Reporters and editors have their own jargon and their own way of doing things, but it’s important to remember that they are also human beings. They value honesty, courtesy and respect.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: the media is not supposed to be your friend. They have a unique mission to remain as objective as possible, to ferret out the facts and to report that information to the public while working under crushing deadlines and operating in an extraordinarily competitive industry.
Keeping these things in mind will help you navigate the media landscape, whether you’re sending out a press release or dealing with a crisis that is affecting your company, your brand, your campaign or your reputation.
Imagine this: the phone rings and it’s a reporter on the other end of the phone. He or she needs a quick comment for a story that will be published in tomorrow’s newspaper. What do you do?
Or imagine this: you step out the front door and you find a TV news van parked in front of your home or office and suddenly you are face-to-face with a reporter and cameraman, What do you do?
I offer my clients an insider’s knowledge of the complex media landscape. For more than a decade, I worked as a reporter and editor. I still have many friends in the business.
Based on input from my media friends and my own experiences as a strategic communications consultant, I have developed a list of things you should do and things you should not do when dealing with the media.
1,) Be honest: Consider this the golden rule of dealing with the media. Don’t play games. People will judge you by your words and actions, especially if you find yourself in a crisis situation. Don’t hype your press release. Be concise and straightforward. If you lie, you will only make things worse.
2.) Have a plan: Don’t wait until a crisis arises before developing your media strategy. A comprehensive media plan will include your basic talking points, and everyone in your organization should know who the contact person is for dealing with the media. Anticipate and develop a list of tough questions, among other things.
3,) Stay on message: When the cameras start rolling or the reporter starts writing, many people have a tendency to panic. They either freeze like a deer in the headlights or they ramble endlessly. If you do these things, your message will be lost. As part of your media plan, you should have a “message box” Before your interview, memorize your message box and learn how to pivot back to your core message. Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them what you want to tell them; and then tell them what you told them. This way, your message does not get lost.
4.) Be respectful: Basic manners go a long way in helping you tell your story. Recognize that the media is working under deadlines. If a reporter calls you, ask about his or her deadline. Don’t spam their in-boxes with press releases that are actually advertisements. Step back and consider whether your story is newsworthy. Reporters are not part of your sales and marketing team. They only want news that is accurate, relevant and timely.
5.) Comment or No Comment? This is one of the toughest questions you will face when dealing with the media, and it should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Remember that the reporter has taken time out of his or her schedule to seek your input. By saying “no comment” you lose the opportunity to share your side of the story. That said, sometimes it is advisable to not comment, especially if the story is about a legal matter or involves proprietary information. Once you comment, you can’t take it back, and your comments can be used against you. (Refer to rules 2 and 3).
Dealing with the media does not have to be a headache or a frightening experience. Just remain calm, polite and on message. It also helps to have a PR pro on your side to help you navigate these situations. I invite you to contact me to learn more about media relations and how you can share your story with the public.