The Media Rules

1. You aren't in control.
You may be the master or mistress of your fate in your business, but you have absolutely no control over the use or placement of a news item you submit to the media. A story idea or news release you think is important may be nothing more than junk mail to an editor or reporter. And recognize that you can do everything right and still end up with the media doing a lousy job on your story.

2. Your advertising doesn't carry any weight.
Don't even think about demanding that a news item be used because your business is an advertiser. There is a long-standing, inherent hostility in the media between the news and advertising departments, especially at newspapers. Nothing turns off a reporter or editor more quickly than the suggestion that because you are an advertiser, your news should get special treatment.

3. You need to explain, explain and explain some more.
Chances are the reporter covering your story won't know much about the subject. It's your job to help educate the reporter about the topic, especially if it's a technical one, in the interests of accuracy. You may only have 10 or 15 minutes to do it, but you need to do it because you're the expert. Don't hesitate to ask the reporter if he or she understands. If not, explain it again.

4. This isn't the movies. There are no previews.
The media won't let you see, edit, correct or otherwise preview a story before it's printed or aired. Don't embarrass yourself by asking, or threaten not to cooperate or to withhold information unless you have the right to approve what is used. It won't do you any good to try, unless your goal is to antagonize the media. (A reporter for a trade publication might ask you to check part of a story for technical accuracy, but even that's a rare occurrence.)

5. More isn't better.
Papering the newsroom with copies of your news release isn't going to assure that your news items is used. In fact, it's likely to get your organization's news consigned to the garbage can. Don't send duplicate copies of your news release to different people at a media organization. This can cause embarrassment to the media -- two different reporters get the release and write stories, which show up in the paper the same day. Make every effort to deal with just one person at each media outlet.

6. There's always another source.
Don't think you're the only source for a story about your business -- especially a negative one. If you won't talk, you can bet the reporter will find somebody who will. And the chances are that it will be somebody who doesn't know the whole story or who has an axe to grind, like a politician, a government bureaucrat or a disgruntled employee or customer.

7. Off the record? Don't go there.
"Off the record" doesn't exist. There is no such thing. You should respond to media questions as if everything you say is on the record and will be reported, and that includes any informal conversation before and after the formal interview. If you don't want to see it in print or hear it on the air, don't say it!

8.Truth or consequences!
Always tell the truth! You can skirt a sensitive question, but don't lie. A falsehood will inevitably come back to haunt you and your business. Don't risk the long-term consequences to your reputation by lying to the media.

9. Give 'em soundbites.
In preparing for any encounter with the media, develop a list of the key points you want to make. Then construct short, 15- to 20-second soundbites explaining those points. This approach will help you focus your message on what's really important.

10. "They really screwed it up! I should sue them."
Don't lose your cool if the media make an error in your story. If it's not really significant, forget it. If it is, politely point it out to the reporter and request a correction. If you aren't satisfied with the response, talk to the reporter's editor or news director. And if that doesn't work, be satisfied with pointing out the error in a letter to the editor or station manager. Don't forget that if you overreact, you could damage your relationship with the media outlet permanently -- and that this probably isn't the last story they'll do on your business.

Gary D. Plummer
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