Establishing a solid relationship with the media contributes to DoD objectives by communicating information about military activities to domestic and international audiences. A relationship built on frequent, consistent and proactive communication tends to result in balanced stories, even when the topic has the propensity to be unfavorable.
Be Cooperative When Possible
- There will be times when it's necessary to say no to a journalist, but if it's possible, say yes to the request. Journalists face constraints and expectations that differ from commander intent. Being cooperative makes the job easier and contributes to a positive working relationship.
- Remember the "maximum disclosure, minimum delay" rule. Planning and coordination are necessary to determine the most important messages.
Understand the Outlet
- Different media outlets cater to different audiences (e.g., AARP). Know who they are, what kind of stories they publish and if they generally cover stories in a positive, negative or neutral manner.
- An internal-only “interview request form” can be used to capture consistent information and better determine what resources, facts, data and SMEs need coordination. Examples of preparatory data that this form could gather:
- Will the event be broadcast live or recorded?
- What is the interview medium (radio, podcast, TV, print, etc.)?
- What specific questions would the reporter/media outlet like answered?
- A reporter might need to follow up with you rather than the person on duty. Be flexible.
- Try to return all calls from the media immediately (within an hour).
- Follow up with media partners to make sure they have everything they need.
Avoid Verbal Traps
- Know the difference between on the record, off the record and background.
- Understand that journalists don't have to adhere to requests. If you give them something, they can publish it.
- If a reporter quotes a wrong statistic or fact, correct it right away or offer to get the correct information to the reporter after the interview.
Be Clear and Direct
- If it's not possible to help a reporter with a specific request, say so directly.
- Be aware of inadvertent nonverbal cues or distracting verbal pauses (e.g., um, ah, er).
Share Your Contacts
- A PA representative may not know the answer but probably knows someone who does. Point the reporter in a productive direction rather than being a dead end.
Don't Stretch the Truth
- Media outlets research everything. They will catch errors and all credibility will be gone.
- Don't promise command that a journalist will report on a story in a manner that the command most desires.
Don't Spill the Beans
- Never divulge classified, HIPPA, OPSEC or sensitive information, regardless of relationship.
Don't Play Favorites
- Don’t offer interview opportunities to one media organization but not the others.
- If the commander only has time to give one interview, don’t grant that interview to a favorite reporter or to the reporter who “screams the loudest.”
Don't Swerve Into Danger
- Stay in your lane.
- Don't guess if you don't know.
- Engage your brain before engaging your mouth.
Don't Lose Your Cool
- Remember, the media has cameras. A PA spokesperson losing their temper can be a story.
- Avoid sounding defensive, pained, overburdened or arrogant.
Learn everything possible about the organization's mission, history, current issues, ongoing issues, etc. Then, learn everything about local news organizations and how they operate. You’ll build relationships by being the go-to person for information with the added benefit of understanding how the reporters’ jobs work, too.