Dealing with the media is sometimes perceived – deliberately so- as a dark art which only the highly skilled can master. At the risk of talking myself out of a job, I disagree with that. Sure, interacting with journalists can sometimes be tricky to manage, but I am sure most advisers are already adept at managing relationships.
And essentially that is what media relations is; effectively managing relationships. Or more simply, its knowing your customer (the journalist and his / her publication) and understanding how your products and services might help the customer (the story).
There are lots of different and enjoyable ways to manage the relationship – meetings, hospitality, tip offs, and of course imparting news- which I would suggest embracing to the fullest. But there are one or two- actually four for the purposes of this piece- things you might want to avoid.
Tell the truth. Even typing that feels odd. Surely telling the truth is what we should all adhere to anyway. But I continue to be amazed by examples of public figures who think it’s appropriate to avoid telling the truth when speaking to journalists. Take the recent example of Angela Leadsom, and her unfortunate comments about how being a mum gave her the upper hand politically, and look how that turned out.
So for the avoidance of doubt, tell the truth at all times when speaking to journalists. Increasingly journalists record face-to-face interviews or meetings on their iPhone so they often have proof of what was said. But as rule of thumb deal only in facts and only share opinions you would be happy seeing in any article or newsfeed.
- Checking in
Picture the scene; you’ve spent ages crafting what you believe to be a master-piece of a press release / article. You then research which publications you think will be interested in hearing this news and you issue it far and wide. And then you reach for the phone to check if the journalists have seen your release. Stop. Don’t do it. Step away from the phone or email.
Years ago, I had the ‘pleasure’ of working in a financial services agency machine where some of my colleagues were charged with “hitting the phones”. I discovered this basically meant calling journalists to see if they had seen the press release. I quickly learned how much this really hacked journalists off. And it still does. Much better to ring, gauge interest and then send details across. Rather than harass once you have sent. Simple rule is; if the journalist is interested it, they will run it.
- Filling the space
Empty silences. We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a tricky first date, nervy job interviews or - in this case- a journalist meeting or phone call that has dried up. Awkward. Naturally, you want the awkwardness to stop and the silence to be filled. And the easiest thing to do is to fill the space with chat, or babbling even.
It’s one of the oldest hack tricks in the book. The journalist knows whichever spokesperson they are meeting will start to feel uncomfortable and, typically, over-share. So, instead of giving away all the family silver when the nerves kick in- which they will inevitably, try staying calm and asking some questions of your own. That will buy some time and hopefully help get the conversation back on track.
- Peddling old wares
Journalists deal in stories, ideally exclusive ones. Their job is to report the news as it happens and they all want to be the first to ‘break the news’. They will not be impressed with a story that is a) old hat and b) somebody has already written. So try to avoid sending them a story that has already appeared somewhere else. It’s a bit like expecting your 12-year-old to wear last season’s kit for their favourite team.
It is of course fine to offer one publication an exclusive story allowing them to write the news before others. If it’s a big enough story- an acquisition for example- most publications will follow suit. But far better for that decision to be a journalist led one than one which you are seeking to force.