Your organization did nothing wrong, yet media coverage is negative?
Is your organization difficult to represent?
Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Thirty-five years of award-winning media relations, over fifty national and regional awards.
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People ask why I choose to focus on organizational dysfunction in my book, Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization (Amazon- https://amzn.com/151948965X).
The answer is simple; you can have expert knowledge as to the best techniques when dealing with reporters, but if your organization views journalists and their inquiries with loathing and dread, you will never have successful media relations.
I spent a professional lifetime teaching spokespeople and organizations as to the finer art of dealing with reporters and the use of successful techniques and proactive methods. But if your entity feeds you misinformation, or doesn’t supply you with the data or knowledge you need, all the successful techniques won’t amount to a hill of beans.
Without organizational understanding of the media process and support of their spokespeople, you (and the people you represent) will crash and burn. It’s that simple.
You Need to Choose Your Relationship
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 social media and website development, then once again you have no choice but to establish a working relationship with the media.
You and your company must choose for yourselves the relationship you will have. You and your organization must choose the data you will 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
Many people think that they can control the media through tough negotiating and setting a demanding tone. They are fooling themselves.
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 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 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 Their Minds
Experience is the great teacher. I’m not quite sure it can happen any other way. You can tell them that you have decades of media relations knowledge and ask them to consider alternatives but some are often set in their prejudices.
It’s been my experience that people with a history of leading cumbersome agencies know better and 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. They think they can get away with bad, questionable, or overly cautious behavior. 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 silly. 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.
A Relationship with the Media Is Easier Than You Think
Beyond how to work with inexperienced or combative executives, the first thing to understand in creating a working relationship with the media is that it is relatively easy. There are so many people doing it wrong that you will be greatly appreciated for doing it right.
Doing it right means taking a common sense approach to working with reporters. Here’s what they want. They want you to:
- Be available.
- Know what you are talking about.
- Have a friendly manner and a kind tone of voice.
- Meet their deadlines.
- Be available in the evenings and on weekends.
- Work for their legitimate needs.
- Provide an honest answer to their questions.
Reporters want the same things that we want: civility, honesty, and fairness.
I had the occasion to work with a spokesperson from the largest sheriff’s department in the state. I was always interested by the fact that the media seemed to give him positive or even-handed stories. It was intriguing that he was a new public affairs professional, only on the job for six months.
He came to me looking for advice. He wanted to know how to be a better public affairs officer. I told him that he had 80 percent of the game licked. He was a friendly, courteous, and energetic individual whose service-oriented response to the media won them over most times. He worked hard for them, and they in return provided him and his department with fair reporting. I’m not quite sure media relations needs to be any more difficult than the relationship I just described.
After many years of speaking to the media, I have discovered a simple truth in life: It is clearly in your best interest if they respect and like you, and the people you represent.
Your Organization Needs to Understand the Process
But to get to that point, your organization needs to understand the process and what works. Delay, misinformation, and overly cautious behavior is simply dysfunctional and ruinous.
Organizations need to have a long talk with themselves as to what they represent and how they want the public to view them. Most entities and executives are honorable people doing an honorable job.
If true, then why would they give the impression that they have something to hide?
Transparency and honest answers works ninety percent of the time. There is simplicity to media relations. It’s when we try to “spin” our way out of media encounters is when we end up in trouble.
“Success With the Media” is full of legitimate and ethical strategies you can employ, but honesty, openness, and cooperation remain the best options.
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 Amazon at https://amzn.com/151948965X
See my website at http://leonardsipes.com for the entire series.
Contact me at [email protected].