Don’t do THIS with Reporters - 4 Don'ts for Media Relations
Some days, media relations is exhilarating, and some days it is quite a chore. Any seasoned media relations professional or senior management staff in an organization dreads the phone call or email from a reporter asking for comment on a story you would prefer they not do.
There are dozens of reasons why you don’t want a story to be published and many times a bad story could have been prevented long before the media was aware. Alternatively, you simply may not be comfortable in the role of media liaison so every call is dreadful.
No matter your reason, the fact of the matter is they are likely not going away. You’re going to have to talk to them. There are plenty of training courses and free resources on the TCW Academy website to help you handle a media inquiry in ways that result in the best possible story for your organization.
Here, we will share the four don’ts.
Don’t #1 - Don’t Lie to Reporters
Reporters, like mothers, always learn the truth. Often, they will detect a lie as soon as it is given, but will allow you to keep digging. The further you dig, the greater their story will be when your lie falls apart. And it will fall apart.
By not divulging the truth, you may successfully navigate the immediate threat. In other words, it may get you out of the current jam you find yourself in, but it’s likely not gone for good. Good reporters are resourceful. They will check your statements for accuracy and call you out publicly if/when they find discrepancies.
There are a million ways a lie could go south for you, so don’t do it.
Instead, get the bad news out first. Own it, but then provide the necessary context to put the situation into the proper perspective for the reporter. And remember, the reporter and their outlet are only a pipeline to your stakeholders. The reporter isn’t your audience so speak to the reporter as though you are speaking to your stakeholders. Provide them with the information they need to hear from you to maintain trust.
Ultimately, the reporter is going to tell the story they want to tell and you have very little control over its content and slant. Lying will only ensure it is more painful than it needs to be.
Don’t #2 - Don’t Assume You’re Off the Record
A good reporter is masterful at building rapport with somebody and making them feel safe to share just about anything. Don’t bite. Remember this: you are never off the record. Even when a reporter agrees to remain off the record, assume that anything you tell them will find its way into the story.
Also, don’t assume they are no longer taking notes, the audio recorder is no longer running, or the camera is turned off. A reporter looking to set you up will make it appear as though the interview is over. They will start packing up and continue the conversation in a much more casual style. This is a trick. They may still be recording, but at the very least they are still interviewing. Treat this part of the conversation the same way you did during the recorded interview.
You are covered if you assume that everything you say at all times while in the presence of a reporter is on the record and may be used in their story.
Don’t #3 - Don’t Ignore Them
Reporters don’t give up easily. Anybody whose responsibility includes media relations has to take the call or answer the email. Even when you know that the ultimate outcome of the story will result in damage to your organization, you have to take the call.
Not taking the call won’t result in the story of being published. It will be, but it will be absent your voice.
Instead, take a short amount of time to prepare yourself for the interview. Develop talking points and get your thoughts in order before responding.
Even if you happened to pick up the phone and they caught you unprepared, let them know you are currently busy but would like to schedule some time later that day or the next to speak. Then use that time to prepare.
Even in a bad story, you would rather your voice be part of the story than left out altogether. That way at least you have a slight chance of influencing the direction and slant of the story.
Don’t #4 - Don’t Argue
Reporters can get under your skin – and they do it intentionally. From their perspective, raw emotion makes for a much better story. Getting somebody to lash out is very entertaining television.
Don’t take the bait.
They will goad you, accuse you, blame you, and throw all kinds of garbage your way to get you out of your comfort zone and away from your talking points. Stay the course. Stick to your talking points and maintain a calm and collected demeanor. You can gripe about them all you want when they leave, but stay calm, collected and professional in their presence.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to take everything they throw at you. If they become out of line or outright disrespectful, or if their nonsense questions are never ending, end the interview. Give them fair warning that it’s time to move on, or they need to adjust their tone with you, but if it continues, simply thank them for their time and end the interview. Even in this instance, remain calm and cool. Don’t lash out. Simply don’t provide them with anything else.
Even more effective, be on record letting them know that you have asked them very politely to refrain from the accusations or inappropriate questions and since they have not ceased, the interview is over.
Follow this up with a call to their editor or producer. Let them know you were accommodating the reporter as they requested and make them aware of the reporter’s behavior and that your organization will still cooperate with the media outlet on this and other stories, but not with that particular reporter.
Too often, we make media relations more difficult than it needs to be. A qualified and experienced media relations professional is a tremendous asset to every organization. If you don’t have the luxury of having one on staff, use the resources provided on the TCW Academy website or reach out and our team would be glad to provide training.
Don’t let something you can control result in the worst possible outcome for your organization.