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The dos & don’ts of media relations: whether you have no contact with the media or your image needs refreshing, the following tips can help.
Author: Gibbs, Shea
Date: Oct 1, 2010
Publication: Modern Casting
AB&I Foundry, Oakland, Calif., thought it had a good relationship with its neighbors after more than 100 years in business. It was wrong.
Last spring, the company decided to investigate what local residents thought of it after discovering it was on the radar of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), an organization that rallies communities and files lawsuits against companies and/or individuals it believes are doing environmental harm.
AB&I's executives attended a community meeting soon after discovering CBE was on its tail. The results were not encouraging, according to Dave Robinson, the gray iron caster's engineering manager. At the meeting, residents said, they perceived AB&I as a dangerous industrial company that causes health hazards to the surrounding area. They said the company's only goal was making profits and that it had no concern for neighboring citizens. They said they perceived AB&I as an outsider.
"We always thought we were pan of the community, but we had never really ventured in," Robinson said. "Until you [do that], you're just on the sideline."
While AB&I operates in one of the most environmentally litigious states in the country, it was able to escape a CBE lawsuit by redoubling its efforts to reach out to its surrounding community. To make sure your image stays clean, observe the following dos and don'ts, and up your media savvy.
Ignore Your Local Media
According to Bill Libby, president of Libby Communications, Muskegon, Mich., a marketing and communications firm specializing in the metalworking industry, there are two types of PR outreach. The most important of these is through avenues that are focused on making sales--email blasts and direct mail to customer lists, website publication, trade magazine advertising, etc. But the second type of outreach--the type that develops your general image--shouldn't be ignored.
"It really is important to have good media relations with the local paper, because that is the place you will hear from when there is a problem," Libby said. "You don't want to be meeting the media for the first time when that happens. These are not the people that lead you to customers, but they protect your home turf, so to speak."
Sometimes, the message you send to these two distinct audiences is different, according to Erin Millerschin, president of PR firm The Millerschin Group. The local angle might not mean much on an industry-wide scale, for example. But Libby said that stories also can sometimes be delivered to both audiences with only slight repackaging.
According to Mike Kelly of marketing communications and advertising agency Group eX, Royal Oak, Mich., the need to communicate properly with the local media is compounded by the fact that the metalcasting industry is by nature one that reaches quickly and deeply into communities.
"It is a very fragmented industry with many small- to medium-sized plants, which are typically located in small towns where information--good and bad--travels quickly," he said.
Kelly said other ways to become involved in the community and improve your image include:
- accepting appointments to industry and civic boards
- leading fundraising efforts for charities or causes
- hosting charity and industry functions on behalf of the company
- giving speeches at industry events and meetings
- championing an industry or issue
- attending charitable, civic and industry functions
Recognize Your Great Stories
Before you can reach out to news outlets to publicize your story, you've got to recognize what's going on in your company that is newsworthy. "I think there is a widespread feeling that if you make some noise--any noise--it will be a good thing for you," Libby said. "But if the company doesn't understand how to communicate and give [the media] information that really rocks them and gives them reason to react, then they are sending out puff pieces."
The first step in discovering what kind of information your target customers want to receive via the media is to ask them, according to Millerschin.
"Do the research, talk to your customers or conduct a survey," she said, "Do something that solidifies what the company already thinks its brand is."
According to a number of PR professionals, internal events that might be worth publicizing include:
- facility expansions
- equipment upgrades
- new hires or promotions
- environmental initiatives
- new customers
- employee human interest stories
- innovative customer problem solving
- unique collaboration along the supply chain
- quality, cost or lead time improvements
- lean manufacturing initiatives
- process improvements
If you're having trouble coming up with newsworthy topics, try thinking like your customer, suggested Barb Castilano, a representative of marketing consulting firm Marketing Options LLC, Dayton, Ohio.
"Customers want to see how your capacity and equipment is going to make their castings better, quicker and less costly," she said.
Once you know what the public might want to hear about, ensure you have in place the systems necessary to gather the information you want to deliver. The pressures of everyday production can make it difficult to react to news when it arises, so you must be prepared. Libby suggested your quality control department, for example, probably already has the capability to gather and report on improvements in your operations.
"The burden falls on the company to find things to communicate, document them, track them over time and have a historical record that is factually quantified," Libby said. "Those things go out and speak for themselves."
Let Lean Manufacturing Get in Your Way
The modern metalcasting facility is all about trimming waste, so many in the industry can't find the time to tell their stories to the media. The solution to fixing image problems can therefore be as simple as finding some time to work on it, according to Castilano.
"Everyone is running so lean and mean, they don't think about [PR], but every editor is looking for a great solution-providing example," she said. "[Metalcasters] are so busy with customers or buying equipment, they lose focus on the stories they have that would have legs."
According to Libby, this is a problem that should be addressed from the top level. Metalcasting facilities must have executives that have some awareness of media relations as a beneficial managerial tool in the first place, he said.
"An awful lot of PR is ineffective because the skill to manage it hasn't been honed as a managerial asset that gets rewarded or penalized," he said. "Having good PR skills on tap internally can be expensive, and [some] can't afford it."
Norwin Merens, managing director of NM Marketing Communications, Glenview, Ill., suggested streamlining the process of communicating so it takes less time away from production.
"Develop a template," he said. "For example, create guidelines for company announcements or environmental or green initiatives. Put yourself in a situation where you have tools, so you don't say, 'gee whiz, how do we write this release?'"
Educate the Media About Metalcasting
Just as tools such as templates can be useful for you when communicating your PR message, the media could use some tools to help them communicate with you. Namely, they need knowledge. "It's incumbent on any operation large or small to provide [local news outlets] with insight into their operations and familiarize these media types as best they can with the metalcasting process," Merens said. "You have to work with them because they are under the gun, and their knowledge isn't full."
This education process can involve presenting the media with a primer--a short written memo detailing the industry and how it operates--or inviting reporters into your plant for a tour, showing them what you do, what you produce, and how you impact the local economy. Or go a step further and open your doors to elementary schools on field trips or for an open house available to the entire community, Merens suggested.
Not only can these steps help journalists to report accurately on your operations and happenings, but it also can create some goodwill that will keep them from digging quite as deep when (if) something negative happens at your plant.
Try to Hide Negative Events
Littler Diecast, Albany, Ind., recently was reported by the local press to have magnesium and chemicals in its finishing room that led to a fire when the facility was stuck by lightning.
The problem was the building contained no such chemicals.
But according to company President John Littler, the local media never thought to substantiate the claim that the building did contain those materials. So when Littler awoke the morning after the fire to find his company on the front page of the local daily, he contacted the paper and told them about the discrepancy. The paper responded by printing a clarification in a subsequent issue and returning to the scene of the fire to do a video follow-up that delivered the corrected story.
"They did follow up with a small piece that didn't have the impact that being above the fold had, but there was an attempt to add some accuracy as a result of the outreach," Littler said.
Today, Littler and his colleagues are working to be more proactive with their image in the media. The company has turned the potentially damaging fire into a positive way to bring its company into the public consciousness.
"The time to start worrying about an accident is not when it occurs," Libby said. "Accidents happen in the best of companies. The way to deal with that is to have a strong EHS program in place. Somebody needs to care about this stuff and communicate that to someone."
According to Kelly, being proactive also can involve creating a crisis-communication plan. Once you have laid the groundwork, the only way to deal with an accident is by being straightforward, he said.
"When bad things happen (e.g. accidents, business downturns, layoffs), keep in front of rumors with as much information as frequently as possible, given the circumstances," he said. "Be honest, present all the facts known at any given time, and absolutely do not jump into a bomb shelter and wait for it to 'blow over.'"
Millerschin said metalcasters should try to make potential PR pitfalls work for them.
"In the past few years, some of the [casting] business moving offshore and the bankruptcies have hurt [the industry]," she said. "From the customer's standpoint, those things can be a little bit unnerving, so the challenge is how to turn those things into opportunities."
Finally, Merens suggested you remember to respond quickly to reporters. The internet news cycle has put everyone on a tighter deadline, and you do not want to allow them an excuse to print something that has not been verified.
Find the Right Person to Address Issues
When your company is dealing with a news outlet--be it forced due to an event or something you have initiated--you must ensure the message is clear and consistent. The best way to do this is to designate one employee to be the point person on all communication surrounding the event, according to Merens.
"Someone's secretary, for example, might not have the full perspective and shouldn't be providing all the information," he said. "There ought to be one source with one message because if it gets too tangled up on the inside, you'll find more problems stemming from the event and contradictory statements."
However, Millerschin says all issues won't be best handled by the same person. Each member of your staff has different areas of expertise, and delivering the right person on the right issue can be the difference between accuracy and inaccuracy.
"You have to know who it is you're talking to and make sure you have the right people in place," Millerschin said.
Use New Media Carelessly
Most metalcasters have been using traditional media--direct mail, tradeshows, print advertising--for many years and are comfortable using them. But with the influx of new (online) media, the decision about which channels through which to deliver your message and what format to use only becomes more difficult.
According to Libby, if you're going to jump into social networking, for example, look before you leap.
"I think the temptation is to see that social media is such a great phenomenon, but it is different," he said. "If you appear to be promoting, that is a turnoff. If you can look cool and fun and be valuable for reasons that are beyond business, that becomes interesting and viable. That involves sophisticated knowledge of techniques of storytelling and generating a feeling of goodwill toward your company. I wouldn't jump into that without a lot of forethought."
Deliver Your Message Consistently
Most media professionals agree: a sporadic and inconsistent approach to putting your message out will not work. Only through repeated exposure can you make people open their eyes and ears to your company.
"You simply can't talk to your customers and prospects enough," Castilano said. "Tell your stories, follow them up with an integrated marketing program, and watch the powerful results."
According to Kelly, writing and distributing news releases and having executives available to talk to reporters are only the basics of media relations. To really develop an effective PR program, you have to be willing to fully immerse yourself in the newsgathering process, for good or ill.
"Executives who know and appreciate the power of the press understand that the media makes mistakes, sometimes takes positions a company may not care for, or occasionally misquotes an executive," Kelly said. "By rolling with these punches and by always being upfront and truthful, the media sometimes may cut a company or an executive some slack when a story can be played two different ways."
While Libby said there are as many different ways to communicate your story to the public as there are metalcasters, repetition is the key. You might make 49 impressions on a prospective customer with no result, but "it is a disciplined person that makes those first 49 impressions and is then positioned to reap the benefits after the 50th," he said.
For More Information
Visit www.afsinc.org/content/view/236/230/ for more information on how to deal with the media, including a sample press release.
RELATED ARTICLE: Oh, the Places You'll Go
MODERN CASTING asked several media professionals associated with the metalcasting industry about the best channels for delivering PR messages. Here are a few of their answers:
"Tell your story for publication in print or online, discuss this story in your next customer e-newsletter, place the production solution in your sales presentation, have re-prints made for direct marketing, and add it to your website for everyone to see. For regional and national metalcasters, keeping the story alive through regional and/or national online and print advertising opportunities ranging from national press to regional newsletters also makes sense. Another important benefit from this program is enhanced search engine ranking from having the story link back to your site. Also, make changes to your website."--Barb Castilano, Marketing Options LLC, Dayton, Ohio
"Being active in trade associations is a way for executives to get visibility and represent their company in an arena of excellence. Making sure press releases are issued when newsworthy events happen, in the industry and on the internet, through links, are all part of becoming a visible, viable company in the digital age. Think about where you are out there on the internet. Are there a lot of negative things out there? Working within the industry establishes your street cred, but then reaching out to make sure you become visible in appropriate places is the next step."--Bill Libby, Libby Communications, Muskegon, Mich
"A few recommended tactics are:
- product, technology and issues messaging
- white papers
- frequently updating your press kit/issue news releases
- building an image library
- setting up one-on-one media tours
- hosting a group briefing for media as part of industry conferences and conventions
- conducting editorial board meetings
- using the internet and social media
- setting up print and broadcast interviews for your CEO and senior staff."
"Media relations is a key PR element because of the third party credibility and the high readership. We go to the casting industry trade press, but we also get into the trades and the e-media in our clients' end-use industries. We also go to the business media."--Erin Millerschin, the Millerschin Group
"Our local paper made an attempt to add some accuracy to their story as a result of our outreach."--John Littler, Littler Diecast
Shea Gibbs, Senior Editor