Media relations don’t have to be daunting or scary, especially for the small or home-based business owner. 

Unfortunately, media outlets and, more specifically, reporters have gotten a bad reputation for ‘spinning a story’ just to sell headlines or hike readership stats.  The reality is most reporters are not devious monsters seeking to put words into your mouth, deliberately making you appear foolish or inadequate in your job.  Most reporters are genuinely interested in doing their best to cover a story and provide accurate news coverage to the public.  So unless you are foolish or inadequate in your job (tongue-in-cheek), you should have nothing to fear.

Here are a few key points to remember when speaking to the media:

  • Take a proactive stance in the media, rather than reactive. Establish key messages that you want to communicate in the interview and get out to the public.  Make sure you or your spokesperson practice/memorize these key messages and find ways to work them into your answer if the reporter asks a pointed or difficult question.
  • Determine which subject you are going to be an expert on and then focus on researching and speaking to those issues.  If the interview strays from those issues, steer it back to the topics you know and can speak to.  Don’t pretend to be an expert on everything.  Nobody is and pretending to be never turns out well for anybody.
  • As often as possible, conduct your interviews face-to-face.  It is said that body language accounts for over 50% of our overall communication.  You will be much more effective in communicating your key messages if the reporter can see your facial expressions and the emphasis you’re putting on different elements of your topic.
  • The only way to ensure your message is the exact message communicated to the public is to pay for it.  Although they can provide excellent promotion and coverage, media interviews do not replace advertising.  Don’t be surprised if and when the media focus on the ‘wrong’ part of your interview or take the story in a different direction.  They’re focused on printing/airing/reporting the info that they believe will be most interesting to their readers or listeners.

What not to do:

  • Don’t say “no comment.”  Despite what you mean by those words, anyone else who hears them hears guilt or denial.  Even if you’re not hiding something, these two words cause media mayhem and public distrust.
  • Don’t say “off the record.”  There’s no such thing.  Think about it.  Even if you say these words to a friend or relative, they now have ‘record’ of it in their minds which could at any time accidentally be repeated or purposefully used against you.  If you truly feel the reporter is a close, trustworthy friend in whom you can confide upcoming projects or events, use your own discretion. 
  • Reporters typically don’t want to burn bridges and aren’t as likely to publish ‘off the record’ or mispoken comments as people think they will.  After all, if they have established a reputable relationship with you, why would they deliberately destroy that?  But if they do, you have every right to refuse an interview with them in the future.  This hurts them more than it will hurt you or your business.
  • Don’t send out media notices and press releases for every little event, program or issue.  Depending on the media outlet, they may receive hundreds of releases and notices every day.  If your business or organization has been bombarding them with releases on every small issue, they may deliberately skip over yours without even reading it and move on to something from a more discerning business or organization.  Make sure it’s newsworthy – don’t waste their time just as you don’t want your time wasted.

Other ways to establish positive media relations:

  • It has been said there is no great value in getting friendly with the media.  They are there only to be used to get your message across and your advertising out.  I disagree with this.  While I don’t necessarily advocate for being extra chummy with your media reps, there is certainly value in developing a relationship with them.  If you can, take your media reps out for lunch every once in awhile to connect in a non-business environment.  Again, this will make it much more unlikely that they would ‘burn any bridges’ with you as an interview source or subject expert.
  • Media love to be contacted and fed information about news in the community, so they tend to treat their reputable sources well.  Be good to them and they will be good to you, typically.
  • Pay attention to the particular needs of your media outlets.  Know when their deadlines are and whether or not they’ll want a photo to go with the story, etc.  Give them as much heads-up as possible before upcoming events or releases.

Have a great week and happy communicating!

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