Your Organization Hates Reporters-Why I wrote “Success With the Media”

by admin on August 10, 2016 · 1 comment

Success with Media_Book front cover

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

National award-winning spokesperson for state and national organizations. Graduate-Johns Hopkins University.

Your Organization Hates Reporters-Why I wrote “Success With the Media”

(First of a series of articles on organizations and the media)

There must be an examination of the media relations process and pragmatism regarding what’s best for the organization.

Article

After thirty-five years of talking to reporters while representing national and state governments, and after a lifetime of conversing with spokespeople from all sectors of society, I believe that most feel their organizations are their biggest impediment to beneficial news coverage and harmonious media relations.

How many times have we heard, “I hate the media. I mistrust reporters and I’m not going to cooperate with those scumbags?”

I wrote, “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” to examine the dynamics of organizational relations and what it means when the media comes calling.

In short, what does it take to keep your boss and coworkers from sabotaging an issue and build good media relations?

Existing Books Don’t Touch This

Most books and courses on media relations don’t touch this topic and I understand why. Many within any organization, and most of the public (per polling data) don’t like or trust the media. How do you introduce the subject when all people want to know is how to survive a media interview without destroying their career?

But knowing how to “handle” a media interview doesn’t help much when a key person gives you misinformation or your boss is talking to the same reporter without telling you or your organization doesn’t provide you with the data you need.

I can train people as to great interviewing skills but watch them crash and burn when they are misinformed, stymied or discouraged by the people they work with.

Organizational Relations

At the beginning of my media relations career, veteran spokespeople warned me that my inability to form a close relationship with the person in charge would hamper everything I wanted to do. I was also told that I had to create a harmonious connection with everyone in the organization that played policy or informational roles.

Most spokespeople acknowledge this while admitting that it’s often impossible to do. When we address media relations and interviewing skills during a crisis, or when an organization mishandles news inquiries and subsequently crashes and burns, we wonder why they could be so stupid. When we dig deep, we often discover mistrust, misunderstandings and miscommunications between hierarchy and spokespeople based on organizational fear of the media. It happens all the time.

Winning the War

The bottom-line advice of “Success With the Media” is an emphasis on winning the war, not the battle. Taking a long-range view of media relations dramatically increases the chance that your leadership and their mission will continue.

Those of us representing large, cumbersome agencies will find ourselves losing battles with the media. You cannot and should not expect to win every encounter. You can, however, prevail. You can gain the admiration and respect of media organizations and the public by employing the right strategies at the right time.

Building Relationships

The most important aspect of taking a long-range view is building relationships. We cannot succeed unless we build meaningful and productive interactions with the media and the public. Everything we are and all we can be must be built on trust. We must be seen as honorable people doing an honorable job. Anything short of that lofty goal spells disaster.

And This Means

Taking a long-range view and building relationships takes a good degree of transparency and a willingness to work with the media, treating them fairly and providing them with reasonably quick and accurate answers.

But you can’t do this without getting your organizational ducks in a row. If hierarchy and subject specialists impede, then the effort is doomed to failure. If you boss doesn’t understand that good media relationships are essential to operational prosperity, then crashing and burning may be part of your future.

One veteran spokesperson told me that managing public affairs for any complex organization was like “herding cats.” Most of us have endless layers of bureaucracies and connected individuals. It doesn’t matter if you’re representing a multinational corporation or a local hospital, a public utility or a government organization, the process is essentially the same: a cumbersome bureaucracy and a difficult decision-making process.

The issue becomes a quest to make the organization manageable.

Who is God?

The bottom line for all of us in public affairs is first to figure out who influences media-related decisions and to keep that number to a minimum. I refer to this as, “Who is God, and what does God have to say?” Obviously there are others who will also have input, but it’s critical to keep this number to a minimum to “manage” the media process.

Many will desire to influence your decisions. Knowing who will give you your final instructions and limiting your “gods” to a manageable number will save your sanity. It will provide you with the best shot of properly handling a situation.

If you doubt that you need to have one central person in charge, try to imagine yourself handling media at a plane crash, during a prison riot, or while you are evacuating a city due to an approaching hurricane (I’ve done all three). Lives and the general or corporate welfare can depend on both accuracy and speed.

Handling tough questions or circumstances does not mean that you do not ask for advice from “connected” others. Yes, attorneys have to be consulted. Personnel will want input. You keep important individuals “advised.” But if you include everyone in the process, you will never make appropriate decisions.

There are times when you will need to respond immediately. It is crucial to understand that you need to anticipate the requests you are likely to receive; thus the good public affairs specialist will already know the proper legal and technical advice. That’s why public affairs specialists want to know everything about their organization all the time.

Getting Information

One of the best qualities of spokespeople is an insatiable curiosity. They are constantly asking questions about the organization and getting the right answers before a newsworthy event takes place. For example, large numbers of automobile tire failures, major oil spills, or defective or malfunctioning parts suspected to have caused a plane crash would be difficult to research during full-blown emergencies.

Getting crucial information during a major event (especially during evenings or weekends) can be extremely difficult. You need to have information well ahead of time, so you will be ready when reporters come. Remember, if the media do not get their information from you, they will get it from someone else. Getting it from someone else could prove very costly.

An essential ingredient in successful public affairs is to know when you (as the primary spokesperson) can make decisions on your own without consulting others beyond the senior executive or an on-scene commander. Sometimes circumstances dictate risk and speed. Sometimes, you will have no choice but to respond.

A Supportive Bureaucracy

All of this takes a supportive bureaucracy that understands good media relations and the role the spokesperson plays.

But after talking to spokespeople representing many organizations, it’s clear that organizational relations and perceptions are our biggest stumbling block.

Forthcoming articles will examine the process and offer suggestions for success. But be forewarned, there is little you can do to get people to change their minds or opinions about the media. There must be an examination of the process and pragmatism regarding what’s best for the organization.

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

Contact me at leonardsipes@gmail.com .

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