All press is good press, right? Well, not necessarily. Although it’s great to get your organization in print or featured in other types of media, it’s critical when dealing with media contacts that you are well prepared to appropriately respond to inquiries, direct questions, and what is happening in your industry or business. If you don’t respond correctly (or worse – not at all), you run the risk of negative publicity or inaccurate information being presented about you, which may take considerable time to rectify.
Basic guidelines go a long way in preparing yourself and your team in how to respond to media inquiries. First, RESPOND. This may seem rudimentary, but shockingly many businesses do not return the calls of reporters, even when the reporters are calling to do feature stories or other coverage that will result in a high level of visibility for the organization. If you cannot respond directly to a message left for you, make sure that you have a set protocol in your office for how to field messages and reply to the caller immediately. We advise our clients that the ultimate PR goal for an organization is to gain the credibility and trust of local media so that they will be regularly called upon for comment on related news stories. The best way to begin building that credibility is to respond to all media inquiries with timeliness and interest.
CALL reporters – do not rely on email. It’s essential to communicate directly with the media and phone calls are still favored over email when it comes to responding to a reporter’s request for an interview. If a reporter calls you at a time when you cannot conveniently speak with them, tell them exactly when you will be done and offer to call them back immediately.
No discussion of media relations would be complete without special attention to handling media inquiries amidst circumstances of controversy or rumor. In the event of “bad news,” your organization’s leadership should assemble all pertinent facts, outline a strategy for notifying media, and receive administrative approval for the notification of news media. If your organization does not employ a media relations manager, designate a spokesperson who is knowledgeable of the facts to be the key media contact.
Next, gain the upper hand by calling the media before they call you. Being first with the story gives your organization an opportunity, whenever applicable, to emphasize positive points. You’re more likely to receive a fair and balanced media account rather than a one-sided and sometimes distorted view. Always follow the five principles of crisis response media relations:
1. Get it over with
2. Don’t make it worse
3. Acknowledge immediately and provide facts fast
4. Tell the truth
5. Reassure your audience
Remember, reporters are allies in the PR business, not the enemy. They do a service to the community by shedding light on pertinent issues, resources and service offerings, and what they write can propel your organization tremendously. Treat the media like the essential component of success that they truly are; connecting and staying committed to a quality relationship with the media will advance your presence and visibility in the community, encouraging your audience to learn and advocate on your behalf.