Posts Tagged ‘Public Relations’
Bill Nowling, the spokesperson for Detroit’s emergency manager, sent reporters a memo recently instructing them to stop leaving him voice mails. JimRomenesko.com has the full text; an excerpt appears below:
To better assist you and your organization with media questions and interview requests, I am instituting a new “contact procedure” that I think will streamline the process and get you the information you need in a timely fashion…
1. Going forward, all media requests (for information, for interviews, for directions) will be handled via e-mail at: EMMediarequest@detroitmi.gov.
2. If you have a media question, please send an email to: EMMediarequest@detroitmi.gov. Please be as detailed as possible as to the issue about which you are calling or the specific questions you have. Also include a specific deadline for responding back.
3. Please don’t leave a voice mail message. Believe it or not, VM just adds delay in responding, especially when most messages simply say “call me back.” It is not unusual for me to have 25 or more VMs waiting to be heard at any given time.
You might expect me to blast Mr. Nowling. The truth is, I’m empathetic.
Like him, I find telephone voice mails to be the least efficient way to reach me. I respond to emails and tweets much more quickly, and occasionally forget to check my voice mail when I’m out of town. Plus, he’s right – a simple “can you give me a call” voice mail message can be more efficiently delivered via email, text, or tweet.
The biggest problem with his new policy may not be the policy itself, but the manner in which he communicated it. As an example, here’s a comment Nowling left on the website Deadline Detroit:
“I hate VM. It’s impersonal, inefficient and it fills up two or three times a day…I want to talk to reporters, but I don’t want to waste their time or mine by not being prepared; if I can cut one just one extra return call for each call that comes by being prepared to answer the question when I call back, then I will be able to handle more media calls in a day.”
In his full one-paragraph comment on that website, he used the words “my,” “mine” or “I” a whopping 17 times, showing just how self-centered his message was.
Imagine if he had framed his message as a request rather than a formal procedure instead:
“In order to serve your audience, you deserve the fastest-possible response time from me. Because I’m not always in the office, I’m afraid that voice mails don’t always get played as quickly as they should (plus, the voice mail box fills up quickly, preventing some of you from leaving messages). Therefore, in an effort to serve you better, please email your requests to me. In return, I promise to be responsive to your emails in a timely manner. And if you opt to leave a voice mail message, I’ll do my best to listen to it quickly—but please know that’s not always possible and it’s proven to be a much less efficient way to reach me.”
That framing makes it less about him (“I hate VM”) and more about serving the media and the public (“You deserve the fastest-possible response time from me.”)
Of course, that only works if he follows through. One anonymous commenter identifying himself as a reporter on PR Newser writes:
“This would be perfectly reasonable IF Nowling responded to e-mails, which he rarely does. At one point he wanted to communicate by text message, which is insane. And let’s be clear: this isn’t some corporate flack we are talking about. He is essentially the press secretary for the city of Detroit, which is seeking bankruptcy protection under federal law. He is a public servant, and should be responding to the public–and the media–accordingly. In other words, he has no right to be arrogant.”
I have reservations about Mr. Nowling’s policy and am not sure it builds the positive press relations that anyone in a public position should desire. Perhaps he could have made clear that he doesn’t mind people trying to reach him by phone—reporters have the right to contact him using their preferred method, too—but that if he doesn’t pick up, email might be the next-fastest option.
What do you think? Does a public servant have a right to instill a “no voice mail” policy? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: Bill Nowling, Detroit, media relations tips, PR, Public Relations, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Tips | 5 Comments »
A reader recently wrote in with a problem he’s facing with a local journalist.
His company frequently releases news that impacts the local community and could be fairly considered “newsworthy.” The problem? He works in a small market with just one television station—and that station is irked that his company hasn’t purchased advertising with them.
There’s obviously supposed to be a firewall between news and advertising. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is clear on this one: “Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.”
But the head of this local television station has repeatedly complained to this reader for having the audacity to call his station for news coverage considering that the company has declined to advertise with them.
What advice would you offer this reader? Keep in mind that the television station is the only one in town, so maintaining positive relations is the ideal outcome here.
Also, have you encountered this type of breach between news and advertising? How have you managed it? And is that practice more common than I think it is?
Please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below. My reader and I look forward to learning from you on this one.
Tags: journalism, media relations tips, PR, Public Relations, Society of Professional Journalists, working with reporters
Posted in Media Relations | 12 Comments »
Imagine a professional sports team called the “Newark Negroes.” If the year was 1913, that name might make historical sense. But if they were still playing in 2013? It’s actually unfathomable—it couldn’t happen, and it wouldn’t be tolerated by American society.
And yet, each week, fans gather at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland to cheer on their hometown Washington Redskins—a name that many consider just as offensive.
If you’re not familiar with the historical baggage carried by the term “Redskins,” here’s how Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News summarized it:
“In 1755, when the United States was just 13 colonies, Spencer Phips, lieutenant governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called for British settlers to kill Native Americans who resisted.
Instead of bringing the bodies of the Penobscot Indian Nation — who lived in what is now Maine — as proof of the slaying, settlers could return instead with scalps of the men, women and children they attacked, and those “red skins” earned them as much as 50 pounds.”
A poll of Washington, D.C.-area residents conducted by The Washington Post in July (margin of error 4.5 percent) found that only 28 percent of respondents thought the team should change its name. But interestingly, 56 percent of people acknowledged that the term was offensive to Native Americans, and 88 percent of people said a name change would have no impact—or a positive impact—on their support for the team.
That suggests that most people know it’s an offensive name but are reluctant to change it due to their own, positive associations with the team. I can understand that. I grew up in Maryland and rooted for my hometown ‘Skins for many years. Changing the name would feel, in part, like it would partially erase my fond memories of Sundays in the stands at the old RFK Stadium.
Nonetheless, it’s still the right thing to do.
This issue is quickly becoming a big crisis for the team. Earlier this month, Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King said:
“I’ve decided to stop using the Washington team nickname. It’s a name you won’t see me use anymore. The simple reason is that for the last two or three years, I’ve been uneasy when I sat down to write about the team and had to use the nickname…Some people, and some Native American organizations…think the nickname is a slur…I can do my job without using it, and I will.”
Mr. King isn’t alone. According to the BBC, at least five news organizations refuse to use the word “Redskins” in their reporting: The Washington City Paper, the Kansas City Star, Slate, New Republic, and Mother Jones. And certain reporters at USA Today, the Philadelphia Daily News, Buffalo News, and The Washington Post also refuse to use it.
For his part, Redskins Washington NFL franchise owner Daniel Snyder says he will never change the team’s name. Never.
In fairness to Snyder, changing the team’s name could cost the team many millions of dollars. The “Redskins” brand name took decades to build, and changing it could compromise some of its brand equity. But the question is at what point that business loss becomes the less expensive of the two options. If reporters increasingly refuse to use the team’s name, the name “Redskins” would surely lose some of its brand equity anyway. And if the name becomes more stigmatized, you might find fewer fans buying Redskins memorabilia for themselves and their kids.
There’s a good precedent here, and it also comes from Washington, D.C. sports. In 1995, the owner of the Washington Bullets basketball team, Abe Pollin, decided to change the team’s violent-sounding name—a name change he thought appropriate since Washington, D.C. had such a high crime rate.
Pollin ran a contest and allowed fans to decide the new name; fans renamed the team the “Washington Wizards.” If public sentiment continues moving swiftly against Dan Snyder’s Redskins, he might consider using a similarly fan-based approach to rename his team.
Please leave any additional thoughts in the comments section below.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons
Tags: Daniel Snyder, nfl, Public Relations, race, sports, Washington Redskins
Posted in Crisis Communications | 6 Comments »
Friend of the blog and crisis pro Melissa Agnes recently wrote me with an interesting question:
“When a reporter seeks you out for a quote on an article they’re writing, it’s always a great opportunity and I always do my best to be able to provide them with what they’re looking for within their time restraints. However, what if the subject is a little bit beyond your scope of knowledge?
In my case, it was about foreign affairs, about which I don’t have a very big grasp; even though the question is related to my niche, it was still a little out of my realm of expertise. My question is: Should you, and if so how, tell the reporter that you unfortunately don’t feel comfortable answering their question/providing them with a quote, rather than researching your heart out, learning about the topic as best you can, and meeting their request?
I hate to miss out on opportunities, and I wouldn’t want this to refrain them from asking me for a quote in the future!”
Melissa, you’ve asked a question that I’ve wrestled with before as well. On one hand, you hate to turn down a media opportunity that can help you enhance your brand. On the other, you don’t want to stretch so far that you’ve bent yourself into rhetorical pretzel!
Since there’s no single right or wrong answer to this one, I’m going to answer your question by presenting both sides of the argument. My guess is that one of these two responses will resonate with you more than the other.
Yes, Do The Interview!
Tom Bettag, my old boss and the former executive producer of Nightline, used to say that he liked to give people a job that was 10 percent beyond their abilities. That challenge, he maintained, would make them try harder — and most of his employees met the challenge.
So ask yourself how much of a stretch this really is. If it’s a 10 percent stretch—or even a 20 or 30 percent stretch—there’s a reasonable case to be made that you should go for it, particularly if you can get yourself up to speed on the topic without having to invest days’ worth of research. I’ve found that doing that additional research builds my capacity to speak on other issues in other contexts. And by building a new competency, you may find that your marketability, in addition to your name recognition, is enhanced by your presence in the news story.
Remember that in many news stories, all you’ll get is a single quote anyway — regardless of whether you’re the world’s best spokesperson on a given topic or the world’s worst. I’m not suggesting that it’s a good idea to stumble your way through the interview giving unthoughtful answers, but rather that you might consider proceeding if you have a few smart — and maybe even original — points to make.
Finally, if you turn down the interview, there’s a chance the reporter will find another source and use them in the future instead of you, even for topics about which you are an expert. The bottom line is this: Do a gut check. If you feel you can deliver an interview while making a few solid points and without compromising your brand, go for it.
No, Don’t Do The Interview!
If you’re being asked to stretch too far — say you’re an accountant being asked to comment on engineering issues — turn down the interview. Or, using the numerical guide above, it’s probably best to turn down the interview if you’d have to stretch, say, 80 or 90 percent beyond your abilities. There’s simply no need to risk your brand by commenting on topics that fall too far outside your realm of expertise.
And don’t worry about alienating the journalist. Most reporters respect spokespersons who admit that a topic is outside their realm of expertise, especially when the spokesperson assists them in finding a qualified alternative guest.
Your goal should be to build your long-term reputation as an expert, not to chase every short-term opportunity regardless of the potential risks. If it feels uncomfortable, it probably is an important red flag to you that you should stay in your lane.
Okay, readers. How have you made this decision when you’ve faced a similar dilemma? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Tags: media relations tips, Public Relations, working with reporters
Posted in Media Relations | Please Comment »
“My father taught me many things here. He taught me in this room. He taught me ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.’”
– Michael Coreleone (Al Pacino), The Godfather Part Two
I heard a story many years ago about a disgruntled ex-employee who became a thorn in the side of his former company’s board of directors. So many years have passed since I heard the story that I no longer know the source, or even whether the story was true or apocryphal. Nonetheless, the story’s moral is something we can all learn from.
After every board meeting, the story goes, the ex-employee would write about the board’s proceedings. The board members were confused about how he got the information—the meeting was closed—and surmised that someone must have been leaking to him. Trouble was, no one could determine who the leaker was, and meeting after meeting, the ex-employee kept posting sensitive details to the Internet.
His postings were somewhat accurate, though not entirely, and he would add his own negative commentary to each of the board’s actions. The company’s current employees eagerly awaited each of his updates, and word of his latest articles spread through the company’s ranks by the next morning’s coffee break.
The standard crisis communications playbook might have sought to discredit the ex-employee, or to post a response that detailed his inaccuracies, or to file some legal action against him, or to take additional security precautions for board meetings.
But this board chose to do something counterintuitive. They decided to invite the ex-employee to their board meetings. They calculated that if the man got to know them, he would realize that their motives weren’t as nefarious as he suspected. And they surmised that even if the man continued to print confidential information, at least he would get his facts straight if he heard them first hand.
As the board suspected, the tone of the ex-employee’s posts softened after they accorded him with respect and brought him into the fold. The board wasn’t always happy with his posts, but the articles were less unfavorable than they had been in the past. The board considered its decision a success.
Am I suggesting that you should allow your harshest critics to attend your most sensitive meetings? No. But like so many of the tactics I describe on this blog, I hope you’ll consider this tactic as another tool available to you, another arrow in your PR quiver. I suspect most of you will never need, nor want, to deploy it. But this story has stuck with me for years, probably because its underlying truth teaches all of us a lesson that may one day come in handy.
What do you think? Please leave your reaction and thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: crisis communications, PR, Public Relations
Posted in Crisis Communications | 4 Comments »
If you thought the New York City mayoral race would get more civil as Anthony Weiner started sinking in the polls and heading toward what will hopefully be a life of J.D. Salinger-like obscurity, you’re wrong.
Two other leading Democratic contenders—Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio—have created plenty of their own drama with a recent kerfuffle over a media misquote
The trouble began when The New York Times star columnist Maureen Dowd mangled a quote from de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, who was speaking about her husband’s opponent, Ms. Quinn.
Here’s how Ms. Dowd quoted Ms. McCray in her story:
“She’s not accessible,” McCray says. “She’s not the kind of person I feel I can go up to and talk to about issues like taking care of children at a young age and paid sick leave.”
That quote was particularly edgy, since it could be interpreted as a smear against Ms. Quinn, who is a lesbian without children. Ms. Quinn blasted Ms. McCray’s statement.
But it’s not actually what McCray said. She was misquoted.
It turns out that Bill de Blasio’s campaign had recorded the interview. They released the audio of the relevant portion, which shows that the comments were made in a slightly broader context. (Maureen Dowd later blamed the noise in the café and a lousy tape recorder for her fumble; The New York Times issued a lengthy correction.)
“Well, I’m a woman, and she’s not speaking to the issues that I care about, and I think a lot of women feel the same way. I don’t see her speaking to the concerns of women who have to take care of children at a young age or send them to school and after school, paid sick days, issues in the workplace — she’s not speaking to any of those issues. What can I say? And she’s not accessible, she’s not the kind of person that I feel that I can go up and talk to and have a conversation with about those things, and I suspect that other women feel the same thing that I’m feeling.”
My New Advice About Recording Interviews with Reporters
In this case, the difference between the two quotes wasn’t terribly dramatic. But it could have been—and had Mr. de Blasio’s campaign not recorded this interview independently, his cries of “My wife was misquoted!” would have likely fallen on deaf ears.
I’ve previously written that you shouldn’t record your interviews with reporters except for the most challenging situations, since doing so can lead to a climate of mistrust and suspicion before you even begin speaking. I’d continue to stand by that advice for “everyday” interviews—those that don’t hold your company’s, organization’s, or campaign’s reputation in the balance.
But my thinking has evolved on this issue, and I’d now advise spokespersons for political campaigns, businesses dealing with controversial issues, and those dealing with unfriendly media—among others—to consider recording their raw interviews with reporters. That’s not just because reporters occasionally seek a “gotcha” moment, but because even journalists of full integrity can make honest mistakes. And if they do, your recording may be your only evidence that you were wronged.
Without that evidence, it’s easy to see how a single misquote could be all it takes to destroy your candidacy, your company’s stock price, or your reputation.
One final point: Some states require two-party notification. If you’re recording your interviews over the phone, check the laws in your state. To help preserve your long-term relationship with reporters, you should probably tell them you’re recording regardless of the state law.
What do you think? Do you ever record raw copies of your media interviews? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Tags: Bill de Blasio, Chirlane McCray, Christine Quinn, crisis communications, Maureen Dowd, media relations tips, media training tips, PR, Public Relations, The New York Times, working with reporters
Posted in Crisis Communications | 5 Comments »
I recently received an email from a reader who was arranging an interview for a client.
He wondered whether it was possible to put a written agreement in place with the producer prior to the interview that would prohibit the crew from using any ‘gotcha’ moments in which an unexpected document or video clip might be produced during the interview.
My answer was no. Not only could that request be disclosed on the air, making the audience suspicious, but it would make the producer wonder what big controversy he was missing.
Still, the question made me wonder: What pre-conditions are reasonable when negotiating with a reporter prior to an interview?
If a reporter is visiting your office, you can reach an agreement that the reporter is only allowed to quote the agreed-upon spokesperson(s). In other words, if reporters strike up a conversation with random staff members in the bathroom, they wouldn’t be able to use those comments in his story.
You may be able to negotiate what the reporter can and cannot shoot. For example, you might ask the reporter not to shoot any employees’ computer screens or papers on their desks, since those shots could reveal private customer information.
Depending on the story, you might not want to allow photography. If you work for a car company that is creating a new prototype, for example, you might allow the journalist to see it without allowing any photos of the vehicle.
Although most interviews should be on-the-record, you may occasionally face circumstances that require an “on background” or “off-the-record” interview. You should reach any agreements prior to an interview (these guidelines will help). And you can request to be identified in a specific manner.
If you suspect that a reporter is going to go on a fishing expedition, you can negotiate the length of the interview in advance.
Here’s where things get tricky. You can request to limit the interview either to topics you do want to discuss (e.g. a basketball coach who wants to discuss his team’s latest game), or to avoid topics you don’t want to discuss (e.g. your star center’s recent drunk driving arrest). But even if reporters agree to such a pre-condition, they often disclose the very pre-condition to their audiences (in some cases, they’re ethically bound to do so). So before you make such a request, ask yourself whether that disclosure could be more damaging than answering the tough questions.
7. Sensitive Information
Occasionally, reporters may be willing to exclude certain information from their stories—if there’s a legitimate reason to avoid such information. For example, many reporters would be willing to exclude information that could humiliate an innocent person or that contains sensitive national security details. But I’ve also worked with reporters who agreed to kill sensitive parts of a client’s story today in exchange for an exclusive when we were ready to release the story at some future point.
What have I missed? What other pre-conditions have you negotiated with a reporter in the past? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below.
Tags: media relations tips, PR tips, Public Relations, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Tips | 2 Comments »
A local reporter is scheduled to visit your office in a few days to conduct an interview with you.
It’s a critical interview for your company, one that will impact your growth, your reputation, and your bottom line. You prepare for it carefully, huddling with your leadership team and preparing highly memorable media messages that will gain the audience’s attention—and trust. You may even conduct a mock interviewing session to gain comfort when answering challenging questions.
When the interview date arrives, you feel well-prepared. But you forgot one critical fact, one that threatens to undermine all of your efforts. Having a well-trained management team isn’t enough.
Journalists know that many executives and managers have received media training, so they occasionally circumvent the official chain of command in order to speak with a less trained (and more candid) junior staffer. With just a few careless words, those subordinates can undermine all of your media training and carefully plotted communications strategy.
As an example, check out the jaw-dropping words uttered by a young professional in this video:
When reporters visit your office, any interaction they have with employees, interns, and receptionists are considered “on the record.” Unless you reach an agreement otherwise, reporters can use their comments—and they will, especially if the quotes your employees utter are more colorful than anything a well-trained manager said. Therefore, it’s up to you to make sure your staff knows what to do and say when they’re in the presence of reporters.
This article will arm you with six specific things to do next time you’re expecting a visit from a journalist.
1. Assign an Escort
Assign an escort whenever journalists visit your office. That will help prevent reporters from “accidentally getting lost” on the way to the restroom, wandering the hallways, and striking up a conversation with the wrong person.
If the reporter is visiting your office to interview your Chief Executive Officer, for example, you can assign the CEO’s assistant as the escort. But if that assistant hasn’t received media training and isn’t familiar with your company’s main talking points, you might consider assigning an experienced media representative from your communications department instead.
2. Forge an Agreement With The Reporter
To help prevent the problem of “wandering reporters,” some organizations negotiate the terms of the interview prior to the reporter’s visit. You might consider restricting their access to personnel by asking them to agree to speak only with the previously agreed upon subject(s) of the interview.
You can also negotiate what reporters are allowed to film prior to visiting your company. For example, you might ask them not to shoot employees’ computer screens or papers on their desks.
Although many reporters are happy to comply with such terms, some may bristle at your request and disclose those agreements (or requests for those agreements) to their audience.
3. Notify Your Staff
One week before the reporter visits—and again on the day of the visit—send an email to staff alerting them to the impending visit and reminding them of your media policy.
Your media policy might allow only authorized spokespersons to speak to the press, especially when dealing with a hostile reporter or a particularly challenging subject. In those cases, instruct unauthorized employees who are approached by reporters to say that they’re not the best person to answer their questions and offer to connect them with a member of the communications department.
Although that approach may be best in some circumstances, keep in mind that reporters may note in their stories that your employees seemed “nervous” and refused to speak with them. Plus, as a practical matter, it may be difficult to prevent journalists from speaking to someone they encounter in a hallway or common area, especially if the interaction is being filmed (your on-camera intrusion would be noteworthy and could become part of the story).
4. Brief Staff with Key Messages
In some circumstances, it’s better to allow your staff to answer basic questions about their work and your organization. That’s especially true if the reporter doesn’t typically write hostile stories and the focus of the interview with your company is about an uncontroversial topic.
If you plan on allowing your employees to speak with a reporter who approaches them in a hallway or during a tour of the office, you should prepare basic media guidelines for your staff, and provide them with your key messages so they know what the “company line” is.
It’s also a good idea to remind employees to “stay in their lanes.” It’s okay for engineers to discuss the technical details of your company’s new software, for example, but they should refuse questions that are “outside their lanes,” such as those about global marketing strategy.
5. Remind Them to Avoid The “Seven-Second Stray”
Some reporters put their subjects at ease with a warm smile, friendly demeanor, and conversational style. So if you’re going to allow staff to speak with reporters, remind them to avoid the “seven-second stray.”
The “seven-second stray” occurs when a spokesperson who is “on message” for nine minutes and 53 seconds of a ten-minute interview delivers an “off-message” quote that lasts just a few seconds. Journalists recognize those unplanned moments as newsworthy, and often use them in their news stories. So if your employee shares a wacky anecdote, disparages a competitor, or criticizes a management decision, you can bet it will make its way into the segment.
6. Ask Them to Tidy Up
Instruct your staff to remove any confidential or sensitive papers from their desktops and to avoid displaying sensitive documents on their computer screens. Ask them to remove overtly political messages from their work areas (e.g. posters and bumper stickers) that, in some cases, can endanger an organization’s tax-exempt status. You might even ask them to do a little housekeeping to leave a neat appearance.
In order to add “color” to their stories, good reporters pay attention to interesting details within eyesight or earshot. As an example, I know of one executive who decorated his office rather lavishly, largely at taxpayer expense. When a scandal erupted at his organization, reporters were quick to note the expensive rug and antique chair in his office. So before a journalist visits your office, walk through the entire office space, try to see the workspace through the eyes of a skeptical journalist, and make any necessary adjustments.
This article was originally published in the American Management Association’s monthly e-newsletter, Leader’s Edge. Brad Phillips is the author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Tags: media relations tips, Public Relations
Posted in Media Training Tips | 2 Comments »