The most important period in the media marketing process occurs when programs and strategies are first developed. Getting in print and on the air may be both profitable and productive, but the odds of getting media coverage are limited unless journalism’s five basic questions can be answered.
Media marketing programs evolve because we all have self-interests. Our desires may include more sales, higher profits, greater recognition or whatever, goals we can often enhance through positive media coverage.
Journalists, however, have a different perspective. Their interest is not in how promoters benefit, but how readers, viewers, site visitors and listeners are aided by a given story. To test the validity of a story idea, to see if something or someone is newsworthy, reporters will ask five basic questions the public will want to know:
___ Who’s involved.
___ What happened.
___ Where did it take place.
___ When did it occur.
___ Why is this matter important?
Here’s how these questions might be discussed if a new bank in town opens.
Who is involved? By “who” we mean an identifiable interest or entity such as a company, civic organization, governmental agency, or individual. “Who” can also be a collective interest such as consumers, employees, clients or people down the block. Sometimes a “who” by itself can guarantee story interest if the “who” is a movie star, congressman or the home town kid who became a success.
Knowing who’s involved and who’s affected tells you which publics need to be reached. The bank opening may interest business readers, local residents concerned about traffic, publications that follow the industry nationally, people who want to find discount checking, and nearby residents looking for work.
What is the story about? With the bank opening there may be a major theme (bank to to open) as well as several minor story ideas such as a company history, growth in the banking industry in general, local banks versus big city rivals, how the bank may bring other businesses to town, etc.
Where a story occurs is significant because people relate to one another on the basis of location. We root for the home team, read about our neighbors, listen to area politicians, and watch local weather reports. News outlets, in turn, often gear their stories to location. The community newspaper, by definition, will exclude matters that do not effect the neighborhood. The local radio station tells us about commuter tie-ups in our area, but not distant cities. The local paper will write about the bank opening, but not about a bank that opens in Norway.
When did, or will, the story occur? News is time sensitive and with the bank opening we have several deadlines. The official opening will be arranged with newspaper and television deadlines in mind. If the local paper has a 3:30 PM deadline, the opening ceremonies may be held at 10 AM — an hour chosen to allow reporters enough time to attend the event and finish their stories well before any deadlines.
The bank opening lends itself to less time-sensitive feature treatments as well. There are pre-opening stories (“Bank Seeks New Workers”), post-opening stories (“New Bank To Have Biggest Vault in Town”), and follow-up stories (“One-Year Later: New Bank Deposits Up by $50 Million”). These stories are not time sensitive: If one isn’t used today, it can be published or aired tomorrow with little problem.
Why something is important gives reporters an opportunity to evaluate a story concept. Our bank opening may interest the public because it’s a local story or because a new bank suggests an expanding economy and more future jobs.
It seems reasonable to believe that if journalists can have their questions, promoters are entitled to a few of their own.
For instance, how much time, energy and money are you willing to expend on promotional activities? Is there any way publicity can hurt you? Will competitors, for example, be able to see news coverage and discover trade secrets? What happens if your promotional efforts fail?
What is most notable about promotional planning is how often initial presumptions and approaches are tossed out when viewed through the questions journalists will ask. What happens is not that self-interest is eliminated, but that self-interest is channeled into productive directions. Here are several examples:
1. An association wanted its members included under federal insurance legislation and wanted the media to support its position. But why, it was asked, should members be included? A variety of answers followed almost all of which fell in the category of self-interest. When people began to think how patients could benefit, an entirely different set of ideas emerged and a far more salable program evolved.
2. A group of medical professionals was offered the opportunity to automate their office with equipment that could greatly speed patient evaluations. The technology was terrific and once installed it could lead to considerable local news coverage. But despite these advantages, the high-tech route was ultimately rejected. Why? Because the machine’s very efficiency was a problem. Speedy exams would produce higher patient volumes, but less time to talk with patients on an individualized basis. And talking with patients, personal communication, was a more valued quality to these practitioners than speed.
3. A major corporation wanted an institutional brochure to discuss company products, plants and services. But what made this company different from competitors who also had nice products, big plants and offered similar services? What differences would interest prospective clients? It took two weeks to outline definable answers, but the company found a far-stronger self-identity and produced an effective brochure as a result.