Our guest blogger is Bruce Richardson, a friend and former colleague who has managed and led corporate communications and media relations functions at two Fortune 500 companies and a federal regulatory agency.
A few years ago I was invited to lead a roundtable discussion at our local IABC chapter. My assigned topic was media relations. I had a few years of media experience under my belt, having worked for a local electric utility that generated more than its fair share of media interest.
I also volunteered with Boy Scouts at the time. Every good scout memorizes twelve qualities of character, known as the Scout Law, that if followed are believed to lead one to a successful life. The Scout Law goes like this: A scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.
It occurred to me at the time that many of those same qualities apply to working effectively with the media. So with some slight variations and a little imagination, and apologies to the Boy Scouts of America, I created a boy scout’s view of effective media relations. I share an abbreviated version of it again here, pleased after many additional years of working with the media to report these qualities remain true.
Trustworthy – Build media relationships based on mutual respect. Tell the media the bad news as well as the good and never, ever, tell an untruth.
Loyal – Remember those conscientious reporters who work extra hard to be fair, objective and complete. Reward them with exclusives or news tips when appropriate and they’ll reward you with coverage. And when the story isn’t flattering, it will be balanced.
Helpful – Have meaningful information to offer the reporter, keeping his or her audience in mind. Reporters are working on the run, the more helpful you can be facilitating interviews and information gathering, the better the story and the relationship.
Courteous – Be responsive and as accommodating as possible. Be aware of and sensitive to the reporter’s deadline, but don’t let poor planning on a reporter’s part ruin your afternoon. Know how the reporter likes to be reached, then be judicious in your contacts.
Kind – (A stretch on this one, but bear with me…) Know what kind of style and format your targeted media use. Do your research. The more you know about the news organization’s style and approach, the easier it is to approach a reporter, editor or producer with a story idea.
Obedient – Know (or develop if you don’t have them already) the ground rules for dealing with the media at your organization and be true to them. Know your sensitive areas and sacred cows, your best spokespeople on various subjects, what you’re going to say before you say it, and the company’s position on various subjects
Cheerful – (Another stretch, so please skip to Thrifty if you experience a gag reflex.) Maintain a positive attitude, no matter how bad things are. Stay relaxed. Reporters can sometimes be grouchy. It doesn’t mean you have to be.
Thrifty – Don’t waste money on shotgun shells when a single bullet will do. Leverage technology to your advantage.
Brave – Confidence inspires confidence. When talking to reporters in person or on the phone, be confident in what you’re saying. Don’t be afraid to contact a reporter. If you’re hesitant to pitch a story, maybe it’s too lame. And don’t let an executive tell you what’s newsworthy. You’re the pro. If it’s not newsworthy to you, trust me, it’s not to the reporter either.
Clean – Make sure your facts are accurate. Be clear and concise. Know your messages and how you’re going to deliver them. Be brief.
Reverent – Don’t put the media on a pedestal. Reporters, editors and producers have a job to do. So do you. Show respect for their profession and they’ll respect yours. Maybe. And when you land that front page story in The New York Times, thank the Lord.
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