The art of subtlety and hidden agendas (and managing your AEC corporate communications)

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us media conference
me at victoria falls
That’s me at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, on a 2012 visit. I learned much about how the media and publicity works as a young adult living through the conclusion of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe civil war as a working journalist in 1978-80.

In recent postings, I’ve alluded to stories about behind-the-scenes media management by professional advocacy organizations. What you see is often not the same as the real story behind the scenes. An article or news video clip (sincerely written) speaking up for a point-of-view for one political or social cause or another from a seemingly unconventional (and therefore credible) source, may in fact have been managed by — if you knew it — the more obvious protagonists or antagonists to a particular cause or situation.

I’ve seen this stuff through my life as a working journalist, publicist, community volunteer and (now in my full time job), publisher. In my latter role, of course, I observe the communications/media organization from the business person’s perspective. In that role, the paradoxes of our industry remind me that fairness may be in the eyes of the beholder. After all, we sell communications services (advertising) but the highest and best results occur when we provide editorial recognition, which works best when it is totally free and unencumbered  by advertising.

The middle-ground trade-off, for me, have been some policies and rules to limit access to our publications from self-serving organizations and public relations specialists, while helping our advertisers use the editorial resources effectively, yet without compromising their value to readers.

But the system doesn’t quite work fairly, or in balance, in part because of perceptions, missed opportunities and blunders.

Perceptions

Non-expert (in media and public relations) individuals have certain expectations about what belongs in the news section — including boring grip-and-grin golden shovel groundbreaking photos, or puffy, extremely positive and cliché ridden articles where trademark references must have the little R in a round circle. This stuff either reads like a paid advertisement, or frankly is so boring that no one other than the people directly involved would care about it.

Missed opportunities

The other side to this story: There are plenty of opportunities for individuals and organizations to be genuine experts on worthy topics of which they are true experts. They should be able speak their minds with effectiveness and comprehensiveness, and not worry about what they say. However, many talented people within this industry either are afraid to speak their mind or don’t know how to connect with the media effectively.

Blunders

Sometimes you can indeed put your foot in your mouth. If you treat regular journalists like media relations people or advertising representatives, you risk your words being pulled out of context and you’ll experience shocking, negative backlash. Words spoken in the spur of the moment can haunt you for the rest of your life.

I wish I could give some specific examples here but the problem is that I would either need to violate confidences or rub salt into wounds (or, more succinctly, break my policies of negatively identifying individuals or  organizations in this blog.) But I know some things that lead to this advice: A little investment in effective media and public relations consulting will pay off in a much more effective communications and marketing strategy for your AEC business or practice.

Here is how to do that:

Connect with peers (perhaps in other cities/markets if they are competitors) or suppliers/vendors who have it right in their media relations or marketing strategies. Ask them if they are using any consultants or support services. Most likely they are. These are the ones you’ll want to call (rather than the spammers who might solicit you with cold calls, or who you see simply through advertising or really good search engine optimization.)

If you are spending any money advertising in trade or specialty publications, ask your advertising representative if there are any supports or resources for editorial publicity, and how you can access them. H(she) might try to sell you on an advertorial feature — and that may be a good start — but your question should be more broadly framed. You are looking into deeper, longer-range strategies to provide useful content and resources effectively in a media-friendly format.

Participation in an active level in community service or non-profit activities, perhaps at a board level, will give you access to opportunities to connect with the media on another level, where the advertising/business side switches to community service and support — and there are consultants experts and others who help freely with their time. You’ll learn a lot in these places.

Finally, unabashedly, there is me. I’m always ready to help our current paying clients (few take up the offer, fortunately, or I wouldn’t have time for much else), and can certainly provide brief insights and observations without charge to anyone. If you aren’t a client, please don’t expect me to come up with a full media relations strategy for you for free — but I can still provide some insights in a brief email or phone conversation. You can reach me at buckshon@constructionmarketingideas.com.

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