There is a general perception that the news media is out to get a story at all costs, so it’s not uncommon for businesses to be publicity shy. A number have been burned by inaccurate or negative reporting and/or have seen their peers go through such experiences. There are certainly plenty of horror stories out there!
Yet, the vast majority of journalists are simply hard-working individuals trying to do a difficult job – inform their audience, often in near-real time, of what’s happening in the areas they’re called on to cover.
I recently sat in on a panel focused on how to work with the trade press, during which one of my fellow panelists urged the attendees: “We are not the enemy.” Rather, the press can be your “friend” – as long as you make an effort to control the message being presented.
Following are tips to help you take advantage of what can ultimately become a resource for your business if you let it.
What to do when working with the press
News reporters are charged with getting information out as quickly and (hopefully) as accurately as possible. Your time with reporters will be limited. It’s important that you:
- Appoint a designated spokesperson for your business. Identify a specific person, or people, authorized to convey information about your company. That individual should understand what to say, and what not to say, regardless of the circumstances. They should also know when to answer a question or request and when to say “I can’t comment at this time” or “I’ll get back to you with that information.”
- Be proactive. If you have a story to tell, reach out to the preferred news outlet to share that information. This can be via a phone call, email, prepared statement or even a press release. A proactive stance is particularly important in the face of a negative event (e.g., an accident on a jobsite), since issuing a prompt statement gives you some degree of control over what is being reported about your response to the incident
- Highlight the positives. Whether you’re hosting a career fair, holding a groundbreaking, donating to a school or charity, etc., get the word to the appropriate media outlet(s). Sharing the good news about your company on a regular basis helps to build a positive image. These “lower-key” events can also be an opportunity to get to know local reporters and build a good rapport
- Know your audience. View the press as a conduit to your customers and/or community. In order to get the right message across, share the same information you would want this “audience” to know if they were in front of you instead.
I would also suggest that you strive to make reporters jobs as easy – and as accurate – as possible. Prepare fact sheets and approved photos; plan out photo opps; schedule interviews; develop your own videos, etc. in advance if possible. While not all may use prepared material, taking this step can give you more influence over the end results – and could make you a favorite of certain reporters.
Important “Don’ts” to Keep in Mind
On the flip side, there are things to avoid when working with the press. For example, don’t:
- Give too much information. If you’re seeking help to publicize a project, program or event, avoid overwhelming with details. Stick to the key facts, then let the reporters take the lead and ask more questions as needed. If the scenario in question is negative for your company, stick to a prepared script; the less said, the better
- Keep silent when the going gets tough. It is better to issue or present a prepared statement – a sound bite, if you will – to the media rather than let them fill in the blanks for you
- Be defensive. Take the offensive when things get tough, rather than get defensive. Reach out to the media directly, provide what information you can and be as calm and courteous as possible. It helps present your company in a more positive light even under the worst of circumstances
- Presume that employees won’t talk. Stress to employees that any questions or requests from media should be filtered through or referred to the authorized spokesperson. Should an unauthorized employee make an inaccurate or damaging statement, be proactive in countering or correcting it – without making negative comments about the employee in question. Doing so could further damage to your company’s image.
As a final point: while there are unscrupulous reporters out there – just as there are unscrupulous contractors – don’t assume all media are alike. Take the trade press, for example. Our intention is to cover various aspects of a particular industry. Though we do cover “breaking” industry news, our primary mission is to inform and educate. We are not “the enemy.” Rather, we’re a “friend” willing to share the good things going on with your business and set it as a positive example to the construction community. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of this useful tool!
Taking it to the next level
So you already have a press strategy, a team to handle communications, and some experience dealing with crises (hopefully only minor ones). Here are some ideas for taking you comms to the next level, in good times and bad:
Good luck out there. — Kim Davis