Secrets of successful media relations: Number 2 – Aim to please!

by Eddie Reeves on August 6, 2009

This is the second in the series “Secrets of Successful Media Relations” (Okay, so I waxed a bit dramatic with the title, but, hey, you’re reading it aren’t you?). 

Let’s do an experiment: Quick, think of the last time you sat down and watched any of the Sunday morning political talk shows on the national TV networks?

Tough, huh? If you are like more than 95% of Americans, you probably can’t remember the last time you actually watched Meet the Press, Face the Nation or  any similar program – if indeed you ever have.  As national television numbers go, these shows draw pretty paltry audiences – typically less than 3 million households are tuned in out of more than 115 million. Yet they are viewed by both the networks and the politicians as among the most important programming they air all week, and they command premium advertising rates.

So why are these programs such darlings, and why do the politicos fight tooth and nail to get invited on? 

To understand that, you must understand our topic of the day: message targeting. 

The value of these shows lies not in how many people are watching, but who is watching.  The national leaders who go on these shows understand fully well that precious few ordinary Americans are watching any of these Sunday talk shows – that they are off doing more interesting things, like watching paint dry. 

What these leaders get is that those who are watching, though, are quite an influential bunch.  Throughout the Washington D.C. area, state capitols and major business centers, there are a couple of hundred thousand reporters, elected officials, businesspeople, government agency employees, lobbyists, think tank wonks and college professors who watch these shows avidly.  This group of opinion leaders – led by the press – are the principal conduit of information to the larger public.  So while their numbers are tiny, their influence is towering, so they get targeted.

This principle is sometimes lost on people. For example, I often have to push my clients to do interviews with some trade press reporters.  They assume that because the trade publications’ circulation is small and confined to one industry they aren’t worth talking to.

Big mistake.  Not only are the trade pubs often extremely influential in their industries, many journalists from major mainstream media outlets get their background information from the trades. Also, the trade pubs also often serve as the training camp for young reporters – some of whom will someday be senior reporters, producers and editors at the big media, and you can bet they have long memories about who snubbed them early in their careers.  

So, learn a great lesson from the Sunday talk shows: When you put your next media event together, carefully choose your media targets based on their audience, and how those audiences can help you achieve your objective.  

Aim to please, or, more specifically, aim so you will be pleased.

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