“Tell him I’m on the phone. I’ll call back later.”
“I’m in a meeting. Can’t talk until tomorrow.”
“God, why won’t they go away. Just tell them no comment.”
Sounds familiar? Overcoming the fear factor in dealing with the media is a hurdle that even the most seasoned professionals struggle to beat, suspecting the journalist of being ‘out to get us’ or plotting to print pure fabrication. Hand on heart, few of us actually enjoy being interviewed, or, worse, filmed. But by treating the media as a friend rather than foe, every contact can be turned into an opportunity. Possibly even an enjoyable one.
Old perceptions die hard – and are generally rooted in truth. Fact: every story worth its salt will be told as the journalist wants to tell it, not as the company sees it. Fact: a journalist is never off duty; beware ‘off the record’. Generally, however, journalists are simply looking for their next story and often need help from the experts to furnish the facts.
This is particularly true in trade journalism, where the vast majority of media enquiries are simply made to gather information. It might sound obvious, but journalists are experts in journalism. Not in Widget 2113 or Gizmo Inc. By helping them understand the intricacies of your area of expertise, you have the opportunity to become a valuable source of information – a source they will return to time and time again. And it is always advisable to have friends amongst journalists, particularly if you have a story to tell, or if things go wrong…
Remember, you don’t have to enter the fray alone. Developing an effective public relations strategy is a time-intensive process best handled by the experts. Creating a positive public image cannot be achieved overnight – it requires a long term commitment, a well thought out media relations plan and a team of knowledgeable, available and well trained spokespeople. PR professionals well versed in media handling can help turn every call into good coverage for your business.
Here are a few dos and don’ts to get you started:
- be available
- allocate official spokespeople
- rehearse – particularly for online or TV broadcast interviews
- respond – ideally via your PR consultant in the first instance
- respect the journalist’s deadline
- wing it – preparation is key
- speculate – always find out the facts
- underestimate the reporter – a junior researcher may be gathering leads for a major story
So go on, take the call. Involve your PR consultant – and make the most of the opportunity to have your say.