Some executives want to emulate President-elect Trump. They want to go to war with the media.
My message to executives? Don’t be stupid. Listen to your public affairs people.
Like the crew of the Titanic looking for lifeboats, you will come to regret your lack of preparation.
Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Thirty-five years of supervising award-winning media relations, over fifty national and regional awards.
Success With the Media
I wrote, “Success With the Media, Everything You Need to Survive Reporters and Your Organization” (available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon at https://amzn.com/151948965X) because I believe that organizations need to look inward to get better media results. I use contents from the book for this article.
See my website at http://leonardSipes.Com for previous articles.
If you desire fair and accurate media coverage, then you have no choice but to come to a workable arrangement with the media. If you do not have a budget to purchase significant amounts of advertising or are unwilling to pay for and engage in serious content creation, social media and website development, then once again you have no choice but to establish a working relationship with the media. Even if you invest millions of dollars in proactive activities, a series of negative articles can undo that investment in a heartbeat.
You and your organization must choose for yourselves the relationship you will have with the media. You and your entity must choose the quality of the interaction, the data you use and the efficacy of your pronouncements. The operative word is “choose,” because believe it or not, we really do decide the kind of relationship that we have with news organizations. If you decide to be combative or evasive, how do you think the media will respond?
I Can Control Them
After the election of Donald Trump, some people think that they can control the media through tough negotiating and setting a demanding tone. They are fooling themselves. In all fairness to the President-elect, this debate existed long before his election.
Veteran spokespeople know of respected senior executives who have decades of accomplishments but cannot form a working relationship with the media. It’s sad that their mistrust of reporters runs so deep. For some executives, it cripples them for life. Their negative media experiences are so profound that they are incapable of making sound media decisions.
If you do not believe that you can create a positive working relationship with the media, or you think that you can control them, then you should leave public affairs to someone else.
Successful media professionals not only know it’s possible to establish honest and cooperative working relationships with reporters, but have been doing it for decades. This point is so contentious for so many. Good media relations do not happen by accident; they are created through hard work and the industriousness of executives and public affairs professionals.
How to Change The Minds of Executives
Experience is the great teacher. I’m not quite sure it can happen any other way. You can tell executives that you have decades of media relations knowledge and ask them to consider alternatives to combative interactions, but some are often set in their prejudices.
It’s been my experience that people with a history of leading cumbersome agencies know better; they are allies. They understand the media and are comfortable with the process. They are top executives for a reason.
It’s those who have never led who are the most cantankerous. They may be in upper management but they have never been at the top. Now they are. Their mindset is that of someone who has never “crashed and burned.” They don’t know the reality of public humiliation through negative news coverage.
They think they can get away with bad, questionable, or overly cautious behavior when the media comes calling.
All you can do is advise them. You owe them honest answers even when your advice is dismissed or discarded. Be patient. Talk to them. Don’t be dismissive of their guidance; they may discover their mistakes on their own. Give solid reasons for trying suggested strategies. If nothing works, then you have to make a decision about whether to stay or leave. Give the process at least six months.
My message to executives? Don’t be stupid. Your public affairs people are there for a reason. If you are dismissing their advice most of the time, you are placing yourself in jeopardy. Hiring a skilled craftsperson and asking them to disregard their training and experience is inviting disaster.
If it’s a matter of trust, come to some mutuality agreeable arrangement with your spokesperson and find someone who makes you comfortable.
But if you hire a “yes” man who spends most of his time up your derriere, you are inviting disaster. The proverb, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,” applies.
You are not going to control the media. No one dominates reporters forever. You may win battles but that’s not the point; your objective is to take a long-range strategy and win the war.
Media interactions do not happen in isolation; they are part of your reputation. All media entities (yes, competing reporters and editors talk to each other) come to view you as honorable people doing an honorable job, or something else.
Your reputation precedes everything you say and do. If you are consistently uncooperative or difficult, there will come a time when your lack of good will work against you. When the chips are down, and when you need fairness, the media will remember the times of obstruction.
Like the crew of the Titanic looking for lifeboats, you will come to regret your lack of preparation. Don’t be the Titanic; let your spokespeople guide you through the icebergs. Create honest, productive media relations. Your reputation for cooperative relations will serve you well when you need the media to understand your side of a story.
For more information on good organizational and media relations, see “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization,” available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon at https://amzn.com/151948965X
See my website at http://leonardsipes.com for the entire series.
Contact me at [email protected].