Do's and Don'ts for Working with the Media

by Ellen Lee on September 29, 2011
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There may be no such thing as bad press, but there are ways to make sure your story is told in the best possible light. Whether you reach out to a reporter or a reporter contacts you, you’ll want to establish a good rapport. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for building media relationships.

Do come prepared. Always have your elevator pitch ready, so you can describe your business in a few succinct sentences. Make sure your points are easy to understand, particularly for those who may be unfamiliar with your business or industry. Always avoid jargon. Keep in mind the most common questions that reporters ask: Who? What? Where? When? Why? And How? If time permits, ask for a few sample questions in advance of an interview. Journalists rarely share all of the questions they plan to ask, but most will give you a general idea about the angle of their story.

Don’t tell a reporter what the story is or isn’t. It’s the journalist’s job to figure out the story. You can help, however, by offering your thoughts and observations about the market and the latest trends, as well as by sharing as much information about your business as possible.

Do offer sources to back you up. Sometimes the writer will want to speak with third parties — such as customers, partners, board members, analysts, advisers, and industry experts — to help tell the story. Have a few names and numbers ready to share and give them a head’s up so they’re not surprised by the reporter’s inquiry (or wonder whether it’s OK with you to talk about your business).

Don’t call a reporter on deadline. For daily newspaper reporters, that’s around 5 p.m. daily. For broadcast journalists, it’s the hours before the show airs. For onliners, you never know. Be mindful of deadlines and call or email reporters back as quickly as you can. Understand that sometimes writers need to turn around a story in a matter of minutes, not hours or days.

Do follow up. Stay in touch, even after the story has been published or aired. If you land a key business deal or launch a major expansion, let the media know. It may not result in another story right away, but it helps to keep you and your business on people’s minds. That said, be mindful about the frequency of your follow-ups; calling too often is often cited by reporters as their number one pet peeve.

Do be helpful. By showing the press that you’re a good resource, reporters will be more likely to call on you when they need help. Sometimes your business or your quotes won’t make it into a particular piece. Other times you may be called upon as an expert source when something newsworthy happens in your industry or when a reporter needs a small business to help put a “face” on a story. Put yourself in a position to grab the spotlight when it comes your way.

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