John Wagner’s comments in Now It’s The Corporate PR Folks’ Turn To Be Slammed about his experience with the media has had me thinking about the adversarial quality of my daily dealings with the members of the press. And I’ve been thinking about the many things I do, every day, to make those dealings better.
I am blessed to have great working relationships with many reporters. I have a lot of respect for them and their ability to report the truth. And I have a lot of respect for their ethics.
I know reporters who think nothing of checking with me to assure themselves that they got the facts straight. They will check with me to verify quotes. And this doesn’t mean that they’re being soft on me or my position, it just means that they’re being thorough. I know, when dealing with them, that they will accurately portray my side.
These reporters, however, are few and far between.
More prevalent are the ones who will take my quotes out of context. I am extremely familiar with the reporters who will attribute half-statements to me that I never uttered. I’ve seen an interview edited for television where different questions were spliced onto perfectly acceptable answers… to the original questions. And I’ve seen reporters knowingly omit information that would contradict the story they’re trying to tell.
Who cares about the truth?
I know that there are reporters who will say that my job is to make their jobs more difficult, when the truth is that it’s my job to try to get them the info they need. I navigate the company, the situation, the people involved and pull the answers they need in a timely manner.
So what do I do to try to make it better? What do I do to create positive long-lasting relationships with reporters?
- Don’t blow them off. Answer phone calls. Return emails. Let them know when you won’t be able to get them an answer. Let them know when you will.
- Meet deadlines. Reporters live and die by deadlines. If you get them the info you promised by the deadline you promised, they get to meet their deadlines. Trust me, this will make you friends in the long run.
- Be helpful. More often than not you will have more info about the situation or the industry than the reporter will. That means that you may know of additional sources, contacts or history that may help reporters put together a better story. Of course, make sure you don’t send them to someone who’s going to torpedo your point of view.
- Be truthful. If you get caught in a lie it will kill your credibility. If you made a mistake, own up to it. If you don’t know something, say that you don’t know and promise to find out… then find out. If you get caught in a lie it will look like you have more to hide than is actually there.
- Protect your client. As friendly a relationship as I have with some reporters I don’t forget that my job is to postively impact the image of my client. Sometimes that means getting info out. Sometimes that means trying to soften the impact of info that’s gotten out.
I hate that the PR profession, that the industry as a whole has been taking such a beating. It’s like we’re the flavor the week… or rather the punching bag of the week. People forget that, while we communicate what happens, and sometimes we can influence what is done, we don’t normally decide policy or business practices. That’s changing, but not fast enough.
As I’ve said frequently, I’m good at dealing with the press, but I don’t have to like it.