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The Jones Report
November - December 1999
20/20: Tips for Building Strong Media Relationships
By Betty A. Lovell, APR
Twenty Media Dos:
Reporters have often said that it’s easier to secure access to the White House than to gain access to most shopping malls. Because of this, shopping centers have historically had a less than favorable reputation with the media. While several mall management firms are taking a more proactive stance in dealing with the media, there is still a significant learning curve in terms of building media relationships.
Your ability to deal effectively with any subject is directly related to how much you know about that subject. The more you understand, the more you are comfortable dealing with any aspect of that subject. A person who anticipates working with the media should learn as much as possible about how the media works in general. With so much riding on how you and your company are presented, you can’t afford to be uniformed.
We’re all exposed to the media so frequently that we are quite familiar with their end product – broadcast programs, newspapers, periodicals, trade journals. Many of us therefore assume we also know a great deal about the workings of the media. That assumption isn’t always correct. As a participant, you should be concerned only with making the best of the media end product.
There are numerous checklists for generating good working relationships with the media. Most of them are well tested and proven, but it is important to remember that there is no ironclad rule. The “20/20 List: 20 Dos and 20 Don’ts” will help you build relationships with the media or enhance existing media relationships.
Twenty Media Dos:
1. Be an avid media watcher. It is critical that you are familiar with the media before you contact them. Key questions to ask: Is this the best avenue to reach my audience? What type of stories do they typically cover? Will my information fit their format?
2. Be timely. Tie your story to a news item or timely issue when possible.
3. Be alert. Stay on top of breaking news that relates to your company’s sphere of activities. Take note of stories, where they appear and whose byline they carry.
4. Know the appropriate media outlets to target. Determine whether a story has national implications and direct it accordingly. Release stories with local news to local media. Don’t underestimate the power of weekly community-oriented newspapers that cover a particular city or region.
5. Know the reporter’s beat. Before you contact a reporter, pay attention to his recent stories and make sure your story fits his format/beat. Ask the reporter if there is a method (fax, phone or e-mail) he prefers when you need to contact him.
6. Be accessible. Always let reporters know how to reach you, and return calls promptly. If you are the spokesperson for an organization, it is your responsibility to be accessible at all times, even in the middle of the night. Key reporters should have your office and home telephone numbers as well as pager and/or cell phone numbers.
7. Respect deadlines. Always ask if a reporter is on deadline when you call. Find out when he is typically on deadline and never call at that time. Ask the reporter if he has a time he prefers for you to contact him. Also, make sure timely information is provided well in advance of deadlines.
8. Be truthful. Give accurate and complete information.
9. Get to the point. Put the most important information first. Don’t include information unless it is factual. Do not try to pass advertising off as news.
10. Provide requested information. Get back to a reporter if you don’t have the information when you are asked. Follow up on what you promised.
11. Be accurate. Your facts and figures must be clear and dependable. You must be able to back them up.
12. Answer questions. There are only three acceptable answers:
  a. “Here it is.”
  b. “I don’t know but I’ll find out for you.”
  c. “I know, but I can’t tell you now because…”
  Note: “No comment” is not an option.
13. Protect exclusives. If a reporter has found a story, don’t give it to anyone else. If another reporter also discovers it, the matter is out of your hands.
14. Give all the news. It’s far better to assist a reporter looking for information that is publicly accessible than to send him to find it on his own.
15. Use professional photographers. When submitting photos with your news release, use a professional photographer. The odds are greater that your photograph will be used if it is done professionally.
16. Balance your treatment of the media. Competing media deserve equal opportunity to receive information.
17. Explain. Do not assume that reporters understand your business and the industry jargon you use daily. Many reporters don’t understand the nature of your business and they certainly don’t know as much as you do. Give them background briefings and materials; tell them how decisions were made and why.
18. Proof. Proof again. Have other people proofread and edit your information before sending it to the media. Reporters will not give serious attention to a news release with typos, poor grammar and other errors.
19. Correct errors politely. Ignore minor errors. If a major factual error skews the accuracy of the entire story, bring it to the reporter’s attention. If that doesn’t work, go to his editor.
20. Praise good work. If a reporter has written a good and accurate story, a note of thanks (with a copy to his editor) will be appreciated.
Twenty Media Don’ts:
Equally important to knowing what to do is knowing what not to do in dealing with the media. Many news releases and story tips never see the light of day. There are any number of reasons for this, but the overriding reason is that the story doesn’t fit the particular needs of the medium that received the material.
Several surveys have indicated that editors most commonly fail to use a news release because it has limited local interest. The other reason most often cited by editors is that the news release has no reader interest. Other reasons include poor writing, reasons of policy or that the release is too commercial – it reads like an advertisement for a product. You can avoid trouble if you are aware of why news releases get rejected.
Twenty Media Don’ts:
1. Don’t evade. Frankness is imperative.
2. Don’t mislead. Reporters are expert at spotting this.
3. Don’t write promotion pieces. Write news stories. Write and think like a reporter whose copy would be used as is, if the editor so desired.
4. Don’t write in the passive voice: Write in the active voice. Say, for instance, that someone accomplishes something, not something was accomplished by someone. It makes the story more positive.
5. Don’t play favorites. Everyone deserves an even break.
6. Don’t complain because your story wasn’t used. It won’t do any good.
7. Don’t criticize. It is the reporter’s story – not yours.
8. Don’t try to use pressure from advertising. The fact that your organization advertises in the medium you are pitching has no bearing on the story.
9. Don’t go over the reporter’s head. Talking to his boss is certain to breed resentment.
10. Don’t ask when or whether a story will run – unless you do it tactfully. However, in the case of a feature, it is permissible to ask when it will run so that you can order reprints of a magazine story or watch a television story on the air.
11. Don’t ask reporters to kill a story. They won’t do it and will only resent your attempt to quash it.
12. Don’t be facetious. The reporter might take you literally.
13. Don’t ask for clippings. That is not the media’s job.
14. Don’t ask to check a story before it runs. However, if it deals with a complex or technical subject, you might possibly offer to check it for accuracy.
15. Don’t “snowstorm” the media. A blizzard of releases will not work.
16. Don’t send material that is not localized. The most common complaint of gatekeepers is that they get material without local interest.
17. Don’t “color” the news. Give facts, not hype.
18. Don’t follow up just to ask if a reporter received your information. This is quite irritating to reporters. If you follow up with a reporter, make sure you are offering an additional story angle or new information.
19. Don’t expect a reporter to be enthusiastic about your story if you’re not. Tell the reporter why you believe it is important for his audience to know about your topic.
20. Don’t send gimmick items or expensive gift items unless they tie in with purpose. Reporters have many different opinions on this issue but most agree that the item included should have a tie-in with the news release or shouldn’t be included at all. This does not ensure that your news release will receive any special treatment. Be mindful of the cost of items, limiting the cost to $10 or below as a guideline.
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