APR & Media: Always Be Prepared

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My APR study group met this week night to discuss the media relations and social media section of the Accreditation in PR exam.  For those of us of engage daily with the media, the three-page section in the study guide is embarrassingly simplistic. Do you have a relationship with the media? Do you know when to call, email or host a press conference?  “Are you always prepared” with Q&As, backgrounders and the facts? “Are the news media an audience or channel?” (This question always stimulates an interesting conversation. Channel first, audience second.)

However, I reminded myself, as I do before I give a presentation on best practices in media relations, that what seems self-evident and common sense to me is often important “how to” information for someone unfamiliar with the world of press releases, producers, editors and media interviews.

As our study sessions often do, we quickly digressed from reviewing the study questions into sharing anecdotal information and real life case studies that illustrate the discussion topics.  For example, we mostly agreed that the Coast Guard exercise on 9/11 was a significant PR blunder and illustrated several shortcomings within the Department of Homeland Security. (See 9/15 post.)

We also had a decidedly brief conversation about press kits. I had an immediate dilemma. Was it acceptable to attend an editorial board meeting without bringing a press kit? After 15 years in government and public affairs, it seemed strange to go to any meeting without a leave behind – relying only on the persuasiveness of the dialogue.

“Reporters want everything electronically,” my colleague answered. “Don’t bother with a press kit. It’ll be OK.” About a year ago, I had made the same proclamation to my boss who looked at me as if I had defamed his first-born.  In that case, I compiled a press kit.

Yesterday, however, I attended the editorial board meeting with a candidate seeking political office without a press kit, handout or business card. I arrived feeling naked. I left feeling liberated. In fact, one of the columnists volunteered that he read the press releases that he received via email and had gone to the Web site to view the policy proposals.

It doesn’t signify that the candidate or I was unprepared for the briefing. Quite the contrary. We knew what our key messages were and confidently communicated those sans press kit and a written Q&A.  It was a first for me.

Back to the APR exam. The challenge to the questions on media relations media relations questions will be that the test assume there are absolute answers, which ignores context at the test taker’s peril.  Nor will the test explore how technology, not just social media channels, have changed the way we interact with the media and created new areas of interpretation for media relations and PR professionals. That would be expecting too much from multiple-choice exam.

However, I look forward to discussing these issues before the Readiness Review panel of APRs. Exploring the dynamic nature of PR among a group of peers is the most satisfying aspect of preparing for the APR exam.

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