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Media Relations v. Member Relations: Are they really that different?

January 9, 2009

My background before coming to the association now was soley focused around media relations, strategic relations and promotions – something that made me a little nervous because I knew that I was going to have to be just as good, if not even better, at member relations than I was at media relations. My primary job function is coordinating all marketing functions and serving as in-house PR counsel, plus national PR, but I do still deal with members on a daily basis.

So, are they really THAT different?

In my 9 months here, I’ve discovered that there are similarities between the two.

1. Return calls in a timely manner

This might seems like a no-brainer, but the response time is critical whether dealing with a member or media. In member relations, the member’s needs should be first, and at least sending an email of “I have received your email and am looking into it, I will get back to you when I can” at least acknowledges that you received the email, even if you don’t know the answer to the question. Honesty is always the best policy, and I know members an get frustrated if you wait a day or two to respond because there might be projects for the organization that you have to handle. The same can be said for media – if I receive a media call, I will always call them back to get more information, and then tell them I will get back to them once I have found a member that fits what they are looking for, or I have discussed it with the director to see if the media inquiry is a fit for our organization. Acknowledging goes a long way – it shows you are on top of your job and that you are willing to work with people to reach a mutual goal.

2. Promote the organization in a positive light

Again, maybe a no-brainer, but membership benefits (events, discounts, awards, scholarships) are usually what you promote to the media. Those benefits are for the membership, and being able to promote those in the same light as with the media is imperative. The discounts, promotions, events, etc. only work if you have your membership on board, and like it or not, they are the public and the media often gauges how the public reacts to your organization. In the same light, how the media portrays your organization might help retain or detract members, and also how many new members you gain.

3. Cater your “pitch” to that specific member or media needs

The organization should never be a one size fits all for your membership. Every member is wanting to get something a little different out of the organization. In the same light, the media is also looking for a new twist in the story they write – it’s never a one-size fits all approach with them either. Personalized emails and phone calls can go a long way, as well as asking your membership what you can improve on. This is where social media can play such a huge role – use it as a tool to get feedback from your members, there is always room for improvement. The tools you use can also attract media.

4. Know the ins and outs of the organization so that you can answer any and all questions

Our society as a whole is always curious, always questioning.  I’ve learned that the media can be viewed as a new member, because they seem to ask the same questions about the organization. Use that visual and treat the media just as you would a new member. By knowing the ins and outs, the passion that you should feel for your org comes out in a fresh light, and both media and members will respond much better to that.

5. Tone of voice

Tone of voice can be tied to the last sentence above.  People, no matter if they are a member or the media, will respond more positively to a nice and upbeat voice, then to a voice where it seems like you are being bothered by them. The media can be viewed in the same light – who wants to talk to a PR person who seems to hate their job? That will just make coordinating interviews, follow-up, etc. that much more of a hassle and a headache. Being upbeat will also make what your organization does, the benefits, the events seem even more enticing to members if you seem excited about it. How do you think media will come to your events unless you have a passion for them? Sending a release over the wire isn’t enough. You should have a specific pitch, plus follow up by phone because you are THAT excited to be pitching something so awesome.

Media + Members = Public.

Public Relations, anyone?

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