NOTE: This post is sponsored by the Federal Communicators Network (FCN)
Many feds are not fond of the press.
In nightmares, feds worry about the programs they steward ending up “on the front page of the Washington Post,” with program weaknesses perhaps magnified by inaccurate reporting.
However, as a government communicator it may be your job to “tame the beast” and obtain positive media coverage for your agency. Here are three keys for doing so:
1) Humanize It
People are the key to successful agency communications with media. It’s important to recognize that reporters are people too.
How much do you know about those in media who cover your agency? Moreover, how do you ensure that government-media relations are non-adversarial and mutually beneficial?
A good start is by proactively forging positive relationships.
Get to know journalists on a basic human level. This goes a long way toward building mutual respect, good will and trust, essential elements of any good relationship.
Forget about the “us versus them” mentality. Rather, get out of the trenches and meet reporters face-to-face. Get to know them.
Meet up with journalists for coffee or lunch. Visit their newsroom. Give them a tour of your agency and introduce them to the major players.
Express genuine interest in a reporter. Find out some basic information which may lead to things in common.
Where did the reporter go to college? What’s their home town? How did they get into journalism? Do they think their supervisor a jerk, like some you might have experienced? Find that common ground.
Personalizing the government-media relationship allows each party to view the other as an individual rather than as an adversarial institution.
Forging successful media relations begins with humanizing it.
(Who in media do you personally know? How well do you know them?)
2) Be Accessible
Government media relations is not a 9-to-5 job. That’s why always being accessible to the press pays off.
Today’s hyper-paced digital age means that news is breaking around the clock. If you work in a public affairs shop, it’s your job to help your agency be responsive to reporters.
Journalists don’t want to get voicemail when they call you on deadline. Moreover, you don’t want your agency cited in a story as being unreachable or unresponsive, which is embarrassing.
Even though your official work day may technically be over at a time certain, reporters may still need your help. The reporter is depending on you — the agency media contact — to be there, even after hours.
Therefore, provide influential reporters with a way to reach you at all times. Yes, that means you may be interrupted at home on a work night, or over the weekend. But, as a government communicator, it should be paramount that your agency is portrayed fairly and accurately in the press. That’s your job.
Accessibility builds trust and yields dividends. Being inaccessible creates animosity and frustration, which may result in bad press and factual inaccuracies.
(Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman as Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein in “All the President’s Men“)
3) Be Transparent
As a government communicator, don’t ever forget the critically important role of a free press in an open society. In that sense, your agency should be providing more information to the press and public than it withholds. Government should strive to be as transparent as possible. Of course, the media play an important role in this process.
Although government does not work for the media, it must work with the media. Reporters should have a sense at the micro-level that you, as the media contact, are working with them, not against them — whether real or perceived.
Being transparent means going the extra mile for reporters, even if that means occasionally rocking the boat internally to get the facts out.
- Don’t withhold information unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Don’t make a reporter file a FOIA request for data you are able to provide without one.
- Don’t ever lie to reporters because trust is difficult to regain. Further, as the old saying goes, the cover up is usually worse than the crime.
If you’re wrong or don’t know something, admit it. If you cannot fulfill a media request, explain why. If you can’t speak on-the-record, then go off-the-record or suggest other sources for information.
Let reporters know up front that you won’t be able to meet their deadline, if that’s the case, or arrange an interview with the right person by a requested date.
If you must get negative information out, then do so quickly and all at once, rather than creating the drip-drip-drip effect of sharing bad info piecemeal over time. That only results in more bad press.
Being transparent means being honest, open and forthcoming with reporters. This builds respect and goodwill in the short-term, as well as over the long run.
In essence, remember that successful media relations often hinge on personal relationships.
* This post first appeared as a guest blog for the Federal Communicators Network
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** All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.