|February 1, 2005
|Frankly Speaking PR Tips
Passport to Innovative Communications Solutions
Published Monthly by Frank Public Relations Worldwide for
Business Executives and Communications Professionals Eager to
Enhance Business Performance and Reputation
Public Relations: "The management function that identifies,
establishes, and maintains mutually beneficial relationships
between organizations and the various publics on whom its
success or failure depends." Cutlip, Center, and Broom
February 1, 2005
Media Relations: Master the Game!
Yes, media relations is a game, and just like any game
there is a formal and informal rule book which governs its
Trust me, after 28 years of being a star
player these rules work, honestly!
When I started working
at Los Angeles based Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in 1983, it was
several months post the first known case of AIDS, acquired by a
twin through a blood transfusion required at birth.
hospital did not have a public relations department at the time
that the AIDS diagnosis was announced. They did however have an
"old school" public relations professional who was raised on
"tell the media nothing."
This did not then, nor does
it now, ever make for a good public relations program!
Making matters worse, worse than knowing an innocent
child contracted this disease, was the fact that the child's
parents were very prominent members of the Beverly Hills and
Hollywood community. The dad was a big-time attorney in Beverly
Hills - with a client list of "who's who" in the city. The mom
was a theatrical agent, whose most prominent client was a still
prominent nighttime talk show host. Together, the parents formed
a dynamic powerhouse --a public relations nightmare.
Needless to say, by the time I arrived on the scene to
formulate and co-run the PR department, the media hated us, and
the employees were tired of their employer being dragged through
When I called to tell my media contacts
that I was at the helm, available 24/7, and would answer any and
all questions, phones started dropping. This was the
beginning of turning around a very negative image, based on a
solid, truthful and helpful relationship building campaign.
It took less than four months to achieve support and
buy-in from the 2,000 attending staff physicians, 195 staff
physicians, and more than 6,000 employees - and from media
It was a stunning
In the ensuing years, Cedars-Sinai's positive reputation
grew. Our reputation was built on a foundation of credibility,
reliability, and respect. In the 12 years I was with
Cedars-Sinai, I had more than 15,000 media placements. With each
placement, I had the opportunity to win over the media by
performing my responsibilities with respect for the media's
The pay off - when we had an exceptionally
upsetting crisis, the media actually treated us with careful
consideration, and even compassion - pretty unheard of. We had
the misfortunate of incurring a freak accident in a procedure
room involving a neonate - a faulty piece of equipment caught
fire, and burned the baby - it was heart wrenching. I faced a
cadre of 50 media folks within the hour! Adhering to our
carefully designed crisis communications' plan and our knowledge
of the media relations game, Cedars-Sinai came away from the
incident in the short-term - that day, and the days that
followed - until the actual cause of the accident was identified
- with a high level of respect portrayed by the media's
coverage. When we were exonerated of any wrong doing, we
received media coverage that was just as widespread as the
initial coverage. Usually these types of stories, if they are
written at all, are relegated to the back pages, and only a
small mention marks the event.
Cedars-Sinai remains a
highly respected academic medical center that takes great pride
in their stellar media relations program. I am proud of the
legacy - 1983 to 1995.
The Media's Role in an
The media has an obligation to the public
to report the news in a timely manner. Reporters, in general,
report both sides of any story, contacting representatives of
all companies/organizations involved.
The media is a
vital link to the public, communicating information and shaping
public opinion. Knowing what to say, and how to say it, can have
a strong impact on the way the public perceives a message, an
idea or point of view.
Media interviews, even in
negative or crisis situations, represent a unique opportunity to
reach large numbers of people with a specific message and point
Interviews are the heart and soul of news.
Interviews make the difference between an idea and a news
All print reporters have an editor, most have
managing editors, and they all have publishers. When a reporter
is researching stories and interviewing "experts" for his/her
story, he/she is compiling information, background and quotes
for use in the story. Just because a reporter conducts an
interview, it is not insurance that the information from the
interview will ever be used. It may just serve as background to
"frame the story," that is to give it perspective. When a
reporter is writing an industry piece, he/she will talk to ask
many people as possible, including competitors or others with
different points of view, to obtain information. After a
reporter finishes the researching and interviewing, he/she
writes the story. After the story is written the editing process
begins, which can involve the editor, managing editor, and
publisher. In most cases the story is edited and in some cases
it is cut dramatically or even entirely.
releases are sent to the media, there are no guarantees that the
information will be used. Sometimes it will appear as a small
piece or a brief, sometimes the information will be filed to
possibly be used later in a related piece and sometimes the
information will be lost or thrown away It is the job of the
media relations representatives to keep the name of the company
in from of reporters and editors by establishing and nurturing
relationship with them, and continuously pitching story ideas to
them.The media is interested in news -- new services, products,
procedures, personnel, financial releases, etc. They want
substance, not fluff.
Broadcast media (TV, radio,
online) works much the same way. The reporter has a news
director and an assignment editor, as well as a station manager
that has direct input of what is used and what is not. In
addition, reporters typically have producers they regularly work
with who also greatly influence what gets on the
Print and broadcast media have something else in
common - deadlines. We all need to work together to meet these
deadlines. Often the deadlines are unreasonable and occasionally
can be changed. Sometimes the deadlines are strategically
created to ensure that the deadline cannot be met, and then the
reporter can say/write that the company spokesperson was
unavailable, or worse, declined to comment. (Nasty
Media Relations' Ground Rules
with a reporter, you should be explicit in laying out the ground
rules, even if everything you say will be "on the record."
Journalists understand that this is part of the interview
process and will generally be flexible. You will enhance your
relationship with the reporter if you set ground rules in a
reasonable and straightforward manner.
This is the starting point for all
interviews, unless you specify otherwise. The term means that
everything you say in the interview can be used by the
journalist in the article and can be attributed to you. Anything
you say "on the record" is irretrievable.
Knowing that some issues are sensitive,
journalists may sometimes ask you a question "off the record" -
a term that means they want to know the answer but will not use
the information in the article, or may use it without
attribution. To be safe, NEVER SAY ANYTHING TO A REPORTER
THAT YOU WOULD NOT WANT TO SEE QUOTED IN THE ARTICLE -NEVER!
Be careful of any offhand comments you make to a reporter,
whether or not you are in an official situation. Peggy's
rule - THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OFF THE RECORD,
Not for Attribution or Background Only
Journalists may also offer you the opportunity to
speak "not for attribution," or "for background only" - meaning
that you or your company will not be identified with the
information you provide. An example might be if you were asked
to comment on pending regulatory action - you may want to
communicate your point of view without putting your company in
the forefront of a sensitive issue. It is important to reach an
agreement beforehand on attribution. BEWARE:Some facts or
information can only come from certain sources, so speaking "not
for attribution" may only provide you limited cover. Even if you
are not identified by name, you may be identified in a manner
that will be transparent to many readers.
If you do not want to see it in print, if you do not want to
hear in on the airwaves, please, don't say it.
Frankly Speaking Tip Sheets
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