By Dawn Ringel

It’s 7:15 am, my first cup of coffee is still kicking in, and I’m readying to give my 60-second “commercial” at a business networking group meeting. This is my chance to lead my fellow group members out of a maze!

Thankfully it’s not a literal maze—but rather, a virtual one. I’ll be guiding them toward the answer to a common question—What, really, is media relations?

With social media and marketing communications now fundamental to PR, the role of media relations can be eclipsed or misunderstood. Moreover, in many ways, media relations is the lion in the jungle of PR tactics–giving businesses a distinctive roar. For those who don’t want to be sublimated in the middle of the herd, there is much to learn about how to harness its value.

First, what is it? As noted above, media relations is a subset of the larger practice of public relations, which the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” The objective of media relations is to earn reporters’ and editors’ interest in covering a small business—making that company more credible and recognizable to its prospects.

Achieving success with media relations is a true mark of distinction. Prospects understand that coverage in print, online, or broadcast media is secured on its own merits, rather than being purchased. That differentiates the featured businesses as leaders in their industries. Continual exposure catapults small companies out of the “competitive jungle,” shedding light on what’s special about their brands. If those businesses are planning for an IPO (initial public offering) or a merger, introducing new leadership, or launching new products or services, media relations keeps them on the radar, reinforces their momentum, and becomes a powerful contributor to their success.

What is the secret to gaining this coveted media attention? The most effective strategy is “win/win media relations”—meeting journalists’ needs in tandem with your own. Following are several best practices:

Put yourself in journalists’ shoes. Just like you, they operate in a highly competitive landscape. Everything they write or publish has to be new, timely, verifiable and compelling. They need sources who can help them meet these requirements in a non-promotional way.

Incorporate clear, crisp, distinctive and consistent messaging in every pitch, press release or guest submission. Your goal, at every turn, is to reinforce that you have a novel, leading-edge or disruptive solution, product or point of view that has not yet seen widespread news coverage.

Align with journalists’ news cycles. Journalists are under pressure to report news immediately and ideally, ahead of others. Whether commenting on a scientific discovery or the latest employment figures, a source who can quickly offer unique insights or a contrarian point of view is invaluable. Once a story breaks, opportunities to be inserted into follow-up coverage can be very limited. Journalists are often ready to move on to the next, unrelated topic.

Provide a complete story. Do you ever wonder why a competitor with fewer qualifications secures coverage faster than you do?  It could be that the company has furnished the elements for a complete story—from research demonstrating a burgeoning market for their products/services, to compelling customer anecdotes. For balance, media will also seek out their own sources, but “frontloading” with these resources can be a big help to them.

Be eminently quotable. Which would you rather read, watch or listen to—a tome devoid of personality, or masterful content filled with analogies, metaphors and examples that make you laugh, cry or challenge your thinking? The answer is obvious and if you can learn to express yourself in interesting or even provocative (but tasteful) ways, you will be in media demand.

Demonstrate your thought leadership with proprietary content and/or data.  The media want to work with thought leaders, and unique content and data prove that you qualify as one. Whether you sponsor industry-wide research or publish a whitepaper with a new solution to a long-standing problem, you are demonstrating expertise that no-one else has. Approaching media about this content will lead to new opportunities for you to be quoted and featured.

Treat guest content as a jewel. Many business and trade media actively seek articles from small companies on best practices for handling common challenges. These are invaluable opportunities to assist publications while building “virtual chemistry” with prospects in print or online. The educational pieces not only engender goodwill; they help businesses become more searchable as leaders in their field.

Are you ready to “rule the jungle” as a trusted media source? By giving equal weight to journalists’ and your own needs, your brand will not be crushed underfoot by a galloping herd. Instead, you’ll have the chance to become as visible as the tallest giraffe, as popular as the elephant, and as universally respected as the mighty lion.

Dawn Ringel is President and CEO of Ringel PR, LLC, a public relations, marketing communications and content services firm. Contact her at [email protected], @dringel2, or 781-449-8456, or see

Media stock photo by galaira/Shutterstock