By Eric Stratton
Telling your business’s or organization’s story is a must, and one means of doing so is through the media. The way you interact with the media – regardless of whether it is print, radio, television or anything else – will impact the quantity and quality of coverage you and your company will receive.
Here’s a 12-step program on how to improve your company’s relationship with the media:
1. Meet your media people. If you haven’t scheduled an appointment with an editor, reporter or news person to introduce yourself then do it. It does not need to be a lunch, as a matter of fact don’t try to buy them lunch. It does not even necessarily need to be a face-to-face either. A phone call is good – better than an email – take a few minutes to introduce yourself.
2. Send press releases. These are regular communication of what is going on with you and your company and more importantly, news people do read them. If you have something in particular that you would like to bring to their attention then try to personalize it with a greeting and explanation or summary when sending it to the media outlet.
3. Show respect. Good communications people read publications, listen to local radio talk shows, watch local television news, follow local blogs and other social networks. They subscribe or pick up everything in town. They can speak knowledgeably to news reporter about what is going on in the community and what the media is covering.
4. Share information freely. The media is in the news business. If you share general or specific information with them they will value the relationship.
5. Empower your people. News reporters don’t always want to speak with the communications person at your company. There is a concern that the communications contact just wants to put a positive spin on everything, which is, in fact, their job. Media wants access to people within the organization. You need to determine who is capable and willing to speak with the media and trust and empower them to do it. Don’t try to control the media – they don’t like it.
6. Always return contact. If you receive a phone call from the media make your response a top priority. It will help make them feel important. Plus, most media are on a deadline and need to speak with sources right away. First come, first serve. But even if you can not comment at least return the call so that they know that.
7. Take advantage of whatever opportunities you are offered. Occasionally the media will reach out to you, whether it be as a source for a story or to pen a column or opinion piece. Do your best to respond. They may not be sourcing a story you particularly wanted them to cover or they may be giving you a short turnaround time on the column. Don’t use these as excuses not to respond. An opportunity is an opportunity; period. Take full advantage. In addition, the media remembers who is likely to be counted on at crunch time. Therefore in the future you might be on the short list to contact or the media might be more open-minded when it comes to your story suggestions.
8. Do not always be self-serving. This kind of ties back to #4, except it is linked to a specific story. If you hear a story that is genuinely newsworthy but does not necessarily involve your company or organization you still might make contact the media about what you have heard. News reporters respect and appreciate people who are not always out for themselves.
9. Don’t ask – just inform. This is important. Many journalists are cynical and skeptical by nature. Instead of selling your story, just provide the information and hope for the best. If you have to try to convince the media to do it in the first place then it most likely is not going to work. In a sense, try to make it their idea, not yours.
10. Don’t offer a trade. It will leave a bad taste in their mouth if you approach them with the idea that if they do a story then you will buy an ad or worse that you bought an ad so you expect a story to support it. In addition, if you find out the media already are doing a story, do not necessarily rush to purchase advertising as a “thank you” or try to tie it in. It only hurts their credibility. Treat news and advertising separately altogether.
11. Participate in the process. Write a letter to the editor or call into a radio station. This can be one of the most effective means of using the media but unfortunately is probably the least often used. Legitimate news outlets not only respect, but appreciate, reasonable criticism and sensible, sound input. Yes, it takes some extra effort on your part but that also lets them know that you are serious.
12. Finally, “off-the-record.” You can always feel free to tell a reporter anything if you preface it with “off-the-record.” The golden rule for reporters is that if a source says that they do not want to be quoted then the reporter cannot use them for any reason. Professional reporters do adhere to ethics, and they will respect your wishes to go off-the-record; although, if they did not at least try to coax you to go on the record, they’re not doing their jobs.