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Posted on 01.26.2011

The Rules of Engagement – How to Maximize Your Media Relationships

January 26th, 2011 Come prepared. Play fair. Treat others with respect. In business and in life, these are a few of the principles most of us aspire to live by. Working with the media is no different. Yet, too often these simple rules are forgotten the minute a reporter calls. Sometimes it’s out of fear; other times it’s simply a lack of understanding about how the media work. Whether you’re seeking the spotlight or already feeling the glare of it, it pays to understand how the game is played. Here are some basic rules of engagement: --Return calls promptly. Don’t make the mistake of treating a journalist like a salesperson pushing a product you aren’t interested in buying. Just like you, they have a job to do and dodging their calls won’t make them go away. In fact, it often makes things worse. --Take the bad with the good. Don’t expect the media to get excited about your company’s good news if you’ve spent the past year avoiding questions about the bad. Effective relationships with reporters work both ways and, unfortunately, you can’t press pause when the news turns negative. That doesn’t mean you have to answer every question, but you do need to stay in the game. --Don’t be a bully. Advertising and editorial are always separate, so threatening to pull your ad budget from a media outlet that refuses to cover you or, worse yet, ran a negative story about your company will only undermine your credibility as a source. --Know what’s news. As exciting as an award, a new hire or even a new product may be to your company, understand what is news and what isn’t. Remember, journalists are interested in the big picture (think trends and expert analysis) – not regurgitating your press release. --Be available. If you’re going to put out a press release or pitch media on an idea, have someone lined up to speak to the media at a moment’s notice (and don’t turn off your phone at 5:30). On the flip side, respect a reporter’s deadline when he or she calls you for information. In the news business, today really means today – not next week. --Be prepared. Just because you don’t like a question doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared to answer it. In fact, the questions executives tend to like least are the ones that get asked the most. So take the time to prepare – and rehearse – your thoughts. If you can’t answer the question, be prepared to explain why. --Call your shots. Some stories are completely accurate. Some aren’t. Most are somewhere in between. Instead of immediately picking up the phone to angrily demand a retraction, stop and think. Is something factually inaccurate? If not, you’re probably better served to consider alternate ways – such as one-on-one outreach, a letter to the editor, a posting on your website – to get your message out. While these tips won’t guarantee a win every time, they will help ensure a productive and respectful dialogue the next time you play the game. Good luck!

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