t respond, organizers can try doing it themselves by building up social media contact lists to receive messages and postings. Campaigns centres also can be set up during the event to distribute live content.
Yet, the latest social media industry report from Social Media Examiner tells us that a big concern for organizers in 2014 is figuring out how to find their online target audiences—journalists and reporters, in this case. How to connect also remains high on the list of questions. More attention is required here.
6. Develop a communications policy
I like this one, a lot, and Ainsley includes a sample policy in his book. He recommends that company spokespeople be identified in advance, reveals how go-to people might conduct themselves, and explains the rules for non-spokespeople. A safe way to get started? Take them all for training.
7. Develop a social media policy
There is no escaping the increasing momentum that social media has on business every year. The same industry report from Social Media Examiner tell us that 92% of business indicates social media is important for their business, up from 86% in 2013.
Here, again, Ainsley addresses salient points that will keep organizations in front of any potential for a media crisis. His chapter 3 title says it well: “Companies need to deal with social media, or a lot of things will start crawling out.”
Ainsley gives his readers a sample policy in the book and suggests that companies explain what employees can and cannot say in social media when talking about the company.
He also recommends that someone be assigned to check to see if employees are following policies from time to time. Don’t have a policy? Don’t count on the courts to see it your way if the company is slammed.
8. Grant’s 4 steps to a great interview
Readers will gain tremendous insights by scouring The Honest Spin Doctor and adapting ideas for their place of business. Here’s just a few tips in summary from a clear, crisp read:
- Learn everything possible about the subject and the announcement
- Develop key messages
- Practice until every possible question and answer turns easily inside the head
- Executive with confidence
9. Follow-ups are crucial, but don’t stalk
I’m adding this final point on follow ups with the media using email. Top influencers may not acknowledge every mention or tweet in social media but followers must respond when they do.
When making contact via email, be clear how the email address was obtained (if it’s not readily available to everyone) and also remind the person of the social media relationship. If the influencer replies, great. If not, do not keep sending emails. Continue the outreach via social media instead.
I liked this book. If you want to navigate the media maze, you will, too.
Life-long communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine over 21 years for business people. She now applies her enhanced knowledge in digital marketing to the needs of her clients and believes in the value of combining the best of both worlds.