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How to make yourself part of the story

Sometimes making news headlines means being willing and responsive to seize on major news stories and other opportunities as they arise.

The chief executive of a fledgling national association recently told me how he had inserted his organisation into a breaking national news story by simply picking up the phone and asking if they wanted comment from an industry expert. Another organisation I work with secured a spot on the AM Show’s Carpool because they had the gumption to call in and ask to be part of it.

In both cases, the resulting coverage was seen by hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, helping to raise awareness of the respective organisations and position them as experts in their industries.

In the case of the national association, it also resulted in new members signing up as a direct result of seeing the association in the news.

Being able to add your voice to a breaking or ongoing news story is as much about attitude as it is about ability.

If you’re across a topic and willing to speak to the media at short notice, you hold a significant advantage over those who are gunshy in front of the media, require time to research a subject, or need permission from others in their organisation before they speak.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be prepared – it’s always important to go into an interview knowing the facts and the key messages you want to get across.

But if you’re quick on your feet and willing to prioritise media opportunities when they arise, you can secure some amazing coverage.

Knowing who to contact and having existing relationships with the media is also helpful. You don’t need to be on first-name terms, but if you’ve previously spoken to a particular journalist and they know who you are, they are likely to be more receptive. Having their contact details on hand also makes things easier.

Keep the business cards or details of journalists you deal with.

And consider subscribing to a media database service that allows you to look up the contact details for media organisations and specific journalists quickly and easily.

Keep in mind that not every trending news story should be considered a publicity opportunity. Never seek to comment on disasters or sensitive subjects for commercial gain, and stick to topics where your commentary will add value or provide an angle that hasn’t already been covered.

Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk learnt that lesson in painful fashion recently when he publicly offered the use of an experimental mini submarine to assist with the rescue of the boys’ football team that was trapped in the Tham Luang cave in Thailand for more than two weeks.

When his offer was rejected as impractical by the rescue team, Musk would have been wise to accept their word rather than publicly suggesting he knew best, when he was not directly involved in the rescue.

Also remember that making the news is just the first step. Once you do secure positive coverage, make the most of it.

People are absorbing information through a wide range of channels, so make sure to maximise its reach by sharing it through your communications channels, particularly your social media accounts.

Recent figures from Facebook show it has 3.2 million monthly average users in New Zealand, which makes it an important platform for any message you want to share.

Securing media coverage can have a big impact on your brand. Next time you see a trending media topic that you have expertise in, consider reaching out to media to let them know how you can add value to their story. You might be surprised by the results.

James Heffield
James Heffield
Director of Bay of Plenty marketing and public relations consultancy Last Word. To find out more visit www.lastwordmedia.co.nz or email james@lastwordmedia.co.nz.

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