Four misconceptions in media relations

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Executives often misunderstand relationships with journalists, which can lead to embarrassing and damaging mistakes.

Four common misconceptions in media relations include:

“I know such-and-such a journalist well”

This is a claim we often hear, particularly with new clients, but the question is, does the journalist feel they know the executive well? Often executives who have had some contact with a journalist over-think the importance of their relationship to the journalist. They may have met a couple of times, perhaps at a media conference or seminar, or even a one-on-one interview, but whether the journalist even remembers it among the many such executives they meet is another issue. Often it’s wishful thinking by the executive.

In the current environment, where most journalists are focussed on the impact of COVID-19 and what this means for their readers, listeners or viewers, the most valuable contacts for them will be those who can provide timely, thoughtful and relevant commentary quickly – regardless of how long or how well they have known them.

“Can’t trust such-and-such a journalist. They’ve stabbed us in the back before”

A variation of this is “why would they write that about us, we’ve had them to briefings?”

Usually it turns out that the “stabbing in the back” was to do with a negative, but factual, story the journalist wrote about the company.

Just because a journalist has been wined and dined, or written positive stories in the past, it doesn’t mean they are some sort of lap-dog. To a journalist a good story is a good story. Whether it is positive or negative to an organisation doesn’t matter to them too much. What good media relations can do is make sure the negative side is minimised, or corrected, by getting the company side of the story.

“Journalists will go anywhere for a free lunch”

No, they won’t. Journalists are very time poor these days. What they will do is get out for a good story. A good lunch may be a bonus, but overall, journalists will always want to get a story (or at least improved knowledge) out of time spent away from the office. And executives must also understand that to journalists, being invited to lunch doesn’t beholden them in any way.

“Corporate gifts influence journalists”

Gifts, especially if it’s an example of an organisation’s products, might have a place in media relations, but often they can be counter-productive and make journalists feel uncomfortable.

Overall, the best media relationships are ones based on mutual respect and professionalism, not personal feelings. And in the current environment, this will be more important than ever before.