Tag Archives: public relations

Media mistakes 9: (Most) Journalists aren’t trying to trap you

Why did you hire me for media training? That’s a question I ask every training delegate I come across and the most common answer is that they want to avoid the traps journalists will lay. They’ve done interviews before and they weren’t sure of the journalist’s agenda or what he or she was up to.

They are often disappointed when the answer is “nothing, mostly, just trying to write a decent story for the readers”.

The most extreme example of this was when I asked one candidate to “tell me about yourself and your organisation”. She panicked, said she couldn’t answer that, asked to stop the exercise and said, accusingly, “Why would you want to know anything about me?”

The answer was that I didn’t. A name and job title would have been fine, then move on to the company information she wanted to press.

Another time – a favourite story, this – I asked a guy the same thing during a session. “Tell me about yourself and your organisation”, I said. “Ah, I think I know what you’ve heard,” he said. “And it’s a fact that if you asked my last boss whether I resigned or whether I was pushed he’d disagree with me, but let me tell you, I resigned!”

I was no longer remotely interested in anything else he had to say. I just wanted to know more about his sacking SORRY resignation.

Sometimes the agenda is in your mind

In both of these cases the difficulty was in the mind of the person answering the question. In most of my media training sessions my first question is “Tell me about yourself and your organisation” – it’s me clearing my throat, trying to lower the temperature, just to make sure we have the basics covered. There’s nothing more to it than that.

Most journalists, in fact, will approach businesspeople with a view simply to writing the story up (or broadcasting it, webcasting or whatever they do). They aren’t looking to stitch you up, trash you or humiliate you.

One or two might, and of course a lot of the tricks they play and the strategies to deal with them are very much at the heart of my training offering. A lot of the time, though, you’re going to have straightforward questions from people who aren’t playing mind games, they’re just doing a job, the same as you.

Do you still need help with your media interaction? Want to know what to do when a journalist asks that question you were hoping they wouldn’t, or fails to ask the question that would lead in to your big sell? I can help – call me on 07973 278780 or email by clicking here and we’ll talk.

Media mistakes 8: The interview won’t be on your terms

Press interviews can go wrong for a number of reasons. One I’ve seen often is that the interviewee believes that by stating what they want to be interviewed about, they can stop the journalist asking difficult questions or straying into other areas.

I heard an interview on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme once in which someone had a press launch of an innovation coming up at 10.00am. Their PR had got them a slot on “Today” when they said they would be launching at 10 – the interviewer pointed out that they’d come on a radio show at 7.30, so presumably had something to say, and the interviewee declined to comment any further. The obvious question, which the interviewer was too polite to ask, was: in that case, why are you on this programme?

Another time they had an interviewee on talking about something and they slipped another question in at the end. The answer was “That’s cheeky, you’ve already asked me to come on and talk about that and I refused.”

The fact is, we don’t work for you – we might well co-operate and it can work really well, but we’re not your employee and you may not tell us what we may and may not discuss.

We’ll think it’s our interview

When I had a staff job in the 1990s I had one of the worst interview experiences ever. The idea was promising: a PR person had a client who sold into the education sector. They suggested my magazine should sit in on, and report on, a negotiation. We all thought that was a terrific idea.

The trouble started when the client’s client turned up 45 minutes late and claimed my publication had changed the time (which was entirely fictional). He then produced an old copy of the magazine, from a time before I worked on it, and said he was following up the interview that had been published in that issue.

This was of course drivel.

He then accused me of not doing my research, said I should have spoken to his PR person who would have explained this was a followup to the original piece. My guess is that this was how she’d sold the idea to him; when we put it to him that we should witness a negotiation, he said that was out of the question.

It wasn’t a great interview and I don’t think we ran anything. I suspect the main culprit was the troublemaker’s PR, mis-selling and failing to explain stuff to the stroppy individual in question and no doubt hoping he’d co-operate once he was on site. He didn’t.

His own problem was that he assumed (wrongly) that his PR person had set the meeting up, but even if she’d done so, his assumption that the journalist would be writing what he wanted us to was flawed.

Freedom of speech

The thing is, our duty as journalists is to our readers. We have obligations to our sources and subjects of course. If I write something inaccurate about you, I won’t enjoy hearing about it but I’m human and I know I can make mistakes. I will want to correct it very quickly indeed. I am also obliged to be fair. If someone is saying something about you and your company, I owe you the right of reply if I intend to report their comments.

But we have the freedom to ask and write whatever we wish beyond those parameters. Obviously you have the right to decline to answer a question, or to refuse an interview that’s unlikely to be good use of your time. Those things stem from the same freedoms that allow us to ask the questions we want in the first place. And very often it’s in our interest to ask about the things your business is promoting – when it works, it works very well.

But when you’re inviting a conversation with a journalist, remember we’re independent, we don’t work for you any more than you work for us and we’re going to ask whatever questions we think our readers would want us to address. That’s how it works and it’s unlikely to change. And that’s why it’s important to prepare for interviews and have strategies in place in case the conversation starts to move away from the areas you want to discuss.

Do you need help with press interaction? Email me by clicking here and we’ll talk.

Media mistakes 7: I’ll take as much time as I want

I was listening to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 the other day and it happened again – one of the interviewees came out with “Let me finish my answer”. I’ve had this, too, and it’s easy to assume journalists are being rude if they’re trying to hurry you along.

So here’s the news: nobody wants to be rude to you deliberately. So why do we hurry you sometimes – and what can you do about it?

Be engaging

There actually isn’t an easy way to put this: if a journalist interrupts or hurries you, it’s because they’re bored with your answer. Now, there’s a good argument that says we’re not there to be stimulated but to report your view, but we’re human. If we get bored we’ll try to move on.

It’s also possible that we’re trying to get a smarter quote out of you. We don’t have the luxury of using as many words as we’d want; if a news editor has said “do this in 300 words” we do it in 300 words, that doesn’t mean 300 words per quote. And if the script of a radio show says we move onto the next item at 8.13 then that’s what we do. We therefore know that you’ve got 90 seconds to go on your item and you’re still warming up.

So the first thing to do is to understand the medium you’re in, spend less time clearing your throat and get to your point quickly.

Stick to your agenda

There may be times, however, when a journalist has their own agenda and you need to override it and get back to your point. If you’re reading this blog, which is aimed at business clients, you’ll probably be interviewed only because of some sort of expertise you have, so you have the right to take a certain measure of control.

Your problem is that telling the journalist to let you finish your point is always going to sound aggressive.

The key to making it work is to acknowledge the fresh question but finish the previous point, and signal that you’ll be doing so. So you might say “I’ll answer that in a second but first I need to finish the original answer”…or “That’s an important point too and I’ll get to it, but first your listeners/readers need to understand…” and then continue.

Always be calm, always sound positive and always get back to answering the new question as well as finishing the last – then everybody’s happy and, truth be told, you’ll probably sound more reasonable than the journalist.

Do you need help with press interviews? I can help – check my media training page for information.

Do journalists and PR people have to “believe”?

Someone asked me a question on Quora, the social “question and answer” media network, recently. They were in PR and they had been asked to represent a politician whose views they found abhorrent. What, they asked, should they do?

A number of people also tagged in the question responded. Be true to yourself, some said, while others said swallow your pride, it’s only a job. I have no idea how extreme this politician’s views were but I’d stick with the one answer. Or rather I’d ask one question.

Do you believe in democracy?

It’s not about me

A couple of years ago I was editing a few supplements for the New Statesman on the subject of Gibraltar. It was a fun assignment and I still edit the magazine’s web hub on the Rock after one year edited by someone else. We wanted something from an MEP for one of the supplements.

The obvious person was from UKIP. I should confess to a certain bias here; I regard UKIP as a political fan club for a leader who can’t even master the art of resignation. You don’t have to agree, but you can see where I’m coming from.

So you might think I had a dilemma. I didn’t. I got in touch with the guy’s press officer, who was more than helpful, and we ran the article that was submitted on time and to length. I made minimal cuts for length. If the press officer or MEP are reading, this will hopefully be the first indication they’ve had that I wasn’t 100 per cent behind them.

The thing is, I’m a journalist. I’m not an elected representative and anyone who is – much though I might disdain their view – has more legitimacy than I do. Unelected people seeking election also have a constitutional right to be heard.

As a journalist I regard it as part of my job to make sure they’re heard. In the same way, if they want to pay a PR person or company to get their message out there, as long as it’s not actual hate, that’s legit. The media and its support agencies are the messenger, not the originator, most of the time.

I’d welcome other people’s views.

Media mistakes 5: If I send a journalist something it guarantees coverage

A while ago, sending journalists items to review was done pretty much willy-nilly. Nobody cared whether items came back or not. My first laptop was a “loan” from the then director of a hardware company (I soon got out of that culture in around 1995).

It became endemic, to the extent that some journalists still expect freebies to arrive. It happened to me a while ago; I was at a trade show, a PR person showed me a cheap Bluetooth speaker and asked me to make sure I took one away. I did so and was surprised when two months later he asked for it back – all of the exhibitors had been giving away promotional items and I’d assumed this was one of them, therefore thrown away the packaging. We’re fine now.

So rule number one is that if you’re giving samples out, make sure your terms are clear.

Rule two is probably not to send stuff out if it hasn’t been asked for. I had a cheap games console delivered just before Christmas. I had to go to the Post Office and queue for it as I was out when delivery was attempted. I didn’t then and don’t now review games equipment. It was pretty annoying.

Another time some PR people invited me to lunch. They gave me a voice recorder, a camera case, a couple of other items from their clients. I was a little taken back. Then on the way out they said “And you can even keep the camera case, but make sure you send us the rest back…” So let’s get this straight, I turn up for a briefing, get showered with a load of unwanted junk and then have to send it back at my own expense and in my own time? That’s fair enough if I ask for it, I’ll do so because I have a commission, but guess what…I gave the lot back on the spot. They were quite surprised.

Sending stuff is no guarantee

Almost as annoying is the follow-up call when you haven’t asked for something, or when you’ve agreed to “have a look”. This usually happens when someone has oversold the connection they’ve made to a journalist.

I attended a trade show once and one of the exhibitors was selling car kits for mobile phones. It also played music from the phone – it was pretty good. “And we’ll be happy to install one in your car”, they said, to all the journalists there. I was writing about in-car gadgets for the Guardian at the time and was therefore interested but a load of others just took it and ran. I wonder how much publicity or return on investment the company actually achieved.

In connection with the outsourcing magazine I edit, I’m often sent books to review. This is fine, please keep them coming – then I get calls from someone asking when the review is going to appear. This would be a review of an unsolicited book – which might well make the cut but might not – and I’m getting chased as if appearing in the magazine were a right. My guess is that the PR person had oversold the connection as I mentioned above – and had told the client I was reviewing the thing.

So, tips on sending stuff to journalists:

  1. If you need it back, and you’ve every right as it’s your property or that of your client, say so. If a journalist has to take time out of his or her day to get it back to you, don’t be surprised if we grumble a bit or ask you to send a courier.
  2. If we haven’t asked for it, we may not want it.
  3. Items sent for review, unless they have been requested specifically, should be considered “offered for consideration” – we may well regard them positively but put our backs up by taking coverage for granted and you might well end up with less coverage than you’d hoped.

Finally, do check the market. An old colleague had an editor who once fancied watching a particular box set, before these things were available online. She instructed her PA to put the call in to the PR people to have the set biked round and the PR people obliged. The thing is, the magazine didn’t run DVD reviews…you can imagine the tone of the client conversation after that.

Do you need help engaging with the media? I can help – contact me by email by clicking here.

IN DEFENCE OF THE PRESS RELEASE |

I’ve been taking part in a Facebook discussion on whether the press release is dead as a useful thing. My answer is generally “no” and a lot of my views are duplicated in this excellent blog from the Comms Dept:

via IN DEFENCE OF THE PRESS RELEASE |.

The problem is that there are some pretty naff press releases out there. So if you’re writing one or are part of the team doing so, here are some of the things that would help me as a journalist.

  • A clear subject line. Too often (ie more than once) people try something clever. Just tell me what has happened: Company X lands major contract, Company B launches new product – whatever it is. If you can’t summarise it quickly does it really need to be said?
  • A good summary in the opening paragraph. I’m a journalist and I’m used to writing news. I therefore expect to read news in a newsy format which means the important stuff goes in immediately – who, what, when, where, how. I may read no further if I’m pushed for time so why not put everything important at the front?
  • Good targeting. Yes it’s difficult to keep track of journalists as their careers progress and they move from title to title. But yes that’s part of the job. If you want me to be interested in writing something you’d better have at least a vague idea of who my readers are.
  • Available spokespeople. A colleague recently replied to a press release and had an autoresponse message that made it clear that the sender was on holiday for a month and didn’t want to be bothered. OK, you’re entitled to your holiday and if you can afford to take a month off, good luck to you – but don’t bother me with a press release if you can’t be bothered yourself, OK?
  • Decent English. I know, I know, it shouldn’t matter, I’m looking for relevance rather than eloquence ideally. However, if you don’t know the difference between their, there and they’re, its and it’s, I might find it irritating. If you clearly don’t know your stuff I’ll be more so. Remember the security breach at married dating organisation Ashley Madison? I had two releases commenting on the incident at Madison Ashley. It just looked like opportunistic grubbing around after half-reading a headline.

Other than the targeting, it all ought to be fairly straightforward.

Do you need help with writing your releases? Email me and we’ll talk.

How to ‘flirt’ with journalists on Twitter | Articles | Home

Sometimes I see something that just makes me cough and splutter a bit, and so it is with this blog post (the link is below).

It contains good advice for the PR community. It says follow journalists on Twitter. It says interact with them.

It then says flirt with them.

Yicch.

If there are any young female PR people taking this nonsense seriously out there, please note that even if you look exactly like a young Jerry Hall I have no wish to end up looking like Rupert Murdoch. I’m happy to meet up for coffee, discuss the commissions on which I’m working and the papers for which I write – but please, “friendly and professional” is fine.

via How to ‘flirt’ with journalists on Twitter | Articles | Home.

Need help interacting with journalists? My media training can help – email me and we’ll talk.