Ever since I started my public relations coaching programme, I have talked my mouth dry telling everyone willing to listen that one of the biggest PR sins is how most practitioners do not know how the media works. Rams Mabote dishes out some advice.
In my presentation, there is a slide about how many PRs still send communications to the media on Friday afternoons and inevitably miss the ear of journalists.
Having worked as a journalist before venturing into PR 17 years ago, one of my pet hates as a journalist was being sent a (poorly written) release on a Friday afternoon. This is as bad as taking a summer holiday to the North Pole.
Fridays are a bad news day. Unless you are president of the country, reserve bank governor or you want to commit a multi-million rand heist, stay away from making announcements on Friday.
Most newspapers are dailies and do not publish on Saturday. And the following Monday is too far away for them to remember .
Most Saturday newspapers have fewer news pages, most of which get filled up long before Friday. These papers will accommodate breaking news of humungous importance only.
Most Sunday newspapers are all but done by Friday waiting mainly for sport stories as well to cross the t’s and dot the i’s on the final big stories, Of course they would also stop the presses if the Pope died, like they did when Pope John Paul II died on a Saturday a few years ago.
Broadcast media is stretched and also has limited airtime. For your story to make it on a Friday afternoon, it has to be earth shattering.
It was therefore with a sense of vindication when I received mail from the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) – through their public relations agency – inviting me to a media conference on a Friday.
For a second I thought maybe Acsa was dissolving its business, or maybe firing the entire executive, or announcing that it was banning all American airlines from landing at South African airports.
Because any of the above possibilities would be compelling enough for journalists to skip the pub and fill up the lavish hotel in the north of Johannesburg and frantically fight to get their own angles on the story.
But no, Acsa was calling the media on a Friday afternoon to announce its annual financial results. Yes, its annual financial results.
Why? Who still does this? By Friday afternoon the business sections of weekend publications are already in bed. The business dailies only come out the following Monday. You have missed the financial journals, which come out the day before.
No doubt you may still have the ear of the radio and television business programmes and other networks. But why call a media conference for these?
There are other ways of doing this. And Friday afternoon is not one of the best.
But of course Friday afternoon may be a strategic choice. It could very well be that the financial results are bad and therefore the best time to release them is when most people will miss them.
In that case, Acsa can justify that it released the results as per legal requirements but also escape bad publicity from a Friday afternoon release.
However, if it is mass publicity the organisation is looking for, I cannot imagine a worse choice of timing.
In fact, there is a better chance of coverage from just sending a summary of the results to the media and availing the boss for interviews to those media that are interested.
Not understanding how the media works is one of the biggest downfalls of the public relations trade. It is imperative for good public relations officers to appreciate how the media works, their deadlines and their preferences.
Because only then, can the PR (and their organisation or client) derive maximum benefit from media relations. The flip side is that the PR will not drive the media crazy with misplaced communication.
Rams Mabote is a public relations coach, spin doctor, connector, author and MC. He owns the consultancy, The Kingmaker. Follow him on Twitter @ramsmabote
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