When to say no to the media

6 Rules Before Saying No

P.T. Barnum famously said, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”

He felt his business would benefit simply by being mentioned, regardless of the nature of the inclusion.  My advice to clients is, “Unless you want your business to look like a circus, you should care very much how the media portray you!”

It’s not always easy to tell which interview opportunities will give you the chance to tell your story and which ones won’t. Here are six guidelines that will help you know when to step up to the mic and when to let the show go on without you:

Rule #1 – Don’t do last minute media interviews.

As I stated in a previous post, “What to do when a reporter calls you,” taking a cold call from a reporter on an unknown topic is almost always a bad idea.  And don’t fall for the old excuse that the reporter is on deadline. If the reporter is calling you five minutes before deadline expecting an interview, then it’s likely he or she has already written the story and is just looking for your reaction to the opposition. That’s not much of an opening.  You’ll have to consider the situation carefully, but I recommend telling the reporter you can’t do the interview on such short notice.

Rule #2 – Find out what the reporter has written about the interview topic.

How has the reporter covered this topic in the past?  If the reporter has consistently made your side the bad guy or positioned the opposition as the winner, then he or she is unlikely to change.

Rule #3 – Find out what the reporter has written about your organization.

If the reporter has written very little on the topic, then make sure you research his or her past coverage of your organization. How do they treat you and your industry? Look to see if there’s a consistent bias.

 Rule #4 – Talk to others who have been subjects of the reporter’s news articles.

Check with your fellow PR pros or other industry contacts and ask how they’ve been treated by the reporter in the past. Watch for warning flags like, “This reporter never gets my quotes right,” or “I always feel like the bad guy in this reporter’s articles.”

 Rule #5 – Research the publication’s related OpEd pieces.

What OpEds has the paper or journal published on this topic in the past? Whether the reporter is biased or not, his or her editor will have a lot to say about how the article is written. Be careful if the outlet has taken an official position against you on its editorial pages.

Rule #6 – Consider a competing publication.

If the topic is vital to your organization, and you fear the reporter only has your hat size in black, there may be other options.  Are there competing publications likely to cover the story?  Many markets have a daily newspaper and a weekly business publication that are always looking to scoop each other. Perhaps approaching the other and offering it an exclusive interview may give you a better platform from which to stage your story.

In the end, each interview decision is an important one and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Consult with your communications team and other PR pros whom you trust. Talk it over. You may decide in the end to submit a written statement via e-mail. It prevents the reporter from saying you refused to comment, and it gives you a little more control over the published quote.

In addition, if the issue is important enough, you may wish to ask for a meeting with the editorial board. It may give you a better chance to tell your story and possibly influence the publication’s position on the issue in the future.

Remember, just because the reporter already has your character pegged and the script written, doesn’t mean you have to recite his or her lines.

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