Posts Tagged ‘working with reporters’
This is an excerpt from my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Although this section has dealt exclusively with crisis communications, it’s important to note that not all bad press results from a crisis. Sometimes, a reporter gets a key fact wrong, a columnist takes an unfavorable view of your political stance, or an arts critic disapproves of your museum’s new exhibit.
Lessons 91 and 92 will help you respond to negative media coverage that doesn’t result from a full-fledged crisis but that has the potential to negatively affect your brand. This lesson focuses on how to respond to bad press before the story runs.
You can’t always respond to stories before publication, since some run without reporters contacting you in advance. But reporters will often ask for your perspective before the story runs, and their questions may make it clear to you that they’ve drawn incorrect impressions. If you think you’re about to be the recipient of bad press, consider these five actions.
1. Detail the errors
Make a list of the reporter’s errors and explain why the story is wrong. Provide the reporter with the accurate information and cite your sources.
2. Ask to meet with the reporter
Little is more disarming than a spokesperson who asks to meet in person. It sends a message that you have nothing to hide and may make reporters reconsider their perspectives.
3. Take it up a notch
If you’re getting nowhere with the reporter, speak with his or her boss. That person bears greater responsibility for running accurate stories.
4. Get your lawyers involved
You may be able to get a story delayed, revised, or killed if you can demonstrate to the news organization that it is factually incorrect and could lead to a costly lawsuit.
5. Beat the press
In extreme cases, you might consider releasing your story before the reporter can. That may mean offering the story to a competing (and fairer) journalist or releasing it through your own social media channels. By beating the journalist to the story, you’ll be able to get your version of events out first and help control the narrative. But beware: If you pursue this strategy, the reporter may punish you in future coverage.
Tread carefully when considering lawsuits against news organizations, since legal cases often attract more headlines and keep damaging information in the headlines that much longer.
Can You Sue a News Organization for an Incorrect Story?
If you’re the target of an inaccurate news story, you may be able to sue the offending news organization. The information below comes from Erik M. Pelton & Associates, a law firm specializing in intellectual property and social media issues.
Libel and slander are legal terms for injuring another party by making harmful misstatements. Libel relates to statements made in print or online; slander applies to oral statements. Both are difficult to establish in the U.S., where the person suing has the burden of proof. Claims are easier to prove in many other countries, since the person accused of libel or slander has to prove that the disputed statement is true.
In order win a lawsuit in the U.S., the statement must have been negligently made and resulted in harm to the person defamed. Public figures have an even higher threshold to meet, and must show the person making the statement knew it to be false or had a reckless disregard for the truth.
To avoid being sued yourself, be sure that any negative statements you make about a specific individual or business are accurate—or are clearly identified as your opinion.
Click here for more information about The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Tags: media training tips, working with reporters
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A reader recently wrote in seeking advice about how to change a reporter’s description of her as an “opponent” of a proposed new middle school. “The label is convenient,” she writes, but “it sounds negative and oppositional.” More importantly, she says, it’s inaccurate.
“Our town is currently locked in an ongoing school bond debate revolving primarily around the construction of a new middle school. The bond has failed three times, but the school board and supporters plan to float it yet again.
A number of us in the “no, not in that current iteration” camp are consistently referred to in the media as “opponents” of the bond…it doesn’t accurately convey our position. We are in fact for the bond in that we support a new middle school. But we disagree with proponents on a number of key issues and want the board to back-pedal and revisit prior assumptions…we aren’t opponents of the bond as much as we are “yes, but let’s do this thing right” voters.
Is there a word, or handy phrase, we can use to better identify ourselves, both as we speak with people individually and as presented collectively, via the media?”
1. Speak to the reporter
Reporters might use the term “opponent” for a few reasons. First, it may be an accurate descriptor—you are in opposition to the current plan, if not the entire project. Second, reporters working under a strict word count don’t want to burn up words on your descriptor. “Opponent” takes up one word; “who opposes the current plan” takes up five. Finally, “supporter vs. opponent” plays to the media’s tendency to eliminate nuance and reduce characters to simple archetypes.
In this reader’s case, she did contact the reporter—and got positive results. “I contacted the reporter, thanking him for a well-done, objective piece,” she wrote. “I added that I’m not, strictly-speaking, an opponent as I don’t oppose a new school/alternative bond. He asked how he might better describe me in future articles.” Her non-accusatory tone was perfect.
2. Create an irresistible media sound bite
I’d develop an irresistible sound bite, such as this one:
“The supporters of this bill have consistently misrepresented our position. We are for the construction of a new middle school; we’re against irresponsible construction (or reckless growth, etc.)”
Or, if you want to be more positive:
“The supporters of this bill have consistently misrepresented our position. We are for the construction of a new middle school—but we insist on smart development that serves the community well for many years.”
These sound bites work for three reasons:
1. They oppose something most people would also be against—irresponsible construction or reckless growth—or support something people would be for—smart development.
2. The lead sentence places the blame for misrepresenting your position on the supporters of the bill, not on the media (which might bristle at the accusation).
3. The “for-against” construct of the first sound bite plays to the media’s preference for two-sided conflict, increasing the odds they would choose to use it.
Finally, if you don’t want to come across quite so aggressively (or, if you don’t want to use the term ‘supporters’ in your sound bite), you might choose more neutral language instead:
“Our position has been consistently misrepresented. We are for the construction of a new middle school; we’re against irresponsible construction.”
Thank you for your email, and good luck!
Do you have a question about public speaking or dealing with the media that you’d like answered on the blog? Please send it to Contact@MrMediaTraining.com.
Tags: media relations tips, PR, Public Relations, working with reporters
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Last week, I asked whether it is ever a smart media relations strategy to wait to return a reporter’s call until just before the deadline. By doing so in specific circumstances, I wrote, you might be able to minimize your role in the story while preventing the reporter from writing that you refused to comment.
You had a lot to say on this topic—thank you for all of your thoughtful comments!—and as I suspected, you had a wide range of opinions. Below are some highlights; you can also read the complete comments in the comment section of this post.
Many of you said that waiting until just before the deadline was bad form, as expressed in the following tweets:
Reader Adam Myrick agrees that waiting is bad form:
”I’ve always gone with a customer service-flavored model of media relations. I look at the reporters and editors I work with as customers. I strive to provide them with a level of access and information that is befitting of a customer receiving any other service. Providing them with information right before ‘closing time’ strikes me as bad customer service.”
Stu Opperman, APR takes a similar take:
“In my experience, reporters will often claim a deadline time that is often earlier than the actual deadline. This happens for a variety of reasons, one of which is to thwart the ’4:58 crowd’ from working the system. Since you never really know if the deadline stated is the true deadline, it has always been my recommendation to position the appropriate message(s) as you feel is best, regardless of timing. If your goal is to keep your client’s connection to the story to a minimum, keep your comments short and to the point and don’t have further conversation/correspondence about the situation.”
But other readers disagreed, arguing that waiting until just before a reporter’s deadline has its benefits. Bill Zucker writes:
“There is at least one situation in which there is little advantage in answering early. If, because of legal complications or the facts in the story, your company will not be in a position to go beyond a short statement — then there is little reason to answer early. Giving time for follow up doesn’t help you.”
But Bill smartly points out that:
“Deadlines are not what they used to be…waiting until deadline hoping to avoid a follow up question will not generally be effective for stories that are posted and updated online.”
“I would agree with Bill that you only do it when there’s not much you can say, and would add that you only do it with a reporter you know or suspect to be hostile.”
But he shares this anecdote about a time when that strategy backfired:
“When I first started doing PR at a college, I didn’t have the information to provide a news director who called about a controversy. I pledged to get back to her when I had somebody for her to talk to, but rather than wait she sent a reporter out to talk to anybody she could find…it could…have spun out of control at that point.”
John Barnett sees both sides:
”There is a risk of being left out anyway after waiting so long, or the reporter decides you are hiding something, feels played and then adjusts his or her story toward that angle…So I call it a risk — but argue that risks are strategies.”
And he also points out that reporters use a similar tactic in reverse:
“I would also suggest it works both ways, since reporters working a juicy gotcha story can wait until the last minute to call you for a quote or information in order to put you off-message and limit your options for a reply that meets their deadline.”
Finally, one reader who requested anonymity shared an interesting story about his company’s crisis communications regarding the new healthcare marketplace:
“I handle PR [for] a large health insurer, and with the marketplace enrollment issues everyone is having, local TV stations have been finding members who need coverage and using their stories as a way to attack insurance companies…
A couple of weeks ago we were contacted by a member of the local TV media — a reporter who has a history of going aggressively against us whenever possible…
First off, we solved the member’s issue, but as we all know, that was just to crack to door open for the reporter, she was filing the story regardless of the members’ outcome.
I had no intention of putting our executive on air…I had previously witnessed how other local TV stations cut and sliced a seemingly innocent interview with this executive and turned it negative…So I put together a statement from the company, but made it appear as if it was crafted specifically and only for this one reporter, and sent it to her an hour before her deadline.
I did not take her follow up calls, as she also had a tendency to use phone conversations with the PR staff as official comments from the company, and I did not want our off-hand comments to defuse the message of the statement…
The story ran, and not only did she show the statement on air (on our letterhead with logo), she actually read part of the statement in her story…To me, this was a win.”
Thank you for your great comments! If you would like to add any additional thoughts, please use the comments section below.
Tags: media relations tips, PR, Public Relations, working with reporters
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If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know that I generally advise spokespersons to return a call well before a reporter’s deadline.
Returning calls from reporters on the early side—before they begin writing their stories—can give you influence over the way they view your topic. Your early conversations may lead them to examine angles they hadn’t previously considered and speak with other sources you mentioned. All of that, in turn, may lead to more favorable coverage.
If, on the other hand, you wait to return a reporter’s call until just before his or her deadline, you may reduce your ability to shape the story. By that late point, the journalist has probably already completed 95 percent of the story and will just plug your quote into a small hole left open for you.
But here’s a question: Are there times when you might want to reduce your role in the story—and strategically return a call for a 5:00 p.m. deadline at 4:58 p.m.?
Waiting to return a journalist’s call until just before the deadline could help you in at least two ways: Depending on the circumstance, it could minimize your role in an unfavorable story; and it prevents reporters from being able to write or say that you had “no comment,” a damning phrase that makes you look guilty.
Here are my questions for you:
Have you ever used this tactic? If so, what were the circumstances? Did it work? If you haven’t, would you consider doing so?
I’ll compile a few of your responses for an upcoming article—so if you’d like some free publicity, please leave a web address along with your comment.
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
Tags: media relations tips, PR, Public Relations, Question of the Week, working with reporters
Posted in Question of the Week | 6 Comments »
I recently received a letter from Dale Dixon, the author of a new public speaking book called Sweating Bullets: A Story about Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking.
Until I received his note, which was accompanied by a copy of his book, Dale and I had never communicated. But the tone of his pitch letter was perfect—and a great example of the right way to pitch a stranger.
1. He was familiar with my work
Any journalist or blogger can tell you stories about being pitched by PR professionals who had absolutely no familiarity with their product. I’ve been pitched to do stories on food, sports, and outdoor clothing.
Even people who are familiar with my work sometimes come across as perfunctory. But Dale didn’t. In his letter, he made a sincere effort to convey his familiarity with my coverage area. And as a result, I felt that he deserved my attention.
2. His pitch looked good
Dale’s letterhead, which included an image of his book cover along with testimonials, looked good. His letter was professionally designed, attractively spaced, and uncluttered by an overabundance of words. Those may seem like small details—but in a business in which appearances matter, he made the most of his sheet of paper. As a result, he persuaded me to put his book toward the top of my “books to read” pile.
3. He made a soft pitch
More than anything, I appreciated how subtle and respectful his pitch was. His motive for sending me the book—unless he’s the rare altruist—must be for me to read and review it. But in reading his letter, you’d never know it. He let the quality of his approach do the work for him and didn’t feel the need to deliver a blunt call to action. I found that understated approach rare and refreshing. As a result, I decided to reach out to him for permission to reprint his letter and help publicize his book.
I haven’t read Dale’s book yet, so I can’t offer a personal review of it. But if it’s anywhere as thoughtful as his perfect pitch, I’ll be in for a treat when I finally crack the spine.
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Tags: Dale Dixon, media relations tips, Sweating Bullets, working with reporters
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Wikipedia tells us that “in partner dancing, the two dancers are sometimes not equal. One takes the Lead and the other is the Follow.” As you might have expected, gender often plays a role:
“The Lead (conventionally the male in a mixed-sex couple) is responsible for choosing appropriate steps to suit the music (if it is an improvised dance), and leading the Follow by using subtle signals to complete the chosen steps smoothly and safely.”
The majority of interview subjects approach media interviews as a dance. In their view—conscious or not—the reporter leads the dance through his or her questioning while the interviewee gamely goes in whichever conversational direction the journalist decides.
But good media interviews are not a dance. You are equal to reporters—not a companion who follows their lead.
We see this dynamic in our training sessions often. We might begin with a short lecture about the importance of remaining on message—and for the first few practice interview questions we ask the trainees, they remember to transition back to their main points.
But within a few questions, they forget about their messages entirely and just start answering our questions. We, the reporters, are leading the dance again, and the trainee has abandoned their interview strategy entirely.
It’s easy to understand why that happens. In everyday conversation, we have a more natural give and take, with each party switching turns taking the lead and follow roles. If someone asks us a question, we answer the question.
But media interviews aren’t conversations. They are strategic forms of communication intended to reach and appeal to a specific target audience. Spokespersons who forget that—and who lapse back into conversation mode—are turning the lead role back over to the reporter, voluntarily surrendering their right to be an equal.
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Tags: advanced media training tips, media training tips, Public Relations, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Tips | 4 Comments »
In this video media training tip, I’ll offer a very simple technique to help you avoid being the victim of a media misquote.
Remember these three words: Click, clack, repeat.
You can see some of our other video media training tips here.
Tags: media training tips, media training videos, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Videos | 5 Comments »
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 | 6 Comments »