This article was prepared with a frank bias, the editor’s bias. In an ideal world, those seeking publicity speak freely and frankly about newsworthy situations or events, answer reporters’ questions openly and, in return, expect the news to be reported fully, fairly and felicitously.
But we don’t live in an ideal world so we often have a breakdown in communication. This can lead to finger-pointing – the I’m right, you’re wrong situation, in which no one wins.
At least in part, miscommunication problems in press coverage of the jewelry industry arise because those seeking publicity are unfamiliar with the process. They lack the groundrules that are a way of life for big corporations with full, internal public relations departments. This story attempts to spell out some of those ground rules, as seen from an editor’s point of view.
Like anyone else, an editor is more likely to think favorably of someone who helps him in his or her job rather than one who makes life difficult. Publications and their editorial staffs survive on news. We hope that in the following pages you’ll get useful guidance on what news is and how to bring it to an editor’s attention. As editors, we know that the more the newsmaker and the news reporter can speak a common language, the better it will be for both. And, of course, for the readers who want their news fresh, straight, interesting and complete.
The function of public relations
What is the function of public relations? What should it do for you?
1. It should gain favorable publicity about your company. We all like to see our names in the paper – if the mention is favorable and the facts are correct. How does this work for companies?
It’s very simple. Something newsworthy happens and the media learns about the happening, either from the company or from a third party.
News comes in many forms, from the most trivial (and least likely to be reported) to the most momentous (almost sure to be reported). Let’s look at a few quick examples of what is – and what is not – news; details will come later.
The appointment of a new company president is news – how much depending on the size and/or influence of the company; the hiring of a new office cleaning service is not.
The opening of a new 10,000-sq.-ft. plant is news, though not hot news unless it will provide many new jobs, be used to make a new and innovative product and/or use a new and innovative way to make an established product; the addition of a 200-sq.-ft. back office is not.
Introduction of a significant new product is news if you can explain why the product is so unusual; giving a new twist to the findings in a well-established ring is not.
Developing a novel compensation/ motivation program that produces results is news; saying you have one and providing no details that it works is not.
And a final example. Reporting that annual sales increased from $10 million to $20 million is news; saying they rose 100% without giving figures is worth only a marginal mention.
All the newsworthy events mentioned here have at least one or two things in common: the event was of such general significance and/or was described in enough interesting detail to make it worth reporting. The “is news/is not news” format shows how editors normally apply their “Is it important?” measure.
There’s one other key factor to add: All these events are related to a specific happening. This is the critical news peg that a good editor will always seek. The news peg is what gives a story immediacy and relevance, it’s the factor that justifies running the story now rather than two years from now.
The only variation here is that the peg may be tied to a trend as well as a happening. But, to be useful, the trend must be reaching a point of critical mass.
2. Good public relations should minimize bad news.
Unfortunately, the corporate world has its share of bad news. Ask Exxon (the Valdez still makes headlines years after its grounding) or USAir. Closer to home, ask any jewelry industry company whose Chapter XI filing has just been reported in the JBT’s weekly financial embarrassments bulletin.
The bad news event doesn’t have to be as awful as a bankruptcy filing. The firing of a top executive, a serious plant accident, a charge of cheating on gold standards or diamond weights; all of these will spur an editor to action. The event is news; a reporter will call.
There are at least three common corporate responses to bad news:
Stonewall. Say nothing. Refuse to accept or return phone calls. This may work but probably will backfire. There are very few good reporters who can’t find “a reliable industry source” to provide at least a sketchy report of what went wrong (surprisingly often, this source may be within the company).
If these facts – or rumors – can be corroborated, a version of what happened will be published. Realize that in an industry as gossipy as jewelry, finding “corroboration” is not hard.
If the printed version is substantially incorrect you can (1) sue, which means all the facts will come out in court papers, (2) issue a denial, which won’t be printed unless you give the facts or (3) finally give the facts to set the record straight. By now, however, the story based on “the reliable sources” is in circulation, competing with the real story.
You can attack. Verbally attack the person who wants to report the story, send an angry letter or fax to the publisher of the publication and/or cancel all advertising or threaten to withhold any possibility of future advertising.
If the publication lacks spine the attack approach may work. Your bad news will not be published (by that publication; someone else probably will anyway).
But the attack strategy carries risks to the attacker. Reporters and editors, like elephants, have long memories. If you get them, they’ll most likely wait for the day when they can get you.
Hassling a publisher isn’t a good idea. They have enough problems without having to stroke damaged egos – often encountered when there’s a move to kill bad news. You may benefit in the short run; in the long run, you will lose.
You can be upfront and tell what happened. This doesn’t mean you have to give all the gory details; generally a simple summary of what happened is enough to clear the air and, more importantly, get your side of the story into print quickly and accurately.
The PR target
Whom do you want your public relations to reach?
1. The trade press. A very wise former editor of JCK, Don McNeil, liked to compare a jewelry industry magazine to a city newspaper, the principal difference being that the magazine’s audience is linked by interest while the newspaper’s is linked by geography.
Just as the newspaper covers the news at all levels – international, national and local – so, he argued, does the magazine. For the magazine, “local” news means the often-less-than-earth-shattering happenings – association meetings, honors awarded, promotions, charity drives and a fair share of obituaries. Just as the newspaper covers these events for the citizens of its city, so the trade magazine covers them for the citizens of its industry
This being the case, trade magazines welcome all such news along with the more important material that shapes our lives. Remember, though, that lack of space means that not every news item will end up in print.
The chances of an item’s publication go up in direct relation to the completeness of the information provided. Trade magazines, just as much as consumer ones, live by the five W’s: what, where, when, who and why. More on those later.
2. The consumer press. The jewelry industry is only one of hundreds that the consumer press routinely covers. Few jewelry companies are of such size or so important to their communities as employers or taxpayers that they merit special consumer press attention. (Providence, R.I., is the only exception to this general observation; jewelry is a major force in Rhode Island’s economic life.)
Your best bet for consumer press exposure is to build personal contacts with an editor – news, business and/or fashion.
The best way to start is to have something worthwhile to offer. Some examples:
For the news editor. The news must be of general interest to a large number of people to qualify. You may get his or her attention if you have just started an innovative day-care program for your employees; you created a smoke-free company; you donated 2% of all the profits from your sale of heart-shaped jewelry to the local heart association; you went to court charging that your local workmen’s compensation law discriminates against small business.
The news may be straight or it may be off-beat. The critical thing, from the editor’s point of view, is that it makes enough readers sit up and say, “Hey, that’s interesting” or “Hey, that’s funny.”
For the business editor. You’re on stronger ground here since you run a business and it’s the business editor’s job to track what’s going on in the business world.
Since most jewelry firms are relatively small, the quickest way to attract the editor’s attention is to be a local expert on the workings of small business. Possible story ideas: You have a board of outside experts to advise you on critical business planning; you introduced a new work schedule that increased productivity 25% in six months; you have a good system for weeding out bad apples among job applicants; you are building export business to Europe; you provide facts and figures on changing trends in the diamond or pearl or colored stone business, etc.
A point to consider is that some business editors – and quite a few reporters who cover business – know very little about it. If you can make them more expert by providing them with interesting stories, they’ll welcome the ideas.
For the fashion editor. Most fashion editors are fascinated by jewelry. Show them some. Let them borrow some for fashion shoots. Give them background on the market area where you’re a specialist.
The key to success with the consumer press is to build trust. Become that “good news source” a reporter likes to have. Providing some good story leads should open the door. Being available to answer phone calls will keep it open.
One of the canniest publicity seekers I ever came across was a relatively obscure assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia many years ago. He let it be known to the local press that he was ready to comment on financial and economic matters in the area and he always returned calls. Then he made short quotable comments.
The paper I worked for at the time quoted him a lot. It didn’t surprise us at all when he later became president of one of the biggest banks in the region because, even before he got there, everyone was familiar with his name.
Reaching the editor
There are various ways to transmit news to a publication. These are the most common:
1. The press release. It sounds simple but it’s not. To produce a good one takes work and thought – and editing. Most press releases provide either too much or too little; here’s a quick rundown on what the editor wants.
It should be timely. It is not unusual on any one day at JCK to receive press releases inviting an editor to attend events that have already taken place. Or will take place the next day – 500 miles away. Remember, editors have to plan ahead, too. Give them fair warning if you want them to be somewhere. Remember, too, that it takes quite some time from the moment a press release arrives in the office to the time the magazine is published. For routine news, send information in six to eight weeks before publication date. Important news can be accepted up to about three to four weeks before publication.
A news release should state clearly the name of the company submitting the news release, with address, telephone number, fax or telex number if appropriate, and the name of a person to contact. Sounds basic but many firms do not give this information. If a third party, generally a PR agency, is sending the information on behalf of a client, there should be two contacts, one at the agency and one at the client company. Most editors do not like to conduct business through a third party; too much can get lost in translation.
If any artwork – product or people or whatever – is enclosed, each piece of art should be accompanied by a clear and complete caption. Art must be usable. Items torn haphazardly from catalogs are not acceptable; nor are sections of a picture snipped from a larger picture. Ideally, the art accompanying a press release should be a clear, black-and-white glossy, measuring 8×10 in., a 35mm color slide or a color transparency. But be careful about sending color. If you know a publication wants color – perhaps for a jewelry fashion story – that’s fine. But don’t send color for a routine staff appointment. If in doubt, call and ask.
Accept the fact that a busy magazine may receive 50 to 60 press releases a day. Over a monthly publication schedule, this means an inflow of around 1,000 releases. If you want to drive an editor nuts, call two weeks after you sent a release and ask: (1) Was it received? (2) When will it be used? and (3) Can you send a clipping of the story when it’s used? Rest assured, if the item is newsworthy, it will appear.
2. The telephone. As a quick rule of thumb, it’s better to write than to phone. For one thing, there’s less chance of error; for another, a known record now exists.
The telephone is best used:
To find out if the magazine is interested enough in the news you want to impart to get more information, which will be sent by mail.
To give early warning of an upcoming event that will involve scheduling an editor’s time and/or travel.
To transmit important news close to publication time.
To offer a news tip that the editors may want to follow up.
3. Personal contact. Here we’re talking about a direct contact with an editor you know through your editorial connections with the magazine.
This is a good way to sound out the publication’s interest in a particular piece of news. It’s also a good way to provide background on a story that’s developing or is likely to develop in the coming months.
A word of caution, however. At least on JCK (and I suspect on other magazines), decisions whether or not to attend any function or cover any story generally are made by the editor or managing editor. Since all news ultimately funnels through the managing editor, this is the best place to start if you want to discuss news coverage.
4. The press conference. If you’re dealing only with the jewelry industry press, the press conference is probably the single worst way to communicate news.
The reason is simple. While the assembled editors may listen to all you have to say, they are very unlikely to ask any meaningful questions when their chief competitors are sitting beside them. Thus each individual editor will try to reach you after the event to ask questions (most press conferences leave a lot left unsaid, publicly). This is a waste of your time and of theirs.
5. Social occasions. We are part of an industry that relishes social occasions of all kinds. Very often the press is invited. While these may offer an excellent and relaxed atmosphere to swap gossip, give tips on stories in progress, provide “deep throat” and/or let an editor know what you like or dislike about a publication, they are bad occasions for providing serious news.
At best, an editor probably won’t get the full story and will have to contact you again. At worst, an editor who has more wine than wisdom may have trouble recalling the details of the contact.
One of the biggest communications gaps between supplier companies and editors concerns that simple question, “What is news?”
Typically, a company sends a press release or communicates in some other way with the publication. Nothing appears in print. Understandably, the company is upset and asks why. Almost always nothing appeared because:
The editor didn’t judge the news of enough interest to enough people;
The information sent was full of holes and there wasn’t time to follow up;
There was follow up but the company didn’t choose to fill the holes;
The company had a story to tell but didn’t know how to tell it.
With these thoughts in mind, here are some tips – again from an editor’s point of view – on how to get the most mileage with your corporate happenings.
Company physical expansion. As I mentioned earlier, the first news benchmark usually is the size of the expansion. A major expansion obviously is more newsworthy than a minor one. But no matter what the size, it probably will rate only a small mention if size alone is the news.
The news value goes up as the following elements are added:
The addition will allow you to increase sales from $10 million to $20 million a year (be as specific as possible).
The addition will allow you to launch a totally new colored stone jewelry line to go along with your existing karat gold line.
You will create 200 new jobs.
You will close other facilities and consolidate all operations in the new expanded plant.
You will install new state-of-the-art machinery which will allow you to increase productivity from 1,000 to 1,400 units (of whatever) a day.
The more points you can add, the better the story. You also offer different editorial angles: one magazine may choose to lead with the new jewelry line, another with your increased productivity. The key with this news as with any other is to be as specific as possible.
Mergers and acquisitions. Always a good news item. Does your press release give the following:
The name and address and product lines of the acquirer and the acquired.
The reasons for the acquisition.
What changes are likely to follow completion of the deal (please don’t say nothing will change; things always change after an acquisition).
What’s going to happen to the key executives in both firms.
Whether the newly-merged companies will embark on any new ventures.
A brief recap of any other mergers or acquisitions by the acquirer over the past two to three years.
New products. Since the jewelry industry’s new products vary in style much more than in technological advance, few new product releases need to offer more than the following (but they should include it all):
A clear, concise description of the product. If stones are used, the sizes (and ideally qualities) should be given. If gold, what is the karatage. If pearls, the sizes…and so on. Good craftsmanship should be a given, but if there is something really special to say about the construction of the item, mention it.
The retail price or at least a suggested retail price range (if for a single item of differing sizes and/or qualities or for a line).
A press contact in case an editor wants more information.
A contact for the jeweler who wants more information or wants to discuss an order.
A good picture (see earlier comment on art that is acceptable).
Advertising and promotion news. Generally this is news because retailers want to know what their suppliers can or will do for them. In the best-news category is the story which says you will spend $X over the next Y months promoting Z product. The news will include the media where the ads will run, details of any retailer tie-ins, facts on available stuffers, co-op ad opportunities available and so on. As always, the more detail the better.
The report that a new ad campaign is being launched will merit mention. But what’s likely to turn an editor on is the story behind the campaign. Make the agency’s people available to discuss its side of the story. Details of how the agency went about its job, how it worked to meet the client’s needs, some frank facts on false starts as well as the final success – all this can quickly add up to a full feature rather than a few lines.
Did the ads work? Ask your customers what they felt about them and, assuming their reaction is favorable, pass on this message to the press.
The same is true of special promotions. Story #1 is how you put the promotion together; story #2 reports on how well it worked.
Consider the editorial mileage De Beers and Ayer garner each year by revealing the what, when and how of their various advertising and promotion programs. These are not reported solely because big dollars are involved (though that does add to the news value). They make good copy because they are newsworthy to many people in the industry.
A couple of cautions: Stories about advertising can be greatly enhanced by sharp four-color reproductions of the ads. Be sure you have some available.
Caution #2: If there’s one incoming piece of mail an editor fears most, it’s that grinning picture of some company honcho handing over yet another award, company product or other momento to some major or minor celebrity. They do get used; they should get buried. Let’s face it, who in the world wants to look at such a picture other than the company honcho and his PR person?
People news. Personnel announcements are pretty obvious. What’s needed? A concise, complete biography and a clear usable, black-and-white picture.
But so often when someone moves into a new job there’s no mention of the person replaced. This may be politic from the company’s point of view, especially if the incumbent was fired. But a good reporter will want to know the details if we’re talking about a top person – president, chairman or someone near that level.
But people news is much more encompassing than news about new jobs. There are many times in a company’s life when important internal changes occur – a change in marketing strategy, a decision to break into the export market, a new look at productivity, a total revamping of securityellipsethe list can go on and on.
If a chief executive is willing to discuss such issues in a frank one-on-one interview with an editor, two things happen: the company and its philosophy get maximum industry exposure and the magazine gets a very good story.
The key word is “frank.” No editor wants to go to an interview which is little more than a puff-up-the-company session. If you’re interested in this approach, it’s best to set the ground rules with the magazine before the interview is scheduled.
Financial developments. This is an area reserved almost exclusively for the publicly-held jewelry supplier firms. Surprisingly, not all of them make as much as they might of the opportunities offered by the publication of quarterly reports.
But the door isn’t closed to privately-held companies. Examples: Accounts receivable certainly relate to money; if you’re doing a very good job at getting customers to pay their bills, chances are you have a story to tell that will be really well read.
What about a change in your commission system? That’s another financial development that could lead to another well-read story.
Now you may say that these are internal and personal matters that you have no thought of discussing with an editor. But don’t be too closed minded. Take the commission issue. If you feel proud of what you’re doing and if the plan is working well, going public with the facts might well attract some talented new help.
Anniversaries. These tend to be deadly and of little wide interest, therefore of little news interest. Unless you find a twist.
First off, skip sending out notices about the 5th, 10th or even 20th unless something revolutionary has been achieved.
Such revolutions can happen. There are businesses that started on a shoe-string and five years later are doing $20 million a year. That’s news (provided the CEO will talk about how he got to that level) and the anniversary provides a nice news peg.
Once a company reaches its 50th year the anniversary becomes an acceptable news item. It’s up to the company to dictate whether the event will be dispatched in a single sentence or will merit a good-sized story. Among the elements that prompt a decent story:
The unearthing of some interesting (really interesting) early company records that give a quick snapshot of business as it was 50 or 100 years ago.
The unveiling of ambitious and specific plans for the next 50 years.
A statesman-like review by the CEO on the state of the industry, with particulars to the area of his firm’s specialty, all tied into the anniversary.
Again, the list can be as long as a fertile imagination can make it. As a quick guide, think of things you might like to know about a major player in the industry, which might be revealed in an anniversary review. Then consider if you’d be willing to talk about your own company in this way.
Also think of boring anniversaries you’ve known and decide what to skip in celebrating your own.
Press needs, desires, limitations
Some of the points to be made here already have been mentioned. But they’re important enough to repeat and have a section of their own.
Lead times. These are critical, particularly at those times of year when the jewelry magazines are at their biggest – January-February and June through August, all related to show time.
Lead times will vary from two months before publication date to a few weeks, depending on the subject matter. The longest lead time is needed for news that the publication has to follow up or news for sections of the magazine which close early. Obviously a magazine with editorial material on 200 or more pages cannot put all those pages together at the same time. In normal scheduling, some sections will close early, some in middle time and some late.
Whomever’s in charge of publicity for your firm should know what closes early. An easy rule of thumb is that sections on new products, routine personnel announcements, association activities and the like tend to close early.
Lead times also relate to news embargoes. Say, for example, you want to announce a major happening on Nov. 20 and want the news to appear in a magazine published on the 28th but which closed for printing on the 15th. What do you do? Simple, give all the details to the publication well in advance of the 20th but embargo any public release or discussion of the news until the 20th.
This procedure allows you to get timely industry publicity without jeopardizing any special public event you were planning for the 20th.
Artwork. The old computer operator’s axiom works here: Garbage in, garbage out. If you want a magazine to use a publicity shot, no matter of what, make sure you send a good, clear picture.
Also, use imagination in thinking about art. Try to avoid those deadly group shots. Or a portrait of your company president resembling a stuffed penguin.
Magazines love good art and as far as possible will use staff photographers or freelancers to give them the best. But they still have to rely on contributed art.
One quick way to the heart of a magazine art director: Have a few good candid shots taken of your chief executive and send them to the publication. You may be surprised at how often they show up in print.
Don’t expect to get your photographs back unless you specifically request that they be returned. And don’t expect them back right away. First, it may be several weeks before the section in which your photo appears is prepared; second, publications usually want to hold onto artwork until the issue is printed
Full information. It might be better here to say “appropriate full information.” No editor (or anyone else except the guy’s mother) wants to read a four-page bio on a new midwest salesman.
But editors hate to find holes in submitted information. The most common, perhaps, is a new product announcement with no mention of price. People often do not buy an item because of price, but price is an essential ingredient in the final decision.
It’s really a question of checking for the classic five W’s before you send out information. Does what you send give the what, why, where, who and when? If not, something’s missing.
Follow-up contact. Each time you send information to the press you should be sure to provide a name (preferably with title) and phone number of a person to be contacted if there is need for more information.
Be sure the person named is qualified to fulfill the role of news source.
Understand that if the material comes from an agency (PR or advertising), the editor may prefer to call the company direct, so it’s a good idea to give a company source as well as an agency one. As I said earlier, working through a third party is not ideal. It also causes delays, which may be a problem if the magazine is close to deadline.
The flood of mail. Again a repeat of an earlier thought: understand that a typical editorial office receives mail by the truckload. This means that calls to ask “Did you receive my release?” (most often from agencies) probably will be greeted with low enthusiasm.
Also bear in mind that the U.S. mail ain’t what it used to be – so a letter mailed in New York may take up to a week to deliver in California, or even Pennsylvania.
To get more speed and attention some firms send overnight mailgrams. This is a good idea and generally very effective. Instinct tells us to open a mailgram quickly, no two ways about it.
Then, we have FAX. Which is both a blessing and a curse.
When the fax is used to transmit a trivial piece of information all that happens is a machine gets tied up needlessly and the receiver pays the cost of the paper.
It’s particularly distressing to receive a fax with a non-urgent question to which a reply is expected within hours if not minutes. Somehow fax seems to induce this need for instant gratification.
But the fax has great advantages, too. It is ideal if you want to get important, late-breaking news into an editor’s hands.
Whom to contact, what to expect
Central control: The other day, as I was looking through our editorial “in” basket, I noticed that six different editors (one of whom has been dead for eight years; it’s good to update your mailing list every so often) had received the same press release from the same company.
This is not as uncommon as you might expect. A number of organizations will mail to every editor on the masthead.
But it does create a horrible problem unless you introduce some controls. Ours is to route all editorial material through the managing editor – and I expect other magazines have some similar plan. This system allows the managing editor to throw away all duplicate releases, thereby guaranteeing that some item does not get written twice, a clear waste of time.
The same system works for invitations. A company may well issue an invitation – to a meeting, press conference, show, whatever – to an individual editor who regularly has dealings with that company. But the invitations all will end up on the managing editor’s desk (or news of the invitation will be phoned in from a branch office) once again to avoid duplication. It is common for two or three editors to be invited to the same event.
Thus, if you want to achieve the best results either with a press release or an invitation, send it to the managing editor. If you want to carbon another editor, as a courtesy, that’s fine, of course.
If you are unfamiliar with any of the editors on a particular magazine but feel comfortable with one of the salesmen, feel free to ask the salesman to pass on information. But be alert that the salesperson in this instance is a messenger, not an editorial decision-maker.
Who will show up? This can be an area of unnecessary conflict. A number of companies assume that if they invite an editor from an industry magazine to attend some company affair, then the principal editor will show up. The principal editor, however, is more likely to send the staff editor who specializes in the business area of the company involved.
The company often sees this as a problem. It really shouldn’t. It makes much more sense to send the expert to cover his or her own area of expertise. The specialist probably will be better informed than the principal editor who no longer has the luxury of time to become expert in a lot of different areas.
If the invitation is largely a courtesy affair which involves more socializing than hard work…feel free to ask the principal editor!
Who does your pr?
Because the jewelry industry is small, populated for the most part with small companies, there aren’t many full-time, professional public relations people in the business. As a result, contacts with the press tend to be a catch-as-catch-can affair, with no one person responsible for such contacts. Here are a few thoughts on the subject.
The company chief executive. If there’s news the boss calls one or more magazines and if an editor has a question he or she calls the boss.
In many ways, this is the ideal contact. The top person at the company knows what message the company wants to convey to the industry, knows exactly what can or cannot be said, and can make decisions without consultation with others. The editor who wants more information can plead his or her case directly to the chief executive.
Problems arise when the boss is unavailable, however. In a small company, very often no one else is willing to speak up. Solution: Any boss who likes to be the principal press contact – either giving or receiving – should be sure to have an alternate who can step in as needed. This person should have the authority to speak on behalf of the company.
The advertising manager. Press information often originates in the ad department and press questions often end up there, too.
This can be a satisfactory arrangement if the ad manager acts solely as a neutral information source. But if the ad manager, in dealing with an editor, either says or indicates that the placement of advertising should influence the use of editorial material, then we’ve got problems (more on this in the next chapter).
The solution that offers the least potential for conflict is not to use the ad manager as an editorial contact.
The public relations professional. Few jewelry (or watch) industry firms are large enough to have a PR pro on the staff. Those that do almost surely find this a good staff investment.
A good PR pro will learn about the magazines in the field, build contacts on the editorial staff and be well versed in the do’s and don’t’s of communication. This person also will know when to field press questions personally and when to pass them through to a senior company officer.
Your PR pro will know how to prepare a good press release and when and where to send it for best effect.
Or course, there’s a flip side to this happy picture. A good PR person can do wonders; a bad one can so alienate the press that the only news you’ll ever see printed about your firm is news you wished you’d never read.
The best way to separate the sheep from the goats – other than by judging results – is to ask a few editors you trust for their candid views.
The outside agency. The situation here is much as it is with a full-time in-house public relations person. The benefit of going outside is that it probably will cost less; the disadvantage is that many editors see the outside agency as too removed from direct contact with the company. As a result, they’re more likely to bypass the agency and go direct to the company for information. If you think of an outside agency as protection from the press, you may not get as much as you want or expect.
This is a delicate issue but it exists and might as well be met head on.
In the press world we call it the separation of church and state – or, in industry terms, the separation of editorial and advertising. In a long career in journalism, I’ve come across very few absolutes where the wall between the two is so impenetrable that it separates two truly separate worlds. In most publications – be they newspapers or magazines, large or small – business realities have an impact. Think for a moment how many times you’ve seen your local paper zero in on phony department store advertising, marginally moral real estate developers or car dealers who sell as many lemons as cars.
I can’t spell out general standards here. I don’t know other publications’ policies. All I can do is tell you the policy at JCK.
*We obviously welcome advertising support in the magazine. While subscription income is enough to cover editorial expenses, clearly our well being as a magazine depends on our volume of advertising. However, we work on the editorial assumption that advertisers choose to place their messages in JCK because they want to reach our retail subscribers, not because they think we’re nice people.
We will not publish a non-news story merely because the source of the story is an advertiser. This has, from time to time, cost us some advertising revenue. It has also helped us keep the respect of our retailer readers.
We will not hold off publication of a story which we feel is fair, accurate and of interest to our retail readers – no matter how strongly an advertiser may protest. Again, this policy has cost us advertising dollars but won us reader respect.
If an advertiser – or non-advertiser – really feels he has a story to tell but has difficulty finding the news peg or the focus, we’ll make a genuine effort to see if there is a story to tell and, if so, to help the company tell it. On balance, we’re more likely to help an advertiser.
If we have two releases describing very similar new products – one from an advertiser – and space for only one, we will favor the advertiser. If the product from the non-advertiser is significantly more interesting than that from the advertiser, we will use the non-advertiser’s item.
The same holds true for news stories of similar interest – for example, two plant openings. If there’s space for only one, the advertiser goes in.
This is a simple enough editorial philosophy and it seems to work well, with a few rough spots from time to time. The central idea is to publish a magazine the retail reader feels he or she can trust – and thereby deliver a very receptive audience to our advertisers.
Dealing with the persistent reporter
This will be a very short chapter, but it belongs. To my dismay, every once in a while some company will call and say it wants such-and-such reporter taken off its account. No kidding. This is not the way editorial works. When things are working well, a reporter is assigned to a story because he or she is knowledgeable about the topic to be covered. And just as you’d expect a good salesperson to press on to close the sale, so a good reporter will press on to get all the facts needed to write a good story.
Now if a person does not want to be sold, he can tell that persistent salesman, “Go away. I don’t want to buy your product.” In which case, the salesperson really has come to a temporary dead-end. Certainly, he or she can try again with different tactics or, if personal visits and telephone calls are unwelcome, can write a letter.
The reporter has more options. The reporter rebuffed by the primary source can turn to secondary ones. Following this route generally will produce enough information to get at least a sketchy story about the prime source – namely, your company. Then the reporter will go back and say, “I know this much now. Why not tell me the rest?”
It’s at this point that the principal editor often gets a call saying, in effect, “Get this person off my back!”
In a few rare instances I’ve felt an editor was over-zealous and suggested that he or she cool it a little. More often, though, it’s a case of a reporter just doing a good job – and I’ve said, “Keep at it.”
The moral of the story: The simplest thing for a company to do is answer questions or make it clear early on that it won’t. But don’t expect the persistent reporter to walk away from a good story. It’s his or her job to hang in there until the reporting’s done.
On or off the record: If you grant an interview, assume from the beginning that anything you say is on the record. Don’t be surprised to see your comments in print.
Remember, too, that if you’re going to set ground rules you must do so in advance. It’s no good telling an editor a lot of inside stuff about your company and then saying, “Of course, that’s off the record.” It’s not, unless specified before you said it.
What are some of the ways to meet your needs and the interviewer’s on this issue?
Chances are no editor will want to do an interview that’s totally off the record unless you’re providing important background information which can be used without identifying the source.
True background briefings are common and welcomed by most editors. But they still prefer to identify sources to give credibility to the information they put in their articles. Thus, in an interview, you’ll probably be pressed to speak for the record.
One compromise is to discuss a topic off the record to give the editor needed information to write an accurate story, then to work together to see how much can be attributed to you in the story that eventually appears.
Because some interviews involve both on- and off-the-record material, you may feel tempted to ask that the reporter/editor let you see a copy of the article before it goes into print. Don’t. No publication of any stature will ever allow this for a number of reasons. The principal one is that a source, who may speak frankly in an interview, may want to back off when seeing a rough of what he or she said. (That’s why the Congressional Record is a farce; legislators can edit comments they made on the floor before the Record goes to print so what finally appears is a sanitized, doctored-up version of what they said.)
The only loophole may be an agreement that the editor will read back any direct quotes before publication.
Being prepared: As in almost any other endeavor, the best way to be sure an interview goes well is to be prepared for it.
This isn’t always possible. If a reporter calls out of the blue for comment on such-and-such a situation, obviously you’ve no time to be prepared. Rather than refuse to talk or to give a quick off-the-cuff reply, you may prefer to think about what you really want to say and call the editor back. Of course, if you feel you have something to say and know what it is, fine, go ahead.
If an interview has been scheduled in advance, however, you have time to prepare – assuming you know what’s going to be discussed. It’s a good idea to set the framework of the interview in advance, partly so you can do homework and partly so you (probably) won’t face any big surprises.
The homework is important. It’s a waste of your time and the editor’s if you can’t answer questions because you don’t have the answers readily available.
Not only be prepared, but be prepared to provide information with substance. If you know you won’t or can’t, skip the interview. Again, you’re only wasting everyone’s time. Further, if there’s no substance to your comments, the story will probably be measured in inches, not columns or pages.
Personal publicity for the president
Pity the chief executive who yearns for publicity but whose businesses activities are so secret – or so dull – that no one will write about them.
All need not be lost. The jewelry industry, more than most, is a hotbed of social activity, association involvement and charitable endeavor. All three open the door to publicity opportunities. On the downside, working for associations or raising money for charities involves a fair amount of work.
The company executive who wants publicity can personally, or through a willing third party, enlist the help of the industry press to promote any or all of these goods works. As a natural adjunct, the executive will find his or her name and picture showing up with great regularity.
Since so many photographs associated with these endeavors tend to be deadly dull, there’s opportunity to win great press goodwill by supervising the taking of imaginative pictures.
One quick way to get an editor’s attention is to say, “Exclusive!” What we’re talking about here is the exclusive first rights to an important story or picture, the other key word being “important.”
When can this arise?
A couple of examples: You have just acquired the largest known blue diamond and plan to mount it in a spectacular piece of jewelry. You offer an exclusive shot of the stone and a sketch of the proposed piece of jewelry to one magazine (obviously JCK).
You have created a dramatic new line of platinum jewelry, having to date only worked in gold. Again you offer exclusive pictures and a related story.
Or you’ve made a technological breakthrough in casting. Or adopted a great new system for screening out dishonest job applicants.
Any or all of these can become exclusives, and generally they’ll produce a double bonus for your company. First, the magazine getting the exclusive coverage is likely to give the topic and/or pictures much more play than it normally would. Second, if the idea or event is truly important, most the other magazines will tag along in the following month or two.
Any catches? Just one. The magazines that did not get the exclusive may be a little upset.
How to run a junket
It seems that quite a few companies believe that the press likes being wined and dined – without any thought of making the event newsworthy.
By and large it does not.
Editors and reporters lead busy professional lives, just like those jewelry industry executives and others whose lives and businesses they report on. And editors and reporters like time off, too. The idea of giving up some of that free time merely to schmooze isn’t always appealing.
So if you plan a junket, try to make it very enjoyable, very creative, very educational or, best yet, during normal business hours.
Since this is an unabashedly biased article, I’d say the best plan is to skip junkets altogether. They may engender some goodwill; they usually do so only marginally. In the editor’s mind there always has to lurk that suspicion that for hospitality given (often lavishly) there comes a day when someone will try to cash in those corporate IOUs.
Footnote to those who do run junkets: Be sure to skip expensive gifts (it shouldn’t be necessary to say this, but too often they are offered).
There are three times to get publicity related to your show participation – before, during and after the show. Let’s take a look at what can be achieved.
Before the show: Your major effort here should be directed to getting product publicity in the various magazines well in advance of the show in question. The critical thing to remember is timing.
Show specials often go to press quite literally two months before the show is held. This means publicity has to be sent to the magazine maybe three to three and a half months before the show opens. You will get requests and reminders from the magazines; be sure to respond.
Probably the best move you can make is to put one person totally in charge of all show publicity for your firm. Then have that person contact the magazines, get all needed information and do all the necessary follow up.
A busy show editor may well call your company for information; having the name of the right person to call can make a world of difference.
Finally, when you get a request for product information, read it carefully so that you can send the correct material. JCK, for example, will run no product pictures and descriptions in its product guides unless you include a price, either wholesale or suggested retail.
During the show: This is a good time to schedule interviews with reporters and editors, provided you are sure you can find a slice of completely uninterrupted time for your talk. It’s also a good time to see as many as possible of the editors who are attending, just to touch base and swap information.
Better yet, this is the time to alert the editor in question to things happening at your company. Then you can arrange to follow up the conversation once the show is over.
You and your booth probably will be visited by quite a few editors over the course of the show. Their prime job is (a) to identify new merchandise which they can describe to their readers and (b) to find out how well the show is going for exhibitors. You’ll greatly enhance your chances of being mentioned in follow-up show stories if you and your staff can take a few minutes to answer questions. Be as precise as possible (We signed up 50 new customers. Show business is up 5% from last year. Etc.)
If you have a truly new and notable product and can provide a visiting editor with a good black-and-white or color picture of it, your chances of getting immediate show coverage go up sharply.
After the show: If you missed speaking to one of the magazines you wanted to reach, give a quick call right after the show. Again, however, be prepared to discuss specific show activity (up, down, traffic, new accounts, etc.).
If one or more products really sold well, have a picture taken if one doesn’t already exist and send it to the press with the notation that this was a show-stopper.
If any important retailer did a lot of business with you at the show, ask the store owner if you can talk about this to the press. If yes, do so. You may well find an editor who will call the retailer to ask about the order and about the retailer’s business in general.
This is not a definitive work on public relations for the jewelry manufacturer; it isn’t meant to be. It just is an offerer of ideas which we hope may be of help.
We’ve tried to make it snappy and easy to read. We hope you find it worthwhile and will take the time to pass it along to all of those in your organization whose job it is to seek publicity.