Don’t Get Burned: 5 Rules for Media Relations
December 10, 2015
Are you afraid of the media? You may worry about getting burned, but, truly, journalists aren’t out to get you. They’re just doing their job. So, if you’re going to be dealing with journalists, I think it’s very wise to get a better understanding of their world. Here are five rules to get you started.
1. Consider any conversation with a journalist an interview.
I’ve seen many people get caught. It’s easy to get chummy with reporters especially if you deal with the same people on a regular basis. Never forget the nature of the beast. Journalists are always looking for a story so don’t inadvertently tip them off.
- Be careful even if it seems less formal because you’re only on the phone.
- Be careful during the chit chat time just before an interview starts or after it finishes.
- Be careful if you’re talking to a reporter casually at a conference or even at a party.
- Be careful if your only job is to give background information or a technical briefing.
- Be careful if you’re exchanging e-mails or tweets.
- Be careful if you’re pitching a story or setting up an interview for someone else.
2. Once you’ve given it away, don’t expect to get it back.
Don’t think you can pre-screen or vet stories before they’re published, go to air or get posted on line. Some scientific, medical and technical journals allow vetting, but it has never been common practice with mainstream media or most trade publications.
Magazines which are on longer lead times sometimes have fact checkers who will call closer to the time of publication to verify information, but they’re certainly not offering you a script to read or change. If you run across a situation where they allow you to edit yourself, realize that this will be an exception and not the rule. So, think before you speak and don’t ramble. Don’t open doors that would be better left shut.
3. Beware of “off the record”.
I think many people don’t understand the concept of “off the record”. They see it as a normal way to deal with reporters and as some kind of sacred trust. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, things don’t always stay “off the record” especially in a digital world with a 24 hour news cycle. So, unless you find yourself in an unusual situation that you believe warrants extreme measures, I’d advise you never say anything “off the record”. That way you’ll never find yourself in an embarrassing or compromising situation.
4. Always assume your microphone is on.
We’ve all heard the joke about the guy who went to the bathroom and forgot he was wearing a microphone. Funny, unless you’re that guy. Think about it. If you’re anywhere near a microphone, do you really have a reasonable expectation of privacy? So, again, you have to be careful. You would think this would be an obvious point, but the sheer number of people who get caught is astonishing and it’s often people who you would think would know better.
And, if you’re in a “live” broadcast interview, don’t think the seven second delay that people also joke about will help you. With your luck, someone in the studio control room will hit the wrong button and everyone will hear you. Even using your hand to cover the mic you’re wearing isn’t a sure thing. It might muffle the sound a bit, but there’s no guarantee you won’t be heard.
5. Be careful of what you say in public places.
Be wary of any sensitive work conversations you might have in a public place. You could be at a conference, at your corner Starbucks or on an airplane. These are not the best places to be spreading confidential details or sharing your opinions. Someone could overhear you and that someone could be a reporter.