Media Relations: My personal experience


By Ida-Marié Steenkamp, Junior Account Manager, Red Ribbon Communications

The Genesis…
Starting as an Intern at Red Ribbon Communications three and a half years ago was the bravest thing I have ever done. I had no experience in B2B Tech PR, much less in media relations.
On my very first day I was given a press release, a list of media contacts and told to distribute the press release to secure exclusive interviews and media coverage in high quality publications. To say I was nervous, is an understatement. I ended up securing an interview for the client with one of the biggest women’s magazines in South Africa, SARIE. It was a fantastic start, but I soon realised that I’m not the success story here, my client is. It was successful because the journalist was interested in my client’s story, not me. Although much has changed, the story I provide is still the most important aspect of media relations.

Essentials of good media relations
As a specialist B2B Tech PR agency, our clients depend on us to advise them on the best angle for articles. Writing a press release about a new product launch is not newsworthy in itself. We have to consider how it is going to make a difference to people’s lives – will it create much needed jobs, will the company provide free training?
Monitoring the news on a daily basis to identify rapid response opportunities is a good tactic to secure good quality publicity. Offering reporters reactions to breaking news not only helps secure coverage, it also helps to build relationships with journalists and positions company spokespeople as true thought leaders.
It is much more valuable to secure one good piece of publicity than a few low-quality hits. Less are definitely more these days. We find that pitching exclusive articles to key media is the better route to follow. It also builds better relationships with journalists. Quality over quantity as my English teacher used to say.
Journalists receive hundreds of emails every day. How do you grab their attention? With a good subject line and a good motivation. This is one of the first things I was taught at Red Ribbon and to this day it’s true.

How do you secure good publicity?
At Red Ribbon we invest our time in building solid relationships with journalists. We used to fly to Johannesburg on a regular basis to meet with journalists. I remember the one journalist sitting down and asking: “What can I do for you?” In truth, we didn’t want anything. We just wanted to meet them in person, build a personal relationship, understand their publication and target audience better, the topics they’re interested in and off course find out how best to pitch to them for success.
Almost four years later and this tactic of ours still proves successful. I’ve built good working relationships with journalists I work with, based on mutual respect and trust.

Here are some interesting comments from journalists over the years:
– How will the press release you’re sending help the retired lady in a small town in the Northern Cape?
– Talk less about the company and what they’re doing and more about who the people behind the company are.
– When it comes to data, Africa gets overlooked. Invest in surveys so we can gain local data.
– Don’t just sell your product, give your opinion – no matter how controversial it might be.