with the Media. | Be a Resource, Not a Flack!
TV, Online, Trade Press, Print, Radio... How Do I Choose?
Know On the Record.And Off | Be a
Handling Bad News | Conclusion
Working with the Media
Here's a little bit of inside baseball: no matter how smart
and smooth you think you are, everyone succeeds and fails in this
game. The real truth is that media relations are an art never fully
mastered. However, over the past thirty-plus years of dealing with
the media, we've found some commonalities that will help you understand
how to make communicating with the Fourth Estate a little easier.
First and foremost, no two media people are the same. Each editor,
writer and reporter has different objectives, skills and personalities.
They have unique styles of working, and, believe it or not, most
are in it for the opportunity to correctly inform their readers.
However, they also like seeing their name in the byline and certainly
don't mind your help in giving them a story.
When you target specific editors and publications, try to get to
know as much as you can about them: their style, beat, deadlines,
background interests, experience and information needs. The more
you understand the publication you are pitching, the more comfortable
it will be to approach a writer with an idea. Familiarizing yourself
with media goes beyond reading a business audit report or a list
of editorial departments. A strategic approach involves understanding
how they normally approach a subject, and becoming familiar with
what's already been reported. By doing your homework and efficiently
targeting appropriate media outlets, you not only save their time,
but yours as well. It's a win-win situation. For example, Time and
Newsweek may not be interested in a story on the ramifications of
broken lighting switches on industry production. However, Money,
Changing Times, or Personal Investor may be very interested in the
potential effect on investor's returns.
Recognizing that a reporter's time is just as valuable to them
as yours is to you will put you ahead in the game. Journalists simply
don't have time to read voluminous material. Make sure you are well
prepared and that your pitch is informative, to-the-point and never
flowery. Build and share clip files. Keep articles on key topics
as backgrounders that can help writers get up to speed. When making
a call, ask the journalist if they are on deadline, if they have
time to talk or when would be a more convenient time to call back.
If you've got a great story, don't waste your time with generic
press releases and press kits that lack exclusivity. If a journalist
receives a press release, he or she probably assumes other journalists
have received the same release. The media are highly competitive.
Instead, personalize communications to editors and reporters to
convey a sense of exclusivity.
And remember.a picture is still worth a thousand words. Nothing
compares to a photograph or even a chart when trying to focus a
reader's attention on you and what you are saying. USA Today, the
most widely read daily in the country, is built on graphics.
Don't be afraid to go beyond the 9-to-5 and build a relationship
with the media. Look at them as you would any other business contact.
Invite them to events; feel free to do more than "talk shop" and
network! Building off of your existing relationships with the media
is easier than starting from scratch.
Be a Resource, Not a Flack!
Good resources educate the writer with facts -- so that the writer
can then educate their readers on both sides of the question. Use
perspective when presenting a story idea. You are not the only viewpoint.
For credibility, make sure you know something about the subject
of the article. If you don't know enough to comment try and find
someone who does. The favor is usually paid back in spades. Also,
know the day's news. The writer may ask you for your opinion.
Make yourself the go-to-person on a topic. Offer to send internal
memos, if possible. (Reporters, like most people, love to read information
that was not for their eyes!) Make sure your idea interests a wide
audience and not just yourself- you risk losing credibility and
being labeled a self-promoter. However, calling when you don't need
something and proposing a good idea that has nothing to do with
your firm is a tremendous credibility builder. For example, if you
see an industry story based on bogus information, take the opportunity
to tell the reporter what he or she may have missed. Most important-
be patient and persistent. It can sometimes take 3 to 6 months before
some writers really listen to an idea.
Consider exclusives carefully. While you may get immediate exposure,
your overall exposure may be limited as a result.
TV, Online, Trade Press, Print, Radio..How
do I choose?!
Sometimes it's smart to first concentrate primarily on print or
online media - especially when immediacy is important. As far as
other outlets, there are mixed emotions surrounding broadcast media
(television and radio). Some feel it provides pizzazz and glamour,
while others feel there's not much marketing value. That will be
something you have to asses given your specific needs and projects.
A great untapped resource is journalism's "ugly ducklings"- newsletters
and trade publications. While certainly not as glamorous as other
media outlets, they are among the most productive for generating
Don't be afraid to explore cutting-edge outlets like blogs, podcasts
and online social networking sites, like MySpace. They can connect
you with your audience in a different way in addition to bringing
your message to a new crowd.
Know On the Record.And Off
Remember, the majority of reporters care enough to want to do an
accurate and fair story; they are not your adversaries. However,
as soon as someone says "I'm a reporter!" you are on notice
that anything you say is on the record - and could be attributed
quoting you by name, title and company affiliation.
It is okay to agree to talk, but set the ground rules first. If
you want to go on record, tell them up front. If you don't want
to be quoted by name, tell them you are only willing to be an "industry
source" or "someone close to the deal." If you are worried about
being identified, and you don't know the reporter, better to pass
than risk exposure. Remember, even if you are off the record, the
reporter can and will use the information you provide to gather
more information or confirm it with another source. Ask the reporter
to go over their notes with you at the end of the interview. In
fact, set this as a ground rule before you even begin. This way
you can go back and correct inaccuracies- before they're in print!
Be a Good Interview!
Ninety percent of your success in an interview will depend on
Ask the reporter what they intend to talk about. They may not give
you every question they are going to ask, but at least you can get
a good feel for where they are coming from. Then do your research:
when armed with explosive facts, even mediocre speakers can make
passionate and accurate presentations. Write down two or three points
you want to communicate during the interview. By making your points,
you have more control over the "marketing effectiveness"
of the result.
To prep for a live press conference bring in cameras, lights,
people with cellular phones, former journalists stepping on each
other's lines, and sometimes, even cameramen yelling at their reporter.
Why? When you encounter the same chaos at the event, you will probably
be more relaxed.
During the interview, take your time and think about the question.
Formulate your answers and speak slowly. Give the reporter a context
for your comments; spend enough time to be sure the reporter understands
the broad picture. If you can't answer a question, say so, denying
the obvious ruins your credibility. Also, keep your cool and don't
insult the reporter or put them on the defensive. Remember- they
have the final word.
If you are delivering prepared remarks, provide reporters in the
audience with copies before you begin. This will help them to follow
the text and better understand your message.
Be aware of your body language. Before you even say a word, it
can portray you to the press as credible and convincing -- or evasive
and guilty. To present a positive vibe and get the reporter's attention,
lean forward when you're talking and have your arms and hands open.
Funny as it may sound, avoid sending signals like touching your
ears (experts say it's a sign of deception), your face (you want
to hide), and the back of your neck (Shows fear and that you want
to get out of there). These experts may be full of it, but hey,
what's to lose?
After the interview, urge the reporter to call you back if they
need clarification. Reporters may be hesitant to call you back for
clarification unless you specifically invite them. Better yet, have
a designated assistant on the call or in the interview so that if
you can't get back to the writer immediately to clarify a question,
your assistant can. Also, if you realize you forgot to make an important
point or provided incorrect information, immediately telephone the
reporter. The article may be going to press that very day.
Handling Bad News
Bad news moves like waves, building slowly then cresting. If you
find yourself riding the wave, take heart. In time, even bad news
subsides. The secret in managing bad news is to take action in the
first few minutes or hours of the first day. Don't hesitate. You
can't hope to control bad news by being evasive.
When something is wrong and it's your fault, send in the right
spokesperson early - preferably someone who can be sincere and apologetic.
If necessary have experts available to explain what happened, and
how it will be corrected.
Remember: the truth works best. Most people are uncomfortable fabricating
a story. They worry about being caught and they usually don't fare
too well on camera. Plus, the media pretty much know when they're
being fed a line - and, not surprisingly, they resent it.
Remember, these are just a few of the conclusions we have come
to in our more than thirty-years in the business. They are not designed
to be law, or written in stone and they are definitely still a work
in progress. As we stated above, they are meant to provide you with
a little understanding about the Fourth Estate that will make dealing
with them a little less unnerving and hopefully a lot more successful.
The above tips were compiled by
GallenNeilly Associates, Inc.,
Walnut Creek, Calif.