Part three: Frequently asked media relations questions

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In my last two blogs, I’ve covered some of the more frequent questions asked about media relations. Here is the final blog in the series, covering a further five common questions.

11. I don’t have time to talk to a journalist today; can I talk to them in a few days’ time? And why can’t they give us more notice – like a week in advance?

If the journalist is from a daily newspaper, they are almost certainly working a day at a time on each story (with some exceptions, such as special reports or feature stories). So expecting them to know a week in advance what they will be writing about is impossible.

If you want to be part of the story, you need to work to the same deadlines as the journalist, and if they say they need to talk to you before, say, 3.00pm, you will only be included if you talk to them before then.

And keep in mind that if you don’t talk to them when they call, and this keep happening, they will start going straight to the person who did help them, and you may not get the same interest when you want to talk to them.

12. A particular publication didn’t pick up our media release. Can you send it to them again? (or an alternative question, why bother with this publication if they don’t use our releases?)

Not every publication will use every release. If a target publication hasn’t picked up the story, it’s either because they didn’t think it was interesting enough, they simply ran out of space that day, or the timing was wrong for them. Either way, most times sending it to them again will just annoy them – as will a phone call to ask “When are you using this story?”. And it’s certainly not a good reason for crossing them off your contact list, even if it happens three or four times.

13. I’d rather the journalist didn’t write a story about that topic. Can you stop them?

If a journalist is onto a good story, it’s not easy to prevent them running with it, no matter how friendly you are with them. The journalist’s job is to provide information to their readers/listeners/viewers that they believe is of interest to them, not protect your company or your reputation, or fit in with your marketing plan.

There are times when a delay can be negotiated, but generally you need something to trade, eg “If you can leave for a few weeks I can give you much more on an exclusive basis.” But it’s not a foolproof strategy, and could just alert the journalist to the fact that there might be more to the story.

It’s a sensitive area and the wrong approach can add unwanted impact – for example, “the story they didn’t want you to know!”.

14. I want to make an announcement about a new initiative, but there are certain elements of it that I don’t want to make public. That’s OK, isn’t it?

It can be OK – but difficult and probably best avoided. It’s extremely fraught to try to make a big deal about something but hope to keep some parts of it secret – it’s best to get everything lined up before you go public.

Journalists could well have follow up questions on any announcement and, if they don’t get answers, or sense discomfort or evasiveness, they can have doubts about the information, leading to a negative rather than positive story. Either the initiative is ready to go public, or it’s not. And if you do try to keep some elements private and they leak out anyway, the damage to the company’s reputation could be very difficult to repair.

If the announcement is months away from being ready, a story about “We are working towards” may be a useful technique, but beware giving yourselves deadlines you then don’t keep. It makes an organisation look inefficient, and suggests there are problems with the project that mean it has been delayed.

15. The journalist wrote a really good story but the headline is wrong. Why did they mess this up?

Journalists rarely write their own headlines. That’s the job of the editor or the subeditor, who will usually read through the story, select the idea or theme that they think will capture readers’ attention, and come up with a jaunty headline.

Often the journalist who wrote the story won’t even see it until it is published. So unfortunately there’s no point complaining to the journalist, or holding them responsible for the headline – but if it’s really bad, misleading or damaging, it’s worthwhile mentioning to the journalist or the editor.

Click here to read part one and part two of frequently asked media relations questions.