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Professional Conduct A Must When Dealing With the Media

By Robert N. Lee and Margaret Anne J. Taylor |

Despite popular belief that those working on public relations campaigns and the media are fierce adversaries, the truth is, the generation of news and the gathering of news coincide.

On any given day, news reporters rely on sources channeled through corporate and government public relations departments and information provided by small businesses and individuals for much of their news. Magazine writers frequently begin their research with PR departments of larger corporations or a knowledgeable source, and the relationship is generally a good one.

In a roundabout way, reporters and PR representatives need each other.

Any organization or company not knowing where or how to approach the media should not do so until they learn something about how the news is made.

How news is made is not so mysterious.

Urban myth tends to paint all media as rapacious beasts frothing at the mouth and eager to pounce on some unsuspecting community leader or small company vice president.

If that were the case, media sources would quickly dry up. Yes, there are occasional misunderstandings, because a writer went further with the story than the company had planned. But, most reporters are just hard-working men and women, and it is his or her prerogative to present both sides of an issue and to be fair.

In the end, most publicity generally helps small companies.

PR efforts can generate news and get something started for a reporter, but those providing the information cannot control news, and PR savvy businesses should never even think of trying.

Cultivating contacts and keeping the avenues of communication open between a small business and the media is best left to someone who knows something about the territory.

To build personal relationships between businesses and the media, a small business should develop a PR strategy, and possibly designate a PR representative, such as the owner. The representative should not call up newspapers, radio and television until they understand something about how newsrooms and reporters work. Indeed, many of the better public relations professionals once toiled in newsrooms themselves and know intimately how the news gathering Goliaths operate from top to bottom. Gaining this amount of newsroom knowledge can be unrealistic for a small business, but gathering some information on how the newsroom works can be invaluable and lead to a successful public relations campaign.

Contacting reporters professionally is always important. Telephoning them angrily to complain about the way an article may have been presented is especially discouraged and is not part of the game plan. Any PR savvy business worth its salt will not do that regardless of how much they feel the article misrepresents aspects of their business.

On the other hand, it is very important to ask the writer questions about the article if there are some inaccuracies or something that may have been misunderstood. If approached professionally, most writers will not mind discussing how or why an article was written a certain way. In cases where an error occurred, magazines and newspapers are often open to printing retractions or apologies in upcoming issues. A professional approach may even lead to a follow-up article.

Matters of generating news should be left up to the PR representative for the business, so they can develop a way to treat each newsgathering organization equally. They call one; they call them all...from the TV news ratings leaders right down to the neighborhood weekly and the ethnic newspapers. There may be times when a different strategy is required, but the most experienced media relations person should make the call, otherwise working relationships with other reporters may be threatened.

And professionals never leak stories to a friend who happens to be assembling the morning news show.

There is always sensitivity to deadlines when sending out news releases or arranging news conferences.

This is not so much of a challenge nowadays, because almost all city daily newspapers have late day deadlines for the night press runs and most television and radio stations also present late day, night or next morning newscasts.

Some other rules PR smart businesses should abide by when attempting to make news:

#1 Media Requirements Understood
That is, a business owner planning to use PR needs to know what news is and what is not. If they realize a promotion is not news, they must learn to make it news or resist forcing it on the media. Understanding requirements means the story may have more visual appeal and smart business owners should go out of their way to supply video stock or arrange photo opportunities.

#2 Accuracy is the Rule
News releases have to be the ultimate source of facts and correct spelling. And, never mislead!

#3 Accessibility Counts
A small business should always have a PR representative available to meet the media. This person should be the first one available when someone calls for a story out of the blue.

#4 Weak Stories Never Move
A story must sell on its own merits and to treat it otherwise is unprofessional. If none of the media picks up the story, then it was probably not good enough to begin with, no matter how great the telephone salesmanship. In the same vein, phony events are never organized.

#5 Media Lists are Updated
Names of the writers and editors are always changing and it's important for the PR representative to not only update lists, but note who they should be talking to when introducing a topic.

#6 Good PR Representatives are Helpful
The PR-smart small business goes to great lengths to meet the needs of the media. They may arrange for extras and bring props to a video shoot, set up multiple interviews for the live morning news programs, travel to radio studios and always have background handouts available.

#7 No Comments--Ever
The small business PR representative should never make comments to a reporter without the knowledge of the small business owner and if applicable, the management. Without their pre-approval, the PR representative should never speak off or on the record on the business's policy or issues.

Small businesses that gain PR skills can earn the trust of media over a period of time and will keep it by being honest.

Previously: Click here to read Part I in this series.

Coming up: Our next article will be on writing a good business speech, and points to consider when writing one. Be sure to look for it on next month.

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