Winning with the Media
How to work with the media so they help you accurately and effectively deliver your message to the public
By Sandy Evans Levine, President, Advice Unlimited
In today’s environment, government activities are of great interest to the general public, and a hot topic among TV, radio, web and print media. In this type of environment, where the media seem to be everywhere and contacting everyone, it is important for government and industry executives to master the skill of effectively communicating with the media, to provide the information needed while protecting sensitive sources and information.
Especially in the government arena, where relationships and networking are integral to our working environment, there will be times when all of us run into reporters and editors in ‘semi-social’ situations. Though the preference is for media interviews to be arranged and managed by your public relations specialists, occasional conversations cannot — and should not — be avoided. It’s not your job to be a public relations expert…it is advantageous if you understand the importance of working with the media to effectively impact positive perception. And it can’t hurt to know a few basics of putting your best foot forward.
Following are some basic rules of thumb in working effectively with the media, to help you leverage media opportunities for the benefit of your organization’s mission, either arranged through your public affairs specialists or through casual conversational situations. Most of these are common sense – which all of us need to be reminded of occasionally. Following these guidelines will enable you to provide valuable information reporters need to do their job, in a responsible manner that effectively serves your organization, and helps you get your message out to your constituents.
There are three basic rules that will always keep you out of trouble:
1. if a reporter initiates a conversation in an inappropriate venue, and is asking pointed questions about a specific topic, direct him or her – very politely and responsively – to contact your public relations officer to set up interviews with the organization’s appropriate spokesperson at the reporter’s convenience. DO NOT engage in a lengthy or detailed conversation; be polite, and direct them to call your PAO – tell them “we could really talk much more effectively to that at a prearranged time. I’m glad to talk with you, or to connect you with the best person from my organization – please call our PAO and they’ll set that up for you.”
2. There is no such thing as off the record.
3. Don’t say anything to any member of the media at any time that you would be uncomfortable seeing in print with your name attached on the front page of tomorrow’s daily newspaper.
And another 3 key actions to ensure you are interacting with the media in a manner that provides the information the public needs and deserves, helps reporters do their job, and meets your organization’s needs:
• Establish, in advance, a clearly defined media policy. Have one or two official spokespeople for the organization, and make everyone in the group aware that all media calls should be directed to your public relations specialists, who will arrange for an interview with one of these two people, in a particular order. These spokespeople must be credible: be sure they are trained and well informed.
• Be accessible to the media so they won’t go to other sources for news or verifications of rumors. Another element of your media policy: all calls from the media should be turned over to your PAO within 24 hours — the quicker we can get back to them, the better (my staff and I return all media calls within two hours max).
• Treat media representatives with respect. They are trained professionals who are just trying to do their job – and their job is to get the story.
Sandy Evans Levine is President of Advice Unlimited, a small, woman-owned public relations/marketing firm that specializes in serving government organizations and companies that sell to the government marketplace. Founded in 1983 and based in Olney MD, Advice Unlimited offers media training for spokespeople and PAOs at the customer’s offices. Ms. Levine can be reached at [email protected] or 301-924-0330, or visit our website at www.adviceunlimited.net.