Do you want to influence the story? Then you need to talk to reporters.
The issue becomes survival. How are you going to do your job ethically and honestly when it becomes impossible to handle the load?
When you do have something to release, give it to the Associated Press or other wire services first.
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.
Some believe that we should not talk to reporters. I maintain that not talking leaves you without influence; you are committing yourself to a negative story. The trick is to know how to talk to the media.
This is the fourteenth in a series of articles on, “The Art of the Interview.” This is the first in a series on dealing with “Media Hell.”
Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Thirty-five years of supervising award-winning media relations, radio and television; over fifty national and regional awards. Post-Master’s Certificate of Advanced Study, Johns Hopkins University.
Momma warned you that there would be days like this. We have already discussed the unanticipated negative interview and have suggested that panic is not in your best interest because many of these stories will lose the effect they supposedly had in the beginning.
However, there will be times when panic or something like it can be a realistic response.
I have simultaneously dealt with multiple breaking and negative stories in one day. Sometimes these negative days extend into weeks or months. Usually, I don’t have to tell my wife or children that I’m having an outrageous day or week. They could easily tell by my mood and my insatiable desire for sleep. There are times when it gets that bad.
So your daily intake goes from five-to-ten media calls a day to 30 or 50 inquiries. Senior executives see more of you than their own spouse and children. Everybody gets very testy.
You end up getting a ton of unsolicited and rather bad advice from friendly co-workers, but you cannot get return telephone calls from technical specialists who hold vital information. The issue becomes survival. How are you going to do your job ethically and honestly when it becomes impossible to handle the load?
Here are a few tips:
Everything else needs to be removed from your job, and it needs to happen now. Everything that can be jettisoned or postponed must occur immediately.
In quieter times, you will do your own detective work to find out what happened. You ordinarily do not go to your top executives unless you have problems. Now the role is reversed. Go to your top executives immediately and tell them what you need to know and when you need to know it. Let them make the arrangements for access to information and documentation.
Your usual friendly persona may have to be discarded in favor of being more direct with the media and those around you. I once hung up on a wire reporter who called my home at five-thirty in the morning. He told me he was up and wondered why I wasn’t. There are times when you have to play the part of a very annoyed spokesperson. But please be careful, sometimes a little levity during rough times will save your sanity.
If you ever needed an excuse to be good to yourself, this is it. I drink all the coffee I want. I eat all the ice cream I want. Regrettably, I smoke all the cigars I desire. I sleep as much as I want to. I tell my spouse and my kids that our lives are temporarily on hold. I put myself first because I have no choice but to do so.
When you are doing 20 to 30 interviews a day, it becomes easy to make mistakes. Remind media that you are under a tremendous amount of stress and all concerned need to double check what is being discussed.
When you have a multitude of media calling the office, you have to take them all on a first-come, first-served served basis. This means that the incredibly pushy reporter who ends up being thirteenth on your list stays at number thirteen, regardless of how many times she calls or complains.
I’m not suggesting that the circumstance dictate turning your back on your friends in the media. However, the volume of media requests is so large as to dictate an orderly flow of responses. Your staff (or others) must promise that you will return calls as soon as possible and that you will make every effort to meet deadlines.
When you do have something to release, give it to the Associated Press or other wire services first. You can call them; it doesn’t have to be written. Doing this will ensure that the majority of media will have the story at the same time.
This will not stop them from their continued calls; their editors are demanding something unique and will refuse to take the wire story in its entirety without being customized to some degree for their purposes. Also, please remember that a growing number of media sources no longer use the Associated Press and you will still have to try to meet their deadlines.
You are obligated to stay in the office and answer every media call before you go home for the night. Do not try to handle the initial volume of calls from home unless you live alone. You need to be in control of your environment.
You are not obligated to do on-camera interviews on the first day of a big story. Reporters routinely swear that all they need is five minutes of your time. Well, five minutes easily escalates into 30. In the same amount of time, you could have handled five additional reporters via the telephone.
When all hell is breaking loose, you can duck initial on-camera interviews. This will be very hard to do, but sometimes it’s necessary.
Please do all interviews yourself. Please do not succumb to the temptation of letting others help you with your load. The greater the number of spokespeople, the greater the chances for honest mistakes. While it’s extremely difficult, it’s best if the senior spokesperson handles the truly difficult events.
We all know that there are two kinds of time: regular and media. As far as the media are concerned, getting an early start on the day means initiating affairs at one or two o’clock in the afternoon. This means that they will keep you busy until midnight. While staying late is fine with me, it also means that I will report to work anywhere between nine and ten o’clock in the morning (or later).
I do try, however, to make sure that the television and radio stations have sufficient information for their morning shows to make sure I get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. I turn off the home and cell phones. Those who need to have instant access to me have my unlisted personal number.
Because you’re in the news for days or weeks at a time, friends, associates, relatives and co-workers will call or stop by to “chat” about the situation. Please instruct your staff to make sure that Uncle Charlie and Aunt Mary do not reach you. Others in your office will stop by and give advice; have staff intervene with reminders that you have an enormous number of calls waiting. Interestingly enough, this will not persuade them from leaving your office, but it will decrease the amount of time that they will take.
I have a childhood friend whom I had not seen in years. We ran into each other at a carnival at the church and school that I attended years ago. After the initial exchange of pleasantries regarding our parents, homes, and lives in general, he said that even though he was not in direct contact with me, he knew what I did for living. He told me that I was a professional apologist. “You know, the same kind of guys that they have in Japan. Every time a corporation screws up, they send out the professional apologist.”
Well, that’s not exactly the reception I had in mind. I try to see myself as a member of the senior staff of an important bureaucracy. Leave it to friends to strip away every ounce of deception. But maybe the term of apologist is not so difficult to embrace.
Organizations are going to make mistakes. Bureaucracies under the best of circumstances are going to find themselves as the recipients of negative news. But many organizations find it impossible to embrace their problems. Regardless of the circumstances, they believe they have done the best possible job and have no need to accept responsibility.
I believe that this philosophy is terribly wrong. I believe that the public expects bureaucrats to admit fault or at least partial responsibility for the difficulties they face. The buck has to stop somewhere.
Admitting at least a partial fault very quickly clears the air for both the media and the public. Accepting responsibility should be an act of sincerity on the part of the organization coupled with plans about how the bureaucracy intends tends to fix the problem. Admitting problems is often the first step in the resolution of the issue. Not accepting responsibility is often the first step to problems.
More on Media Hell
Additional tips and strategies for dealing with media hell will be offered in future articles. Use “SUBSCRIBE TO GET UPDATES ON NEW ARTICLES” on this website.
Success With the Media
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. Your reviews are appreciated.
See my website at http://leonardsipes.com.
Contact me at [email protected].