Meet the Press
Build your brand by becoming a go-to media source in your market.
In the past several years, real estate has moved center stage into the media spotlight. National and local newspapers and evening news programs regularly feature articles and segments on the housing bubble, the condominium conversion craze, and real estate's impact on the economy. This heightened awareness offers an unprecedented opportunity for commercial real estate professionals to utilize their skills to differentiate themselves in the marketplace through media attention.
On the other hand, as developers, property managers, and others who have faced unwanted media attention can attest, there's nothing worse than having a microphone poked into your face as you leave a contentious zoning meeting or squinting from the glare of a TV camera after a crime has been committed at your property.
Media surrounds us in our daily lives and whether we seek the spotlight or hide from it, sooner or later, a commercial real estate professional may be required to play a public role. Media training is a professional skill that can benefit those who wish to position themselves in the marketplace as a media resource as well as those who have been appointed representatives for a company's public image. Media training helps you determine what your story is, how to position it, and how to most effectively disseminate it.
Understanding the Media
If you are seeking media coverage, first determine whether your story is newsworthy. You must think like the editors or executive news producers who ultimately decide what to print or air on television and radio.
To think like a news editor, ask yourself three questions:
- Who is the media outlet's audience?
- Does your story offer value or interest to its readers, viewers, or listeners?
- Does the hook or central theme of the story relate to the audience?
To illustrate, the following example takes advantage of the news media's current interest in real estate's tremendous impact on the economy. To enhance awareness among its membership, an organization in northern Kentucky conducted a media conference about an up-and-coming regional real estate market. Reporters from newspapers, business journals, and local network news programs who cover real estate and trade industry media were invited and sent prepared fact sheets and graphs. As a result, through one news conference, the organization received front-page coverage in the area's top newspaper, a lead story on an Internet-based real estate e-zine, and a report on a local network news affiliate. The economy always is a subject of interest to readers and listeners and often is a great hook to get your story told.
Knowing the Reporter
After understanding what is newsworthy, understanding reporters who cover real estate is the single best investment you can make in media relations. The media is a professional discipline just like commercial real estate, with budgets, time frames, clients, and limited resources to seek out expert sources. Reporters value sources they can rely on and continuously consult.
Three behaviors demonstrate to reporters that you understand their needs and help ensure they will take your call when you have an important story to tell. They are:
Be Accessible. Eliminate the gatekeepers between you and the reporter. Be available and flexible to their media needs.
Be Reliable. Honesty pays dividends. Do not rely on speculation or rumor. If you can't help the interviewer on the spot, offer to get back to him or her when you have an answer.
Be Quotable. Plan to give concise messages that offer valuable content to the audience.
Pitching to the Media
Reporters and editors receive hundreds of story ideas, or pitches, every week from public relations firms, companies with products to sell, and others seeking media attention. Most are deleted or thrown away because the authors don't understand how to grab an editor's attention.
Content is the key to media coverage. Story pitches must contain fresh content that is newsworthy to a particular audience. But that definition varies depending on the media outlet. For example, a release detailing your company's $15-million lease transaction is probably newsworthy to the local real estate association's newsletter, although a local newspaper may not report on such deals. However, if your quarterly analysis of area lease deals reveals a concentration of medical technology companies moving into the area - that might be newsworthy to a local paper that reports on economic development trends.
Once you determine the relevant market for your news, there are several ways to draw attention to the story. One is the news release. (See sidebar.) Another is a media alert, which calls attention to your story in a simple, one-page format. It features a headline, which should serve as the attention getter or hook. In an e-mail this is the subject line. Under the headline should be the who, what, where, when, why, and how. The most important of these is why, which convinces the media of the reason its audience wants to read, hear, and/or listen to your story. Remember, the idea is to sell your story. The promotion will follow if your pitch is successful. For example, a 30-minute media conference on the outlook for a specialty market that coming year or the dedication of a new commercial building are stories where a concise media alert works better than a pitch letter.
A pitch letter is similar to a media alert. It tells your story using an inverted-pyramid approach, where the most important information is included in the first paragraph and the rest of the story flows from there. Make the most important and compelling points first, then add background information and other reasons why the story is important to that media's audience. Here, consider a pitch letter if a more detailed explanation of a story is warranted, such as a feature on a new chief executive officer or how a national event has local implications. Never blindly send an e-mail to a reporter. It's best to make contact first by mail and then follow up to see if the mailed correspondence was received. Even if you are unable to sell the reporter on the merits of your story, don't pass up the opportunity to establish a relationship. Offer to supply additional supporting information, call back at a later date, or follow up in another manner. You may establish yourself as a resource on which they can count.
During the Interview
If your pitch is a success, a reporter may call to conduct an interview. Take the call and offer to set up a time for the interview. Don't rush to answer the questions without preparation. Instead, ask the following questions:
- What is the topic? You can't prepare your talking points without knowing this.
- When is the interview? Be sure to call or arrive at the exact time you promised.
- Where is the interview? Newspaper and radio interviews typically are conducted over the phone.
- Who is the interviewer? Research the reporter and identify him or her by name.
- Why are you being interviewed? Confirm how they found out about you. This information will help with future media endeavors.
- How long will the interview be? This ensures you allot enough time to meet the reporter's needs.
- Am I being interviewed alone or as part of a panel? You don't want to show up at a TV or radio studio only to find out that there are others to be interviewed, especially if they are opponents of your positions.
- When will the interview air or run? If you are going to go through the time and energy of the interview, it's only logical that you know when it will be printed or aired.
Dan Rather, one-time CBS news anchor, defined media interview skills 101 when he said: "In dealing with the press, do yourself a favor. Stick with one of these three responses: I know and I can tell you, I know and I can't tell you, and I don't know."
Rather's inclination to simplify the interview process is a good approach. At the time of the interview, be yourself as much as possible. Trying to adapt some other persona could damage your credibility. In addition, think before you speak. Never comment on someone else's comments or speculate on what others may or may not do or say. Listen to the reporter ask the question. Clear your mind of who might be watching or what is going on around you. Listening is an active willingness to tune into what is being said. Don't try to answer before listening to the entire question.
If you are a resource for a reporter, answer the questions completely and intelligently. However, if you have a particular point of view or agenda, for instance you are representing a development company in a zoning battle, you need to prepare talking points you want the audience to know. It is critical that these talking points relate to that specific audience. This is your agenda.
Rather's first response, "I know and I can tell you," relates to reporter questions that meet your agenda and typically are open-ended. The second, "I know and I can't tell you," is for questions that don't follow your agenda. Refrain from thinking you must answer these questions. Think about the last time you saw a politician interviewed and you thought, "He didn't even answer the question." This is done purposely. Skilled politicians know that when a reporter asks a question you don't like, you answer by ignoring it and saying something in line with your agenda. Answer by restating your talking points. For example, "I don't know where you found those statistics, but what I can tell you is ..." or, "That's a great question. I'm so happy you asked it. Here are the facts ...."
Lastly, always stay in control. Don't ever let an interviewer put words
in your mouth, interrupt, or say a negative statement without allowing you to
give a response.