What Do Sex Trafficking, the Tech Industry & a Seattle-Based Event Have in Common? Valuable PR Lessons

May 24, 2016

Sex_traffickingOn May 10, our client the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) in conjunction with Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) put on an event on the topic of Sex Trafficking & the Tech Industry. The goal was to raise awareness about the issue of sex trafficking and initiate a dialogue among the tech industry to combat the problem here in Washington.

With such a sensitive subject there were naturally opposing views across the various speakers at the event – the King County Prosecutor, a sex trafficking survivor, c-level execs of local tech companies and a VC firm. Understanding these perspectives and encouraging the dialogue were a key to success from a media and event perspective.

The event with all its moving parts, reinforced the importance of some PR essentials:

Live and Die by the Messaging

It’s no secret that for any major initiative, it’s critical to have messaging nailed down before crafting the press release, the pitch, and most importantly, before approaching the media. However, we found this to be even more crucial with an event that covered controversial topics.

When multiple organizations and speakers with differing agendas are involved, it’s imperative that everyone agrees on a single messaging document. With multiple stakeholders, the sooner you start the message development process the better. And by soon we mean weeks, or preferably even a full month in advance. Throwing messaging together last minute is not only difficult from an approvals perspective, but also stalls the timeline for media outreach. Once the messaging has the green light from all key parties, be sure to distribute it to all participants involved so everyone is on the same page prior to being faced with any press questions.

Face Time with Press & Speakers

On the day of the event, it’s critical that the PR team proactively position themselves as the go-to coordinators for the speakers and press. At the WTIA event, we set up a table and checked in all press, speakers, and panelists – both equally important to meet and greet.

For press members, we put together a one-sheet document that included the agenda and background about each speaker and shared it with press ahead of the actual event. This allowed us to gain insight into the different angles each member of the press would take so we could set expectations with clients and coordinate interviews at the event. When press checked in at the event, we told them we’d act as the point people for coordinating with any of the speakers and asked if they had specific speakers in mind that they wanted to speak with after the event. We also asked if they were planning to stay until the end of the event. This allowed us to prioritize and coordinate with speakers at the event, even if that meant pulling the speaker aside during a break for an interview.

When speakers arrived, we had them check in with us so that we could introduce ourselves and let them know that we were their go-to person for all things media. It was critical that we were aware of which speakers were comfortable speaking with press and who they were representing (personal interest versus corporate affiliation). Knowing this information ahead of time allowed us to offer the right set of speakers to reporters.

Don’t Be Afraid of Broadcast

The nature of broadcast news is quick and constantly changing. It doesn’t matter how many times you call them the days leading up to your event, they will not make a decision to cover your event until the morning of – and sometimes after your event has already started. This was reinforced when we pitched broadcast news stations in Seattle. “Call back Monday,” or “We’ve got you in the docket, but we won’t know until Tuesday morning,” or “Sounds interesting, call me tomorrow at 9am” are all common responses you should expect.

Print out your broadcast media list and be prepared to have each station on speed dial, calling the news desk multiple times the morning of your event – the sooner the better. Even with a bright and early phone call, the likely response will be to call back in a few minutes to check in and this will likely be the response you get when you call back a second or third time.

The good news? Broadcast stations are extremely friendly, helpful, and appreciate the prompt follow up. The rule of thumb is to continue checking in until all meetings and decisions have been wrapped up at the station and you get a definitive yes or no. You might feel like you are being annoying – don’t. When that news anchor calls you back letting you know their en route to cover your event and you’re on the 11 o’clock news that night, it will all be worth it!

– Abby & Kristin

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