Deskside Briefings: The Who, What, and Why for EffectivenessThe public relations industry is full of “this is dead” and “so is this” predictions.

The news release is deadMedia relations is deadNewswires are deadPublic relations is deadDeskside briefings are dead!

Of course, we all know this is Chicken Little (or Henny Penny) at its finest.

None of these things, least of all an entire industry, are dead.

Things certainly have changed.

When I started Arment Dietrich 12 years ago, no one was doing deskside briefings anymore.

Which is precisely why they worked!

Of course, at that time, Inc. published an article about deskside briefings and how overused they are.

According to the article, deskside briefings are just a fancy way of saying interview.

By constantly using different buzzwords, PR pros are doing what they do best: taking something commonplace and spiffing it up with shiny new language.

And here we are, 10 years later still debating the topic.

But that doesn’t mean deskside briefings are dead.

Media Relations = Relationships

Perhaps it’s semantics, but deskside briefings are not interviews.

An interview is a conversation between a reporter and your client or executive about a specific topic or story.

A deskside briefing, which is what they have been called as long as I’ve been in the PR business, is an opportunity to meet a reporter and begin to establish a relationship.

If a PR person is selling it to their client or executive as a guaranteed story, that is spin.

The point is to begin a relationship—a conversation—not get a story out of it. If a story does come out of it, that’s a golden egg, but it’s not the goal.

In this day and age when no one meets in person anymore, a deskside briefing is extremely effective.

Not only does it begin to build a relationship, but if your client or executive and the journalist hit it off in person, they are much more likely to embrace the relationship and call for trusted source interviews…over and over and over again.

What is a Deskside Briefing?

We have this preconceived notion that we have to follow the latest and greatest trends to do media relations.

And, in some cases, we do.

But there also is something to be said for the tried and true tactics, particularly if they’ve been claimed dead.

That means no one else is doing them so you can stand out among the gazillions of communicators who are pitching journalists today.

Enter the deskside briefing.

A deskside briefing is where you meet with a journalist or blogger in person.

In some cases, you could meet with several journalists at one organization—we do this with food clients a lot.

Or you could meet a journalist for coffee to discuss trends, ideas, and brainstorm where you might be able to help.

In both cases, your spokesperson is the lead communicator; your job is to facilitate the conversation and keep quiet.

The best part is you are meeting in person, which never happens anymore.

The journalist and your client or executive get to read one another’s body language, hear tone of voice, and start a relationship.

They both are away from the office and from other distractions.

Their time is solely focused on the other.

Your goal is to have your spokesperson provide enough information on his or her expertise that the journalist thinks of you first when producing a story where you can contribute.

The Do’s of Deskside Briefings

There are several things you can do to make sure your deskside briefings go according to plan.

  1. Do your research. I know this sounds like one of those things I shouldn’t have to say, but do your research. You will have only four deskside briefings in one day. Make sure the journalists you pitch are the right ones for your organization—and that they’re open to meeting with you. Dig into what they’ve written, what they share on social media, even any public personal information. The brief for each journalist should include as much information as you can find.
  2. Find the right spokesperson. In some cases, your spokesperson might be the chief executive officer. And it could be a subject matter expert. If you are meeting with NPR and they want to talk about how much of their donations go to actually helping people, don’t put your operations and logistics executive in front of the producer. If you can’t get the right spokesperson for the journalist, don’t do the deskside briefing!
  3. Find the right journalist. Today media outlets have on-staff teams and stringers—freelancers who may or may not write for other publications. If you’re going to be in New York City and you want to meet with the New York Times, make certain the journalist who would cover your area is actually in that office. Trust me, this is a gigantic mistake made often. Don’t get to New York only to discover your food editor is in Napa or Washington, D.C. (not that I speak from experience or anything…nope).
  4. Set expectations. Deskside briefings are not meant to get ink. They are meant to build relationships with the journalists and media outlets that are important to your organization. Make sure you set those expectations. This is a long play. You’re building relationships, which take time. They will be effective in the long run, but they take time.

The Don’ts of Deskside Briefings

There also are some things that you should not do (number two above applies here, too):

  1. Don’t freak out. There are a trillion things that can go wrong. We had three days of deskside briefings planned when President Bush announced we were going to war. Needless to say, not one journalist showed up. Not one. We used that trip to get b-roll for upcoming videos and we rescheduled the deskside briefings. As painful as it was—and as disappointed as the client was—we made good with it. Things happen. Don’t freak.
  2. Don’t underprepare. Often your spokespeople will say they don’t need to prepare. After all, they’re the experts. Please, please, please do not let your spokesperson go into the briefing blind. You may have to put your foot down—and he or she may be angry with you—but that will be better than them screwing up an opportunity. Give them key messages to convey, provide them with briefs on each of the journalists (see number one above), and practice.

Keep in Touch

Once your deskside briefings are complete, it’s time to stay top-of-mind.

Make sure you stay in touch with everyone you met, and provide them pertinent information as you can.

Share their content. Chat with them on social media. Flag industry information.

Keep building the relationship and that first in-person meeting will result in big things.

Now it’s your turn…

What success, do’s and don’ts do you have for deskside briefings?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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