It seems, at times, that everyone loves to hate the media. Politicians blame the media for their downfall. Political parties blame the media for the success of the other side. Pundits blame the media for the demoralization of our country. Whether or not any of the charges are true, there is no question that the media wields a tremendous amount of power. But used effectively media in public relations, can be your most valuable tool.
The most widely known use of the media, of course, is the proverbial press release, a short news-style story submitted to a news publication about an organization, event, or person. The press release is written in third person with the goal of convincing a newspaper editor that the topic of the release is newsworthy. It is a great way to obtain “free publicity” for an organization or individual. It will help a great deal if you as the PR professional have already established a good rapport with your local reporters and editors.
For more coverage than a press release can provide, you can also suggest a story idea to an editor or journalist. For example, a Councilwoman in a small Ohio community suggested a feature story to the reporter of a local paper about how she had conquered attention deficit disorder. The story appeared on the front page of Section Two with the heading “Local Councilwoman Overcomes Label as ‘Scatterbrain’.” Although she wasn’t thrilled with the headline, she received dozens of phone calls from readers wanting to know more about adult ADD. The reporter received more calls on that story than on any other story she had written in her entire career. And when the Councilwoman was up for re-election, she received more votes than anyone else running for Council.
When you develop a good relationship with the media, you become the “go-to” person when they need more information about your organization. This gives you some control over how a story is presented. If your client is a well-known bank whose branch was held up at gun point, as the primary spokesperson you can stress to reporters the bravery and wise actions of the branch employees and what the bank is doing to step up security, taking the focus off of community fear.
Media relations, however, goes beyond establishing a good relationship with the media personnel. A critical function of dealing with the media involves training the CEO’s, CFO’s, and other decision-makers on how to speak to the media. An executive with the tendency to “tell it like it is” may be an effective leader in the organization, but could be disaster when talking to the media. In an age of political correctness and consummate back-pedaling, a busy executive often needs guidance from the public relations professional in speaking carefully to media who is very likely to be looking for a sensational quote.
In public relations, media can be your greatest ally or your most dangerous enemy. The more positive relationships you can establish with them, the better you can influence how your organization is presented to the public.