Surviving the media
by Melissa Barreca
Surviving the mediaA proactive approach can help you shed the right light on topics in the news and
advance the message of your company Public Relations by Melissa Barreca & Kathy Callahan
Melissa Barreca is public relations manager at Ameristar Casino St. Charles in St. Charles, Mo. She can be reached at (800) 325-7777, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Kathy Callahan is director of communications for Ameristar's corporate office in Las Vegas. She can be reached at (702) 567-7053, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media coverage can do great things for your business...if it is targeted in the right media and you are fully prepared, trained and able to take advantage of the exposure in a way that benefits your company.
However, media coverage can also be potentially devastating to your business, in worst cases causing your stock price to falter or planting seeds of distrust in your employees and customers.
That's right. Not all media coverage is created equal and not all exposure is good exposure.
So, how do you tell the difference between an opportunity for great media coverage versus the kind that can cause your own mother to stop returning your calls? More importantly, how do you prepare to deal with the media to maximize your chances of coming out on top in either case?
Evaluating the coverageFirst, there are generally two types of opportunities for media exposure-proactive and reactive. In the case of proactive coverage, your PR person has made contact with the reporter and gotten his interest. They've researched the reporter, gotten a sense of the tone of their past coverage and whether they have any biases. They have also framed the story in a way that supports your company objectives. If you've done your homework in soliciting proactive media exposure, the odds are with you from the beginning of the project.
When a story comes from a reactive standpoint, the reporter makes the initial contact. In this scenario, you may not have had the opportunity to lay the groundwork and conduct your own research. In this case, the best thing to do is listen to the reporter's pitch, ask them about their story angle, their other sources and their deadline. Then promise to get back to them at a feasible time. Take this opportunity to work with your PR person and do your homework: research the reporter, anticipate the direction the story might go, prepare talking points that you want to communicate, anticipate any negative questions that may be asked, strategize how you will handle the interview including what is fair game and what is off limits, etc.
If after your research you determine that the reporter likely has a bias or an agenda in writing the story, evaluate whether you should participate. The very fact that a reporter calls you does not make the story or the exposure worthwhile. Many times, a known bias can be overcome in an interview situation. However, there will be some cases in which it's best to decline participation.
Setting the boundariesWhen you decide to participate in an interview, first identify your strategy. Ask yourself why you want to participate in this interview. Then prepare relentlessly so that you're not just answering questions-you're getting your message across.
Also keep in mind you have certain rights that will maximize your chances of being treated fairly when the ink meets the page. In every interview, you have the right:
• To know the general types of questions you will be asked in advance and the topics that will be covered;
• To set limits of what you will and won't talk about; and
• To determine what access you will allow the reporter to your property, your staff and your company documents.
As part of their profession, journalists are bound by certain professional ethics that ensure your rights. Journalists should:
• Clearly state their story topic and thesis;
• Give interviewees a sense of where the interview will go and how long it will last;
• Verify all facts and figures for accuracy before publication; and
• Print quotes as given, verbatim.
Keeping up to speedEven heeding these ethical guidelines, there are gray areas and many opportunities for your comments to be inter-preted by the reporter and occasionally taken out of context.
That's why media training is vital for any executive. A good media trainer provides advice that is tailored to the challenges of your business. In addition, practicing in front of a camera or tape recorder in a non-threatening environment is an excellent opportunity to fine-tune even the best interview skills.
When you go into an interview, make sure you are prepared. Know that just because a journalist asks for something, that doesn't mean you're bound to give it. Keep on the message. Be prepared to combat myths or negative perceptions. If the reporter doesn't bring up a topic that you'd like to touch on, by all means bring it up yourself.
Refrain from making sarcastic remarks or jokes, especially about your business or industry-a reporter will almost always use these quotes in the most unflattering light. Be aware of your body language, your reactions and your surroundings. Remember: if you don't want to read it in print or hear it on TV or radio, don't say it! That goes for off-hand comments, and even "off the record" remarks.
Work to build a rapport with the reporter on the basis of mutual respect and professionalism. They may try to lure you into a comfort zone that they're your buddy, but they're not.
By viewing all potential media exposure as a serious opportunity to broadcast your company's messages to a wide audience and by preparing accordingly, you can turn the odds of garnering positive exposure in your favor.