In my PR career, I’ve heard some unbelievable things people have said about “The Media.” Things that made “The Media” out to be some kind of monolithic machine, the political equivalent of the Teabagger viewpoint about “The Government” (as if “The Government” were one entity. Seriously, are they mad at the Department of Agriculture, or The Business Transformation Office over at the Department of Defense?!)
Still, the big bad “Media” is there to report news and if you have bad news, it generally will be reported in some fashion. There are ways, however, to diffuse the fear or anxiety of dealing with “The Media.” Some of these true examples hopefully underscore my point:
1) “Are they going to look for skeletons?” asked one worried small business owner who was going to be profiled. If the business desk is assigning an Investigative Reporter to your story, yes. However General Assignment reporters are not there to dig up the dirt and look for bones, they simply want your story. They don’t have another agenda. Having a good media kit and key messages in place to hand off to someone in the media puts up guardrails to help focus your business or issues on what’s important and positive.
2) “Can I review the story before it’s written?” Hardly ever, although sometimes the rare reporter who gets really want to get it right, or is challenged by a complex issue about something your company does, or something you did, will let you review for accuracy but not content changes. That’s why media training in advance of interviews with “The Media” to stay on message is a good thing to do.
3) “I have an event on Friday night that I would love to get some coverage of before that, can it happen?” asked someone once in a cold call two days before the event. Unless you’ve got the president of the US or Leonardo DiCaprio at your shindig — or have truly invented a whizbang device that no one has ever seen before — chances are almost nil.
Even with a news cycle that turns over 10 times a day or more on the internet, sufficient lead times are important to adhere to. Give yourself — or your PR person a few weeks in advance of when you want your story “out there” to contact the right person in “The Media” (Note: Magazines are often working 4-6 months ahead of real time.) Breaking News is one thing that gets instant coverage, but that is usually a tragedy of some sort unfolding or a national or international incident (although these days, a celebrity marriage break up or drug bust, or even a car chase in Oklahoma, unfortunately qualify). Investor Relations is a whole other universe, and we won’t go there today.
4) “The Media” will make my company famous. Well, it could. Overall, a few stories well placed will increase your visibility, hopefully help drive sales and/or achieve some of the objectives you set forth once you engaged a PR company or put your PR strategy into motion.
But let’s be realistic. Most overnight success stories I know of took 10 years of hard work. PR — as a wise friend once described it — is like drip irrigation in the desert: Droplets of water falling on the plant eventually produce a bloom, and if you’re lucky, fruit.
5) “Can I get the photo/video/radio interview The Media?” Generally no. It becomes the intellectual property of the paper, television or radio station. You can get back copies or links of the paper you need for a price. And there are services to obtain DVD copies or links to something that ran on TV, or a radio interview. Usually all such copies come with legal guidelines about how the material may or may not be used. Always have your own photos on hand (sometimes “The Media” will request it — and maybe even your own b-roll — footage that tells your story in images as background, if appropriate).
Remember, dealing with “The Media” is like dealing with other human beings. Sure, people working in the profession hold a power to magnify what you do. But the last time I checked, those doing it were like you and me, 90% water.