Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Part 2 - Helping Your Association Establish a Credible Reputation with the Media

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

Guest Post By Kathy Deters

If your position requires fielding questions from the media, chances are, at some time or another, you’ve felt like that little Roadrunner, waiting for the coyote to drop an anvil on your head.

Yesterday, we debunked the four myths that many hold about the press. Today we’re looking at tips to establish yourself as a credible, reliable media source. 

Working with the Media, Rule No. 2: Don’t tick off the reporter.

First, realize that yes, occasionally, reporters have their own agendas. You will encounter reporters who rely on sensationalism to make their mark, or perhaps it’s an up-and-coming reporter who’s trying to establish themselves as an investigative journalist but going about it the wrong way. Keep in mind that they are the exception, not the rule; don’t judge all members of the media by the actions of a few. 

Be respectful and professional and answer their questions as honestly and accurately as possible, just as you would with any other reporter. And no matter how badly the interview is tanking, never, ever, put your hand in front of the camera or shove any member of the news crew. If I had any video-making capabilities I’d make a mash-up YouTube video of various government officials and CEOs shoving shock journalists. And I’d set it to Taylor Swift’s hit song, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

More often, however, if you feel a reporter is truly out to get you like a heat-seeking missile locked on a target, consider whether you have poked the proverbial bear. If they seem like they have an axe to grind, ask yourself, “Have I given them a reason?”

If you have habitually missed their deadlines or avoided returning their phone calls completely, uttered that dreaded “no comment,” been generally rude, confrontational or disrespectful or, worst of all, deceitful, then yes, it could affect the type of news coverage your organization or association receives. And worse yet, a negative relationship with one reporter spreads like wildfire; when a negative story hits the wire, it becomes even more difficult to contain.

The good news is, simply taking into account a reporter’s needs can help you establish yourself as a reliable, trustworthy source. 

The Ten Commandments for Keeping It Positive With the Press

  1. Be honest. If you don’t know an answer, simply say, “That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer, but I’ll find out and get back to you.” Then do it. 
  2. Be accurate. If you find out that the information you’ve provided a reporter is incorrect, contact them immediately with the correct information. 
  3. Be respectful. Treat every reporter with the same level of importance, whether they work for the Daily Metropolis or the Smallville Weekly. 
  4. Be polite. Just as in any other relationship, a sincere “please” and “thank you” will go a long way. 
  5. Be proactive. If you have a lead on a story that might be of interest to them, pick up the phone. Having lunch occasionally, even when you have no new news to pitch, can also help maintain a positive relationship when you do. 
  6. Be prompt. Return their phone calls and e-mails by deadline if at all possible. If you won’t have the information by the time they’ve requested it, at least give them the courtesy of calling and letting them know when you will. 
  7. Be on target. If you’re “pitching” a story, make sure it’s a story that will be of interest to the general public, and pitch it to the right kind of reporter or media outlet (i.e. a story about changes to the automotive industry probably won’t catch the attention of the lifestyles editor). 
  8. Be transparent. Always follow applicable Sunshine Laws, Open Meeting Laws and the Freedom of Information Act. 
  9. Be prepared. Take a few minutes to consider what questions the reporter might ask and prepare responses. Speaking points are helpful; a mock interview with a colleague can be beneficial as well. 
  10. Be comprehensive. Educate your staff on the importance of following these rules as well. Though it’s helpful to identify a single person who will serve as the lead spokesperson for your association, it’s also a good idea to provide some basic media training for anyone in your association who wants it. If your association’s leadership hosts or attends public meetings, for example, there’s always a chance that staff will be asked to do media interviews; preparation is much more effective than gag orders, which are difficult to enforce, hurt staff morale and, worst of all, give the appearance that you have something to hide. 

Lesson for Associations

If your organization has regular contact with the media, you should be always mindful of the relationship between yourself and the reporters that cover your beat. Though you can’t guarantee that every story will be positive, a relationship built on trust and transparency will help ensure that every story is accurate and objective. Review these commandments with your staff. And as an added benefit of membership in your association, consider offering free media training for your members, as well. Every media interview is an opportunity to share your association’s story with a wider audience. 

Tomorrow we’ll look at the importance of considering public reaction when making decisions.

Kathy Deters is a senior writer and social media manager for St. Louis Sprout and About magazine,, with more than 15 years of experience in government, communications and public relations. Kathy can be reached at, or on Twitter @KathyDeters.

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