As PR counselors, we see it all of the time. You know your company has a big story coming down the road, but where do you start?
In the last week, we helped Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha announce their new president, which was the culmination of a five-month search. A new president is big news for the 136-year-old private Catholic high school and its many constituents including faculty, staff, parents, students, alumni and donors. As an alumnus of the school, I understood the gravity of the news.
I praise the presidential selection committee’s thoughtful approach to the entire selection process, including the announcement of the new president, Father Tom Neitzke, SJ. The elements of this particular communications plan can be applied across the board to any big announcement your organization may have waiting in the wings. Let’s examine the fine print of the plan to see what it has to teach us.
Timing has several meanings when it comes to releasing significant news. Of course, it refers to when you release the news to the media to achieve maximum news coverage and exposure for your announcement. In this case, since the confirmation of the school’s new president came at 6:30 p.m. the night before a statewide election, we decided to go out with the news right away to beat the extremely crowded news environment that was just around the corner. It doesn’t seem ideal to release news at 6:30 on a Monday night, but the strategy paid off. The next morning we were the lead story of the Midlands News section of the Omaha World-Herald.
Timing also refers to which audiences will be told and in what order. In the case of Creighton Prep’s announcement, there we certain individuals – such as faculty and staff, of course – who deserved to be told the information firsthand, rather than reading about it in the newspaper.
Working with the selection committee, we put our plan on paper which included a breakdown of: our audiences, method of message delivery for each audience, timing and the person responsible for each communication.
It’s important to think beyond the headline when you have important news to announce. Give consideration to what you want people to think and feel when they hear your news. My advice is to gather the key players and brainstorm the most important messages you would like to deliver. This can be as simple as jotting down bullet points; they don’t have to be complete sentences at this stage.
In the case of Creighton Prep’s announcement, a couple key messages were that the new president, Fr. Neitzke, will advance the Jesuit mission of Creighton Prep and that he has strong connections to the Creighton Prep community.
After you commit your message points to paper, I recommend that you next draft your key communication that will serve as the foundation for all of your communiqués. In the case of Creighton Prep, our foundational piece was the email to inform the faculty and staff.
Build enough time into your communication development process to consider all of the details such as: Will you grant media interviews? If so, who will your spokesperson be? Is your spokesperson media trained? (If not, leave enough time to train them.) Do you have photos or art that you can share with the media?
In today’s digital world, it’s also necessary to have all of the right players as part of the plan, including the social media manager, the webmaster and the email manager. We lined up these team members in advance and had them on standby.
Often, it’s the tiniest details that make the biggest impression. With the Prep announcement, one of the elements of our media relations strategy that received the most positive response from the news media was that we included a pronunciation guide for Fr. Neitze’s last name in our pitch letter. (For the record, it is pronounced: Night-Ski). Of course, we benefited from this because it was music to our ears when all of the broadcast media were properly pronouncing his name.
The benefit of a well-structured communication plan is that any changes will seem like small bumps in the road in an otherwise smooth journey. Honestly, the most difficult aspect of the Prep announcement was trying to adequately capture in words how truly ideal Fr. Neitzke will be as the next President. Now, that’s a communication problem I will take any day of the week.