Thursday, March 14, 2013

Part 3 - Helping Your Association Establish a Credible Reputation with the Media

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

Guest Post By Kathy Deters

Building and maintaining a strong relationship with the media can be an effective way to help your association spread the word about the good work it’s doing and to share your viewpoint on changes that might impact your industry. But for many, the thought of talking to the press can be daunting.

In the first two installments, we shared a few tips for establishing and maintaining a positive relationship with reporters who regularly cover your beat. Today, we’ll be looking at the most important part of building your public image with the press: Making good choices. 

Working with the Media, Rule No. 3: Get it right.

An important part of working with the media is understanding that reporters have a job to do, and part of that job is drawing attention to problems that could affect readers’ safety, pocketbooks or overall happiness and well-being. No matter how likeable you, your association or your members might be, if you’re doing something that has a negative impact on readers, the media has a responsibility to report on it.

If your elderly loved one is in a nursing home that has numerous safety violations, for example, wouldn’t you expect the local media to make you aware of this problem so you can work with administrators to make sure these issues are corrected? The best way to avoid bad press is to avoid making mistakes. 

3 Tips to Keep in Mind When Making Decisions

  1. Every business, organization and association should have a great crisis communications plan, but they should also work their darndest to prevent crises from occurring in the first place. If your association is operating in an open, honest and ethical manner, you leave the media very little to investigate. 
  2. When making decisions that will influence public perception, include your PR pros in the discussion; they’re often left out of the decision-making process, but expected to clean up when a mess is made. Treat your communications director or public outreach coordinator as more than just a news release machine; they can help you identify positive stories to promote, and they can warn you when you’re wandering into murky waters. Make sure they’re at the table when your board meets, provide them with an opportunity to give input and weigh their opinions carefully. You might not always agree, but at least always listen. 
  3. Realize that even if you’re doing everything right, a certain amount of criticism is inevitable; this is particularly true in government and politics, where you must balance competing interests. If we waited until we had a uniform consensus before making a decision, implementing a new plan or taking a step forward, nothing would ever get done. As a wise man once said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” (All right, that wise man was Abraham Lincoln, and most historians believe he actually said “fool”, not “please,” but you get the idea). 

Lesson for Associations

Remember, the foundation for positive news coverage begins not with a great interview, but with great news. A certain amount of dissent and second-guessing from the public is inevitable and will lead to questions from the media as well, but being able to demonstrate that your association’s decisions were made with extensive research and careful consideration for the needs of the general public will help ensure a more positive—or at least less negative—response from the public and the media. As a government official I worked for once told me, “If you couldn’t defend it to a judge, a reporter or your own mother, don’t do it.” Enough said.

We are blessed to live in a nation where the press operates independently from the government; those who choose this profession work daily to make our communities safer, happier places to live. But equally important are those leaders who support this process by providing easy access to information. It’s my hope that, armed with the information we’ve shared in this series, the leaders in your association will feel a bit more secure the next time a reporter stops by your office.

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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