Frequently asked media relations questions

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I was looking at a company’s “frequently asked questions” website page recently and it struck me that it was unlikely that any client or other stakeholder would ask many of the questions in the form shown.

Instead, they were contrived questions allowing the company to promote itself and its products – which is true of most FAQs.

It got me thinking about the questions that I often get from clients over the years in dealing with the media, as also they often show a lack of understanding of how journalists and the media work.

I’ve come up with ten of the most common questions raised over the years, together with my comments.  There’s too much for one blog so I’ll look at five now and another five next time.

1. Why don’t we offer this story as an exclusive to so-and-so (ie to the journalist the client likes best)?

Offering exclusives has a time and a place but there needs to be a very good reason for doing so, and being friendly with a journalist isn’t usually the best one – it’s certainly not a strategic approach.

While it’s always ‘horses for courses’, generally if there’s a good story to tell, it’s much better to get maximum coverage that is seen by the audience you’re trying to reach and not limit exposure to one publication.

Also, keep in mind that getting on one journalist’s good side almost inevitably means getting on the bad side of other journalists (and publications) writing on that area – not a good tactic for long term media relations, as if it’s over-used it will get noticed by other journalists.  So it’s important to weigh the options carefully.

2. If I’m having a coffee with a journalist, should I tell them about the exciting new company development coming up?

For the same reasons as above, it’s not usually a good idea.  If you have a good story, why limit it to one publication?

You don’t need to have a story to give a journalist in order to justify catching up for a cup of coffee and a chat. Often the journalist will get a story out of such a meeting anyway.

And don’t mention some great new project you have coming up that you’ll tell the journalist about as soon as you can – to the journalist that’s tantamount to promising an exclusive.

3. Why don’t you want to use our specially-designed media release letterhead to send out media releases by email?

This can be a sensitive area for organisations, especially for marketing departments who understandably see their role as getting the logo onto every possible communication by the organisation as part of their branding.

One reason is that sending attachments, particularly ones with graphics or design elements, could slow down receipt of the email, and perhaps even see it blocked by the recipients’ email filters.

But the most important reason is that surveys we have undertaken show most journalists don’t like attachments and prefer releases embedded in the email.

With all releases the idea is to make it as easy as possible for the recipient to use. For that reason it’s also wise to adopt the media’s style rules (including abbreviations and punctuation) not slavishly stick to company style.

4. Is this media release too short/too long?

I’ve written a blog on this (How long is a media release?) but the short answer is, a media release is as long as it is.  If it includes all the relevant information (who, what, why, where, when and how) then it doesn’t really matter if it’s one page or four.

5. Why don’t you want us to use the words “unique” or “innovative” in our media release?

Journalists see words often favoured by clients, such as “unique” and “innovative”, used dozens of times a day in releases.  Often they are used to describe something that has already been announced by competitors but with one or two minor differences – so it can’t really be justified as “one of a kind” or “advanced and original”.

Understandably, journalists can get pretty blasé when they see these words and other superlatives used.  They are a real turn-off, especially when presented as facts in a release full of flowery quotes that are simply promoting the company.

If your company product or service really is these things, then it’s best to show it, not say it.  And if you really want to have all these opinions communicated in the over-the-top language you favour – the only safe way is a paid advertisement.

Others have written on this particular topic as well; check out “11 words to delete from press releases” for some suggestions on alternative words to use.

Click here to read part two and part three of frequently asked media relations questions.  But if there are any such questions that bother you, let me know by adding your comments below or sending an email via the “contact us” form.

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