Media: How to play your cards right

Build relationships before you need them

I recently spoke to a group of medical professionals interested in building media relationships. That got me thinking about the relationships with sources that I have built up in the past 30 years, and particularly the sources of the last 10 years, for gambling articles.

As I explained to the group, the more people I can talk to, the more information I get, and the more complete I can make my stories. That’s very much about relationships.

But they wanted to know what to do on their side: how to be covered fairly and accurately. (We’re not even talking “positively” here.) Both hospitals and casinos are often misunderstood; some journalists who cover them haven’t even set foot on the property being covered.

Slots came to South Florida only in the last 10 years. After it did, I found it important to keep in touch with other people in our newsroom for whom the topic was new. So when our night reporter wanted to chase down a reader’s complaint about how a casino “closed down because they knew a slot machine was about to hit,” I explained what a random number generator was. Similarly, I pointed out that because poker players often sell pieces of their future income, a $10 million career winner quite probably never got to keep all of that $10 million.

So as I thought about how medical professionals might be presented in a fair light, I realized that I could modify my suggestions to be relevant to those in the casino business:

News is more immediate: Most of the public now consumes their news via their computer, phone, or television, not via newsprint. And news is more immediate. Newspaper deadlines often used to be 6 p.m., for the morning papers. Today, news reporters write and publish (electronically) whatever they know (or parts of it) as soon as they learn of it. TV used to gear up for the 6 p.m. or 11 p.m. newscast; today TV news is on 24 hours per day. So it’s important for sources to provide (reliable) information to reporters as soon as possible, particularly when there is a controversy, and to keep providing it as new information arrives.

There are fewer journalists with deep backgrounds: The number of full-time reporters has dropped. There used to be one traditional journalist for every PR person. Now the ratio is one to five. So what does that mean for you? Basically, the specialist reporter has likely left the building. Don’t make assumptions about what journalists actually do know.

But now everyone’s a journalist: With blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, that demarcation line for who is “media” and who is not is now quite blurred. So efficient media relations require a deep awareness of how your customers get their information.

There are many ways to get your news into the media. Figure out what your goal is. Do you have an expert to offer up for a story about a current trend, be it in technology, entertainment, food, or holiday activities? Do you have events to be listed or included in public service announcements? Is there a human interest story involving an employee or customer? Do you have charity news to share with community newspapers, websites, or local TV “feel good” segments?

Lay the groundwork beforehand. Make sure media members follow you on Twitter, and make sure you follow them. And go to competitors’ Twitter accounts and follow everyone they follow. And to keep up with the entire industry, go to Poynter.org, a journalism site. The same flyers you mail to smaller players should also go to selected media, to keep your property on their mind. And if you have time, invite media members individually to your property for no specific reason, have lunch with them, give them a pen with your company name on it, whatever - so they’re more likely to think of you when they need contacts for certain stories. (But don’t insult their ethics with offers of free play.)

Make sure your company is prepared in case something bad happens. Every person in your business, including phone receptionists and greeters, needs to know your media policy. Media contacts must be accessible: if you’re such a person, make sure everyone has your number.

It’s never over until it’s over: Finally, realize that the Internet now gives you a second chance. Most newspapers and TV stations post versions of their coverage online before they print it or air it. So if they didn’t get it exactly right, there is still time to speak up – and you’re more likely to be heard, and heard accurately, if you have that relationship already in place.

Get daily gambling news at SouthFloridaGambling.com Twitter: @NickSortal