Tips for Building Positive Media Relationships

Article 3 min
Cultivate a proactive, respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with media contacts to ensure a message is received and relayed with the proper tone and context.

Media outlets are a powerful and useful tool for connecting with audiences and distributing important information quickly and efficiently. Media sets a positive, negative or neutral tone in their reporting that can influence the public. Though it is impossible (and unethical) to control the media, it is possible to anticipate how a message is delivered by having a meaningful relationship with the journalist.

If you are considerate, forthcoming, understanding and trustworthy, your media contacts will recognize that and mirror it back to you. Follow these tips to establish a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with media contacts.

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Build Meaningful Media Relationships

Tip 1Research

Know Your Angle

Before granting any interviews, assess how the media outlet or organization generally covers stories. Any story can be presented in a positive, negative or neutral manner. Know who you’re speaking to and what preconceived notions they may have about you and your organization.

Understand Their Audience

Different media outlets cater to different audiences. Use this information to determine how best to reach the desired group.

Determine Your Objectives

Set an expectation for the communication and anticipate what types of questions will be asked. Consider how various answers could be perceived by the outlet and its audience. Identify objectives and define outcomes - make sure the commander has at least an idea of what success could look like with this engagement.

Tip 2Engage

Be Proactive

Ideally, you will have established a productive, professional relationship with journalists, media agencies and news outlets before a situation arises. If you’re new to a location, find out who your predecessor knew and trusted. Reach out to local contacts, introduce yourself and start establishing your own working relationships. Familiarity is the first step to trust. It’s on you to build those bridges long before you need them.

Request a line of questions from the reporter to ensure you have the most up-to-date data and information available or provide a suggested line of questions to bring information the audience needs and will benefit from knowing.

Tip 3Share

Be Mutually Beneficial

Within the boundaries of operational security and commander intent, actively share information that would be helpful to your media contact. If it’s only them coming to you, they’ll grow tired of doing all the heavy lifting, which could unintentionally bias the reporting.

Be proactive with a phone call or email when you have something new to share, offer details as they come in and do your part to keep the lines of communication wide open.

Be Responsive

If a journalist calls or emails, be sure to respond - whether you have the information immediately or simply acknowledge receipt of their inquiry. Your acknowledgment allows you to open a line of communication and gather helpful information such as a deadline, audience and line of questions.

Tip 4Implement

Communicate Clearly

Remember the ABCs of journalism.

Accuracy: Speak on only what you know. Never lie, hypothesize or postulate to a journalist. If you don’t know or aren’t completely confident in the answer, tell them and let them know that you’ll reach out to a contact to find the answer. Be sure to follow up!

Brevity: Get straight to the point. The longer you narrate, the more opportunity there is for confusion and miscommunication.

Clarity: Have all of your facts ready and organized for quick reference. Use tools like a 5x8 card or a briefing card to prepare for any interaction. Research and practice are key to clear communication and getting your message across.

Follow the ABCs, but let your personality shine through for an accurate tone that matches the weight of the information.

Remain alert to questions such as "What do you think?" As spokespersons, "we" don't opine but rather provide information on behalf of the agency.

Tip 5Evaluate

Review and Improve

After a story is published, go back and review it.

  • Did the command messages stay in?
  • Was the story presented in the intended light?
  • Were any key quotes left out?

These details will help refine message framing and prepare your subject matter experts better.

Should a reporter misquote, think before asking for a retraction or correction. If the mistake was a mistake of fact and jeopardizes agency integrity, then make the call. If it is a misquote that is more verbiage use due to the journalist's sloppy style of writing, let it go.

Complete an after action report and share your lessons learned with your teammates.

Tip 6Maintain

Keep Up to Date

Some media outlets have high turnover, and if those relationships aren't maintained, they'll go dark very quickly. Establish regular communication with points of contact and keep up to date with personnel changes. Just like any other relationship, media relations require continuous attention to thrive.

Once that effective relationship with the media has been established, be sure to maintain it by continuing to repeat Tips 1-5.

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