When PR and Media Get It Right
Editor’s note: This is a re-post of an earlier article Mark wrote outlining how PR and the media can work together to get a story right.
It’s easy to learn from mistakes organizations make in public relations. It is similarly easy to spot reporters who rush to meet deadlines, miss the story and don’t give the public the opportunity to hear the complete story on issues of concern.
Recently, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Melissa Lee from the Lincoln Journal Star got it right. Lee reported a good news story about UNL attaining a record $133 million in research funding following a trend of increased research funding for the past several years. She took the time to conduct in-depth research and interviewed a number of sources from the university to develop a thorough story for Lincoln readers.
UNL took the time to work with the reporter and provide a variety of voices who demonstrated the value of the university to the state and the people who live here. There are important public relations lessons that organizations can learn from in this example.
What went right?
Relationships: It is clear from this article that Lee and the university have a relationship with the public relations team that allows her access to key people on the UNL staff, not just the chancellor. There were at least three people quoted in the article, and it takes time for the public relations team and reporter to do that kind of research for a story. No way a reporter does that if forced to dig for sources. This was a good news story, but the existing relationship means that when crisis strikes, the reporter has a trusted source for information and the university probably feels it will get a fair approach even if the story is bad news.
Perspectives: The obligatory quotes from the chancellor were included in this article, but two other voices with subject matter expertise in research issues were also included. Mike Zeleny, assistant vice chancellor for research and Prem Paul, vice chancellor for research and economic development. Credit the public relations staff from UNL with providing perspective to balance the reporter’s story with what many in the public would say is a political response from the organization’s leadership. These additional perspectives humanize the story and provide thorough understanding for the reader, as well as potential students from Omaha, Hastings, Fremont, York, and throughout Nebraska.
Messages: Each of the responses from UNL had purpose. They painted UNL as forward-thinking, strategic and deserving of a reputation as a premier research university. They also brought the story back to how the research performed would benefit the people of Lincoln and the state of Nebraska, which is the mission of a major state-funded university. In addition to conveying facts on research dollars to the reporter, the interview subjects represented the university, staff and faculty as a leading academic institution. Note that Paul took the opportunity to complement Nebraska’s congressional delegation. It never hurts to pay respect to people who are looking out for you at the seat of government. Good move.
Every organization’s public relations team can take notes from this example. Building relationships, communicating with purpose, and helping reporters develop meaningful articles does not happen by accident. What is not visible here is the groundwork that has been laid for the next tough story that may strike UNL. They are one step closer to being ready for that because of the relationship they have developed with this reporter.
They did it right.
Mark McDonald is Vox Optima’s western regional director and senior media trainer with more than two decades of expertise in defense industry, international and national public relations consulting, crisis and strategic communication planning, media relations, media training, and reputation and branding management. Mark can be reached on Twitter or Facebook or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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