As a former public information officer and public relations professional, I’ve uncovered some best practices with regard to dealing with members of the media in an effort to amplify your message. Below are four ways you can help them help you!
1. Be purposeful.
Not every happening in your organization deserves an all-out public relations assault. This was tough for me to get the hang of at first in a government position, but learning what topics rise to the occasion of a press release, an event or even a simple photo and cutline can raise your status with the media.
Reporters get a lot of e-mail. I know because I used to be one. Pitches are coming from everywhere, and it’s easy for important information to get lost in the shuffle. In addition, e-mail can become a massive time-waster. Time is of the essence for anyone who works a deadline-drive job.
If you limit your communications to important topics, your more infrequent messages will be met with far less scrutiny. It’s the whole, “Wow, this must be important, we only hear from (insert name here) when we should be paying attention” thing.
Be sure to utilize social media and other methods of reaching out for newsworthy-to-you items that deserve some air time but might not rise to the level of a media list blitz.
2. Foster relationships based on respect and understanding.
Err, thanks for that truth bomb, Kim…
Journalists appreciate working with public relations practitioners who ‘get’ them and the idiosyncrasies of their jobs. Always be considerate of their deadlines and ask them when they’d like to receive requested information. And stick to your word. If you say you’re going to do something or provide information, follow through. Or at the very least, have a damn good explanation as to why you are unable to perform. Anything that can make hectic day-to-day tasks easier will keep you in the media’s good graces. This applies to all areas – both mundane and controversial.
In my experience this — more than anything else — has the potential to tip your relationship with the media in a positive or negative direction. I’ve worked with communications folks who believe a friendly personal relationship with a reporter can trump the mechanics of the job. They spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone with media members, having to persuade the reporter on the other end to report an issue one way or the other, or to try to get the reporter to scrap a piece all together. For all of that effort, the situation could have been handled with a well crafted written statement that addresses inquiries head-on.
Bottom line, always have a healthy respect for a reporter’s job. Realize they are free to report on any topic regardless of your personal relationship. It’s better to get your message out there in written format from the get-go than to hope the reporter or his or her editor has a change of heart.
Even if you or your organization is misrepresented, we live in a social media age. You can get your side of the story in front of a large audience cheaply and easily.
3. Strive to be an accurate, trusted source who provides easy-to-understand information.
Having a background in Associated Press Style (AKA the journalist’s writing format) is a huge advantage when it comes to sending stories to the media, but it’s not absolutely necessary. What’s most important is to write short and keep your most important facts and/or ‘news hook’ in the first sentences of your announcements. (Google ‘inverted pyramid’ to learn more.) Think of yourself as the journalist. Cite your sources just as they would.
Writing this way gives you the best chance of having your information copied and pasted with very little effort on the reporter’s part. And your efforts can also pull double duty as a blog or social media post should media interest not be exactly what you’d hoped for.
The very best way to persuade members of the media to pay attention to you or your company is to simply make it easy for them by providing accurate information in a format they can use.
4. Give them what they want.
Be open and honest with reporters. Explain the background of subjects if you have the knowledge and authority to do so. These details make stories easier for everyone to understand, most importantly your target audience. If you have something you can’t reveal, simply say so and give the reasoning.
If a reporter wants an interview, arrange to have one, but only after you’ve thoroughly vetted what information will be covered and have prepped your subject. Most times the reporter will understand that calling for an interview on short notice may not work with busy schedules, and they’re OK with this. (Outside of emergency situations, of course.)
Always have a written statement with pertinent talking points ready as a backup. This is an easy way to ensure your subject stays on topic and mentions crucial information. Provide the statement as a supplement to the interview or simply use it in case you need to get your side of the story out on social media.
In short, don’t be shady. And certainly don’t act shady if there’s no reason for it! Inviting suspicion is never, ever a good thing, especially when it comes to the media.
Renee A. Simpson is a communications specialist in the Greater New Orleans area. For more information about her, visit www.melismaticdesigns.com.