Fostering effective media relations can be a challenging endeavor for anyone, including public sector communicators. This is due, in large part, to a history of adversarial relations between government and the so-called Fourth Estate.
Thus it’s essential for government communicators to break down this firewall and build bridges instead. With this in mind, you should adhere to the following three basic rules to master media relations:
1) Humanize It
2) Be Accessible
3) Be Transparent
Last week I focused on the significance of humanizing media relations. To reiterate, try to forge mutually beneficial relationships with journalists. Meet in-person with key reporters who cover your agency. Let them know that you are an official point of contact and available to assist them. This will plant the seeds for a positive relationship that will grow over time.
- Takeaway: mastering media relations begins with positive relationships.
Rule #2: Be Accessible
Being accessible to the media should be standard operating procedure if you are an agency spokesperson, public affairs specialist, or otherwise authorized to speak to the press.
Today’s hyper-paced mobile, digital and virtual Information Age means that news is breaking around the clock world-wide. Many reporters are always on deadline and expect your agency to be responsive to their inquiries.
Remember that reporters don’t want to receive a voice message when they call you, or a bounce back email stating you’re out of the office, etc. You don’t want your agency cited in a story as being unreachable or unresponsive, which is embarrassing and unprofessional.
Moreover, even though your official work day may technically end at a time certain, reporters may still need your help. They are depending on you – as an agency media contact – to be accessible after hours.
Thus it’s essential to provide key 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. However, what’s paramount is that your agency is portrayed fairly and accurately in the press.
- Takeaway: accessibility builds trust and yields dividends. Being inaccessible creates animosity and frustration, which may result in poor media relations, bad press and factual errors about your agency.
Rule #3: Be Transparent
Government communicators should always strive to be as open and transparent as possible with the press — as appropriate within your agency’s media/legal/ethical guidelines.
It’s helpful to recall the critically important role of a free press in a democratic society. In that sense, your agency should generally be providing more information to the media than it withholds (unless doing so is statutorily prohibited or may threaten national security, etc.).
Although government does not work for the media, public sector agencies must work with the media. Reporters should have a sense at the micro level that you are working with them, not against them. Try to convey the concept of help me help you.
Being transparent means going the extra mile for reporters, even if that occasionally results in rocking the boat internally. For example:
- Don’t withhold information unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Don’t make a reporter file a FOIA request for data if you are able to provide it without one.
- Don’t ever lie to reporters because trust and credibility are difficult to regain. Plus, lying will hurt you as much as it hurts your agency (maybe more).
- If you’re wrong or don’t know something, just admit it — don’t hide or give misinformation.
- If you cannot fulfill a media request by a specified time, at tell a reporter why.
- If you can’t speak on-the-record, provide information on background or off-the-record. You can also suggest other sources to reporters.
Also, if you must get negative information out in a crisis, then do so quickly and all at once. Don’t risk creating the “drip-drip-drip” effect of sharing bad news piecemeal over days or weeks. This will only result in more bad press coverage and worsen media relations.
- Takeaway: 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.
Adhering to these three basic rules will result in more effective media relations for your agency, as well as the public sector generally — which may also help rebuild trust in government.
* A similar version of this post first appeared in the Federal Communicators Network (FCN) blog in May 2013.
For related information, check out…
- 10 Tips for Mastering Media Interviews (April 2014)
- Media Relations: Don’t Comment with “No Comment” (Aug. 2012)
- Media Relations: Shaping the Story – Part I (Aug. 2012)
- Media Relations: Shaping the Story – Part II (Aug. 2012)
- Talking to Reporters: 10 Tips (July 2012)
*** All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public sector or private sector employer, organization or political entity.
David Grinberg is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.