As a longtime fan of the CBS reality show “The Amazing Race,” I tune in
Sunday nights to see teams cope (or fall apart) on the way to a possible
I especially like the challenges featuring Travelocity’s gnome, that
charming mascot of the show’s marquee sponsor. The relationship between
Travelocity and “The Amazing Race” always made perfect sense to me. A
travel site and a show about a race around the world on planes, trains,
and automobiles—clearly a match made in heaven.
Yet as I took in a recent episode, with teams frantically gassing up
three-wheeled “tut-tuts” in Sri Lanka and then enlisting working
elephants as part of a logging challenge, it suddenly occurred to me:
Whether we book with Travelocity or not, “The Amazing Race” has almost
nothing in common with what happens when most of us travel.
Over the course of my in-house communications career, I’ve come to
realize that not-so-straightforward connections are everywhere—and my
projects go more smoothly if I remember that the relationships between
certain things are less clear-cut than they seem.
Here’s my list:
1. Hiring an agency will reduce my internal team’s workload.
The right PR agency team adds “arms and legs,” helps craft strategy,
provides greater access to reporters of interest, and takes certain
tasks off your own list, especially if you’re working to bring PR
programs to scale. This might be particularly true if you’re running a
smaller internal team (for example, in the nonprofit sector).
Never underestimate the work involved in ramping up your agency allies,
then keeping them looped in and on point with your evolving program
strategy and goals. It requires at least the same investment of time and
effort (and sometimes more) as doing the legwork yourself.
2. The formula for earned media: Issue press release and wait for phone to ring
I’ve found myself whacking this mole, admittedly more often with
my colleagues outside the PR realm, many times over the years. Any PR
pro worth her weight in feathers knows the press release is merely the
first step of a thousand-mile journey.
Most of the biggest and best stories I’ve placed never came within miles
of a press release. There is simply no shortcut around fleshing out
angles, targeting the right messages to the right reporters, and then
pounding the pavement until you obtain the coverage you want.
3. Media coverage is all you need.
I don’t think I’m the only communications practitioner for whom part of
my professional ego rests on my last best media hit. A top-tier national
newspaper or broadcast? I’m riding high.
In the business of motivating or changing audience behaviors, I’ve come
to believe that media pickup is only one leg of the stool. Even the most
prominent hits sometimes puzzlingly fail to move the needle or push the
discourse forward. (For me, this was a New York Times hit whose timing
wasn’t well thought out.)
It’s my job to make sure that my media strategy is working in tandem
with a smart marketing plan, and that I’m serving up consistent and
complementary messages in all the channels where I work—paid media
(which I admittedly don’t do much of at my nonprofit), social channels,
and my own organizational vehicles, including digital, print
publications, and face-to-face presentations.
4. Getting local coverage is a cinch.
Nothing is ever simple, and that includes obtaining high-quality local
media coverage. Though it’s tempting to “shrink” a local story in my
mind, the truth is that it’s no less work to successfully target the
right local reporter than a national one.
Certain factors can even make it harder, such as dwindling staff in
local newsrooms and the non-negotiable requirement to find articulate
and compelling spokespeople with a direct tie to both the story and the
region of interest.
The upside: Local media can be wildly effective. The downside: I’ve
walked away empty-handed from what I thought was a slam-dunk local
strategy on more than one occasion.
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Those are mine. What not-so-simple connections crop up day to day for you?
Holly Teichholtz is vice president of marketing and communications at The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, and has spent her entire career doing in-house communications in the nonprofit sector.