Speaking for most public relations practitioners, there is nothing we like more than when our work results in a tangible benefit for our clients. We know that it isn''t enough to secure a story here and there. The stories need to be on message and present your company and its leadership as a force with important things to contribute. And after the stories are published or aired, it''s important to merchandise the coverage to maximize the benefit.

The story behind a profile story of one of our favorite clients, Schipul - The Web Marketing Company (www.schipul.com), illustrates the power of preparation. You can see the story at http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/stories/2004/04/26/smallb1.html?t=printable. It is a positive piece that presents Schipul as a customer-focused company that is willing to take chances. Here are the elements that brought it together:

PLANNING - Ed Schipul met with DPK Public Relations to discuss possible story angles. In these exploratory sessions, we uncovered a number of interesting business angles, but one of the most compelling was the decision to change the company''s revenue model. As we examined that decision, we determined that it helped illustrate a number of other major points that are central to Schipul''s message. These include being customer-focused, offering exceptional value and being strategic rather than tactical. Through an interactive planning process, we identified the story we wanted to tell.

CREATIVITY - Some public relations practitioners are sure that they need to do something zany to capture the attention of an editor. I am not one of them. I don''t buy into the idea that you need bells and whistles to be creative. Instead, you can be creative and grab an editor''s imagination with a great pitch e-mail. Our pitch emphasized that Schipul was not a run-of-the-mill Web design firm; they are a Web Marketing Company that is on the leading edge of Web tracking.

PERSISTENCE - While the editor was generally receptive, we were not immediately on the fast track to story development. The editor had passed it along to a reporter who put it on the back burner indefinitely. While being respectful of the reporter''s decision, we made it a point to periodically provide additional information and make sure the reporter was aware of Schipul''s new business wins, new hires and other developments. Staying on the reporter''s radar while not being pushy was key to our success.

ACCESSIBILITY - When another story fell through, the reporter knew we would be ready with a solid story, so she contacted us first. We didn''t disappoint her, making arrangements with short notice to accomodate her requests for information. Being accessible and flexible to accomodate the needs of a journalist can often be the difference between getting the story and dropping back to the bottom of the list. Don''t play games by acting too important.

SPOKESPERSON PREPARATION - The final step in ensuring our success was preparing Schipul CEO Ed Schipul to make the most of this opportunity. We worked together to define key messages and carefully examined how he could weave the messages into his story. We also focused on message discipline to help ensure that the story we wanted to focus on -- the customer-focused culture of the organization -- would be the focal point of the reporter''s story. If you are not focused in delivering your message, a journalist is more likely to go in a different direction than you anticipated. Message discipline is key for having someone else understand your story and tell it the way you envision.

What many organizations fail to understand about media relations is that it is uncontrolled communications. You are giving your story to another person who will present the facts the way they please. However, you can control the contribution you make to the story. If your spokesperson stays narrowly focused on the message and uses "bridging" techniques to return to key points regardless of a journalist''s questions, you will have a better chance of success.