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February 1, 2005
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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 activities.

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.

The 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 media purgatory.

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 outlets worldwide.

It was a stunning achievement.

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 needs.

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 Interview

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 of view.

Interviews are the heart and soul of news. Interviews make the difference between an idea and a news story.

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.

When press 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 air.

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 stuff!)

Media Relations' Ground Rules

Before speaking 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.

On the record

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.

Off the record

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, EVER!!

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.

Bottom line: 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
For more tips, you may want to order "Turn Around Your Organization's Image for Almost Free in 24- Hours." $9. Go to for ordering details.

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