You have all seen the negative front page stories that can destroy an individual or a company’s reputation overnight.
Particularly if you are in the public limelight, put one step wrong and the press will pounce on it, tarnishing your image for years, if not a lifetime.
But how can you use the media as a force for good?
Here we look at five key ways to get journalists on your side:
1) Be as open and truthful as possible
When you find yourself in a sticky situation, refusing to comment is often the worst thing you can do.
It implies that you have done something wrong or have to hide and when journalists smell blood they will stop at nothing to get their story, often at the cost of portraying you or your company in a bad light.
So be as honest and up front as you can be about what has happened.
If the allegations levelled at you or your company are false come out and say so, providing proof of why.
If on the other hand, you are in the wrong, you need to be as frank as possible because the more you try to hide something the more likely it will get worse or something will come out at a later date that compounds the problem.
2) Be as proactive as possible
In the same way that being up front pays dividends in the long run, being proactive when it comes to marketing yourself or your company can also be hugely beneficial.
Editorial in a newspaper, magazine, online or social media should be seen as an opportunity for free advertising.
If you have a story to tell about yourself or your company with an interesting angle the media will often lap it up.
Your story idea may be specific to your business, but if you can put a national or even international spin on it then it is more likely to sell.
For example, say sales of your product, in contrast to the national average, are at an all time high despite being in a depressed economy, advertise the fact and also the secret to your success.
3) Tip them off as much as possible
There’s nothing a journalist likes more than a press officer who tips them off in advance about potentially important stories.
If you have a good story to share the media will suddenly become your best friend.
But it shouldn’t be a one-way street.
You should hopefully reap the rewards further down the line if you then have a tricky situation to deal with and you turn to the journalist(s) who wrote the original story and they may be more inclined to treat it with more sensitivity because you have built up that relationship with them.
I wrote years’ worth of positive stories about a car dealership, but then one day their showroom burnt down with many employees losing their jobs.
But because I had developed that special relationship with them and they trusted me I was the first person they called to give me the exclusive.
4) Put yourself in their shoes
Imagine you are in a busy newsroom with an editor breathing down your neck who is after exclusive stories to fill their paper.
Of course you are going to go digging around, going to any length to try and find the best leads.
But if you make it easy for them you will soon become their No.1 source, allowing you to feed them positive stories in the future which have more chance of making it into print, provided they are interesting enough.
In this increasingly time and resource pressured environment, there’s nothing more irritating for a journalist than a PR cold calling them trying to pitch an uninspiring story that needs a lot of work on it to even make it readable.
What they are looking for is clear and concise copy that gets to the heart of the matter, and, if possible, you should try and put your own spin on it.
5) Show them around your business
Journalism has changed significantly from its heyday decades ago.
Long gone are the days of Fleet Street’s finest going out and landing scoops from across the country and further afield.
Because of time constraints and staff cutbacks, many journalists are desk bound, working in centralised offices in the middle of big towns and cities and they rarely have the opportunity to get out and meet the man on the street.
By inviting the media to meet you and showing them around your business in a timely fashion with the promise of a story at the end of it, you are giving them a valuable insight into how you operate and allowing them to form their own opinion.
It will also help to reinforce the fact that you have nothing to hide and are willing to share and exchange ideas for future coverage.
In summary, the benefits of working with the press certainly outweigh the downsides.
If you are willing to invest a bit more time up front to improve your coverage the rewards can be enormous.
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