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The ROI of media relations - November 03,2007
Whether we want to believe it or not, along with our shareholders, clients and customers, the media is one of our company’s principal stakeholders. The media can make you or break you. Companies stand to reap returns on investments from creating and maintaining positive media relations. And just so we are on the same page with this returns on investment matter, I do not here only mean that a day trip, free packages of your company’s products or corporate gifts should be that ‘investment’ you make when you want your company’s story told. After all, most trained reporters know that there are no free lunches. There is usually some catch at the end of that menu – and it is usually not the fish.

So, how do you Mr. Executive/Mrs. Corporate Communicator ensure that your company ethically makes that return on investments in media relations? Because, trust me on this one (I was a reporter for several years) with the pressure to meet a story deadline if you are a good reporter you will not remember that last hearty meal/jaunt you experienced at the ‘kind’ hands of media handlers of a company about whom you will write the unvarnished (usually not pleasant) truth.
In any event, if you have a good editor he will ensure that the truth gets told – meal or no meal.

Nine day wonder
As a communicator there are ways that you can make certain that your company’s truth gets told prominently without having to pay for a full page, long winded, after-the-fact, advertisement or that letter to the editor (the disclaimer) hardly anyone will read, because as you and I well know these days everything is a nine day wonder. If your company’s side does not get told truthfully while the issue is live, it might cost you time and money to find ways to get it out there and you probably will not get the same prominence as the original salvo.

Have a media policy
It is a sine qua non for a company to have a clearly written media policy. This policy spells out who in the organization may respond to media inquiries, what kinds of information can or should be released to reporters and what information must be kept confidential. Does your company have one? Or will you wait on that crisis point? That aside, here’s what I have learnt along the way about building positive relations with the media.

Be media friendly
Encourage your executive/spokesperson to be media friendly. Unfortunately, not all our executive types bother to ‘tek telling’ from their communications experts about how to interface with the media. There are usually two immediate responses from your garden variety corporate executive when confronted with handling negative media publicity – flight, or fright. Let me explain. There are those, let’s call them the runners, who absolutely refuse to speak to the media for fear of being misquoted (can’t always blame them). Then there are those, the ranters, who are so terrified or angered when speaking to the media that they do end up being misquoted. I am not going to lose the dignity of this paragraph by including in this spectrum the executive who says one thing privately to the media and then when it is published will go to great lengths to point out that s/he was quoted ‘out of context’, especially if they were not misquoted. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

However, there are some executives/communicators here who have over the years built up a strong positive relation with the media and in this way have added value to the companies they represent. Perhaps because of their personalities, the depth of experience in their respective industries they are the media ‘go-to-guys/gals’ from whom you can always get a quote or at least be referred to someone in their company who will give you a solid response. As much as I hate to call names because inevitablly after the fact I remember someone who was really very good with the media. Some names that readily come to mind are: Wain Iton (Financial Consultant); Marlene Street Forrest, current General Manager of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; Winsome Callum (JPSCO); David Geddes (OUR); Errol Miller (C&W); Maxine Whittingham (Red Stripe). I promise next week to include the names of others who come to mind. The secret of their success?

Accessibility
Being accessible to the media does not mean giving reporters and all their editors your home, pager and mobile numbers, with fear and tremblin’ that you will be close-marked a’ la Britney S. Being accessible means that you do not suddenly become the artful dodger to the reporter who you were just last night at that cocktail party speaking earnestly to about the profitability of your company, when there is horrible news. Many are the secretaries and administrative assistants who dutifully pay extra penance on a Sunday because of the many, shall we say? ‘untruths’ they have to concoct for their bosses who hide out when the press calls. “Sorry, Mr. Big is not in office right now, can I take a message and have him call you back?” Yeah…right.

Being accessible means returning a phone call at least within the hour of a reporter’s call. Reporters are in a critical, time-sensitive business. Nothing will kill your chances for positive coverage faster than ignoring deadlines or not being responsive enough. If you can’t make their timeline, tell them quickly so they can get what they need elsewhere; or, if it’s information for your company, try very hard to get them someone to speak to who's been advised on how to speak to the press.

And the secret to being accessible is being prepared, credible and authentic. Being prepared means, having the facts and figures on hand to answer questions factually, so you will not make a mistake and have to do a retraction the next day. Being prepared, means collaborating with your team members to get access to the facts and figures that you need to respond to the media. Let’s talk again about this topic.

 

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