Part of a public relations professional’s job is to foster understanding between and among different stakeholders. This involves reaching a variety of voters with information. The media remain essential to achieve this.

No public relations campaign can be effective without the involvement of the media. Most public relations departments of organizations as well as public relations agencies thus assign media relations officers the primary responsibility for establishing and managing relations with the media.

Current Ghanaian media landscape

Ghana currently has a very saturated and vibrant media space with all seeking the same sources of advertising to meet their business needs among others. The stories the media seek are largely political in nature. Social issues tend to receive secondary attention from the media. While the media exist to inform and entertain, their commercial interests must also be satisfied to enable them to fulfill this primary responsibility. Subscriptions alone do not enable media to cover their commercial needs. Corporate advertising contributes a lot to fulfilling the business needs of the media.

Thus, the Ghanaian media demands payment from companies in exchange for printing space and airtime. The expansion of media space in Ghana over time means that corporate advertising spending needs to be spread thinly. The media must therefore deliberately ensure that they have the necessary resources to survive. The media has therefore become extremely commercial. The media have become particularly attentive to editorial material whose content appears to be infomercial in nature. They therefore very quickly spot the dividing line between commercial articles and reports.

The years of media giveaways are over, with media executives saying the media must survive – fuel their operations and equip themselves to stay relevant, hence the need for a business bent.

Media and business communication needs

Media and corporations depend on each other for their survival. Media channels are essential channels through which companies reach their audience. Businesses remain important sources of information to fill media pages and obtain resources for media operations. Thus, businesses and media depend on each other to achieve their business goals. While most businesses depend on media, they are also extremely cautious about their media spend. The media, meanwhile, also needs corporate media spend to stay profitable.

As advertising becomes more and more expensive, companies are spending less on advertising and making use of press releases which are now structured to be advertising in nature. Lately, this situation has become one of the main headaches of the media and their reaction is not to issue such press releases.

The media requires advertisements from companies to publish their press releases. The other dilemma facing the media is that some media houses give these press releases wide publicity, which means that the media houses that refuse to publish them miss out on some of the public’s attention and possibly the readership.

The current unspoken message from the media seems to be: “if you don’t do business with us, then be prepared to pay advertising fees for your press releases sent to us”.

Digital Communications

Some companies also seem to be of the view that using digital media saves them from having to spend on traditional media. They even seem to believe that a media relations professional is not required when it comes to communicating on social media. With the advent of digital media, many organizations therefore no longer place importance on the role of media relations. They are of the view that media relations has nothing to do with digital media but rather with traditional media.

They argue that, why waste money on building media relations, when you can use the same resources to improve your brand reputation with a wider unknown audience, who doesn’t need to build relationships. My advice is that while digital communication is essential and has taken root, you relegate media relations at your peril.

Media Relations

Those of us with years of media experience believe that media relations remain essential for all businesses. The direction that the role of media relations is no longer required in most cases stems from a limited or inaccurate understanding of the role of the media relations professional. The media relations person is often misunderstood as someone who uses their media connections to get news out for organizations or to help “damage control” in crisis situations. Another misperception of the person in charge of media relations is that he organizes the payment of SOLI to the media. Media Relations is a key part of the Public Relations function with important strategic responsibilities including building and maintaining lasting relationships with all media channels in a sustainable manner for mutual benefit. Thus, delivery requires a planned and sustained effort to create and maintain goodwill with media personnel and organizations.

My experience

In my 15 years of practice as a journalist and media relations consultant, I have learned some lessons that I believe are essential to becoming a successful media relations professional. I have summarized these lessons into 5 simple thematic areas.

be a friend

I’ve learned to have a relationship with my media friends that transcends work hours. The traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule isn’t enough if you want to build a serious relationship that will last for years. Relationships are above all the basis of friendship. Be their friend. Call and check your media friends, hang out with them, sympathize and have fun with them.

have a plan

Have a plan. You can’t be successful without a well-written comprehensive plan of what you want to do. Your plan should contain basic but essential information like, who do you want to engage, when do you want to engage them, how often do you want to engage them, and what form should the engagement take?

Gain someone’s trust

To be able to establish and maintain a good relationship with the media, you must first earn their trust. Be honest. Your word should be your honor. Don’t be dishonest.

Have a budget.

The reason people avoid media relations is because it requires a dedicated budget. There is no free lunch. Resources should be allocated to maintaining the channels through which you communicate with important stakeholders. The cost of managing a crisis is far more expensive than maintaining a good relationship with the media so that you can work with them in good times and in bad times. Have a dedicated budget even when it hurts the organization the most.

be civil

Please strive to be civil when dealing with friends of the media. Be polite and kind but firm. In situations of misunderstanding, keep a calm and calm demeanor. Be careful how you handle the “paparazzi”. Self-proclaimed journalists will crush your events with a self-proclaimed attitude. Remain resolute and stick to your guest list, but be polite in your treatment of uninvited media personnel.

Conclusion

In conclusion, media relations require expertise and attention from the practitioner. Every organization should take media relations seriously. If you think it’s expensive, wait until crisis hits your organization.

About the Author

Bernard Allotey is an accomplished communications professional specializing in media relations. He is an account manager at Media plug, a media relations consultancy specializing in media buying, stakeholder management, media intelligence and event management.

Bernard Allotey holds a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from the African University College of Communications and a master’s degree in public administration from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration. He worked with Ghana’s premier communications consultancy, Stratcomm Africa. He has also worked as a prime-time radio producer, presidential and parliamentary correspondent.

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