Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Helping Your Association Establish a Credible Reputation with the Media

Moving Past an Acme Anvil Approach to the Media, Part One

Guest Post By Kathy Deters

If your work requires being interviewed by the media, you’ve probably felt like one of the characters in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

  • Perhaps it was Elmer Fudd, tricked into walking into a furnace—or a public relations firestorm—by a fast-talking reporter. 
  • Or maybe you were Yosemite Sam, angry, blubbering and incoherent because you felt your words were being used against you. 
  • Or possibly you just arrive at work every day feeling like the Roadrunner, always on your toes in hopes of avoiding the boulder that’s about to be dropped on your head. 
Many professionals find the easiest solution is avoidance: Keep your head down so that anvil can’t find you. But for the association leaders that make the time and effort to build themselves as credible media experts in their fields, the benefits can be numerous.

Nurturing a strong relationship with the news media helps ensure that when your association has good news to share, someone is listening.

Establishing yourself as a credible source also increases the likelihood that the media will give you an opportunity to comment when your organization or association is preparing for the impact of changing rules or legislation. Keeping the lines of communication open between your association and the media is essential to keeping the lines of communication open between your association and the general public.

So how do we break out of this Acme Anvil cycle with the media to foster this positive relationship?

By developing a better understanding of how the media works, anticipating what reporters need and figuring out how to best meet those needs.

In this three-part series, we’ll explore these topics so you can face that next news camera with confidence and ease and help your association share its stories with the media.

Working with the Media, Rule No. 1: Check your paranoia at the door.

Fans of the ‘80s classic “Kindergarten Cop” might remember this bit of advice regarding running a kindergarten classroom: “Look, you’ve got to treat this like any other police situation. You walk into it showing fear, you’re dead.”

The same could be said of media interviews. Reporters will view you as suspicious if you seem tense, uncomfortable or off-putting. And yet, if you’re harboring an inherent fear of the media, it’s hard not to have your guard up, even if you have nothing to hide.

The best thing you can do? Check your paranoia at the door.

Many of our negative attitudes toward the press are based on myth. So here, from the perspective of someone who has worked on both sides of the industry, are the realities of news coverage.

Top Four Myths About the Media, Debunked:

  1. There’s nothing worse than a bad headline. The headline is typically written by an editor, not the reporter who interviewed you; at times this means the tone of the article will be vastly different from the tone of the headline. It doesn’t mean the article itself will be construed by readers as negative. Look at the big picture. 
  2. The job of the press is to make everyone look bad. Journalists have to present every side of the story, it’s true. It’s nothing personal, and it usually doesn’t mean they’re out to get you (except on the rare occasions when they are, as we’ll explore later in the series). If an issue has more than one side, it is the journalist’s responsibility to present those other perspectives as well. But they’re not out to get you personally, they’re simply trying to present an objective, well-balanced article. 
  3. Don’t talk to a reporter; he’ll just twist your words around. Getting a quote verbatim isn’t as easy as it seems, particularly in a phone interview. Most journalists work hard to make quotes as accurate as possible, and few intentionally twist words or use them out of context. You can help ensure accuracy by keeping answers brief; if the reporter wants more information, she’ll ask a follow-up question. If she asks to record the conversation, give her your blessing; this will also help improve accuracy. And don’t forget to talk a bit more slowly than you would normally so that the reporter can take notes—it’s easy to forget to do this in phone interviews. 
  4. Nothing in the news is ever accurate; they only tell half the story. Journalists often have to simplify issues based on space or readers’ needs; most of us were taught in journalism school to write to an eighth-grade reading level. This can be frustrating if you share every detail of an issue only to see it boiled down to two sentences, but believe it or not, it’s equally frustrating for the journalist trying to explain complex issues in a few column inches. If you provided them with inaccurate information, by all means, call and let them know; but before calling the reporter to demand a retraction or correction because they’ve glossed over a detail that you feel is important to presenting your perspective, ask yourself whether it’s worth it. The correction may be buried on page six, but the impression your demands make on the reporter and the publication will last for years. 

Lesson for Associations

Whatever negative encounter you’ve had with the media in the past that’s created that unsettled feeling in your gut, let it go. To spend the rest of your career dodging the press based on one encounter would be like swearing off donuts after one stale Danish: what a terrible waste. 

Moving past your fears and misperceptions about the media is not only beneficial to running an association, it’s necessary. Keeping the lines of communication open between your association and the media is essential to keeping the lines of communication open between your association and the general public. Most importantly, nurturing a strong relationship with the press helps ensure that when your association has good news to share, someone is listening.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the ten commandments of developing a strong relationship with reporters.

Kathy Deters is a senior writer and social media manager for St. Louis Sprout and About magazine and has more than 15 years of experience in government, communications and public relations. Kathy can be reached at Kathy_Deters@hotmail.com.

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