I hear a lot of moaning and groaning these days from my fellow PR colleagues about the media. I especially hear a lot of bellyaching about how the reporter “missed the point of the story” or “took the story in a different direction than I pitched it.”
As a former TV producer, I’m inclined to come to the defense of the reporter more often than not. That’s because I understand how a reporter approaches newsgathering. A GOOD journalist is simply looking for a GOOD story – something compelling and current that can be told visually – and if possible, through a first-person account.
Just because the reporter starts with your story idea, does not guarantee it will be told the way you had hoped. Reporters aren’t trying to be belligerent when they stumble on a different, more compelling angle. Nor are they grabbing for headlines (another complaint I often hear from my PR comrades). They’re simply trying to tell as all-encompassing a story to as far-reaching an audience as possible. I might even wager a bet that oftentimes the story that airs may just be better than the one you pitched.
So how do you help the reporter tell a compelling story without losing the “meat” of your original story idea? It starts BEFORE you even make the pitch.
Establish good working relationships with reporters who cover your beat. Those relationships go a long way in getting favorable coverage. Reporters are far less likely to be antagonistic when they value you as a reliable source. Plus, the stronger that relationships is, the fewer hits you’re likely to take during a crisis.
Discuss different angles with the reporter before they show up at your door. Talk about the different shapes the story could take and different people who could help tell it. Find out what is most interesting to the reporter. That way things don’t go wildly off the rails once they arrive. Plus, this allows you the time to adequately identify and prepare your interview subjects and gives you a better idea of the questions that will be asked.
During the interview, don’t bury the lead. If there is something that you really want to convey and the reporter isn’t asking the question, then transition to an answer that helps tell YOUR story. Don’t wait for the reporter to ask the right questions. Take ownership of the story and help the reporter understand why this particular tidbit will make their story better.
Be open to unexpected questions. You may have said something of interest that made the reporter ask a follow up question. Sometimes those “fishing” expeditions will hook a better angle. Sometimes they’ll get tossed back. Try to be flexible, while still staying on point.
As PR professionals, we’re taught to “craft” messages; to identify our key talking points and to stick to the script. That’s all good and well, but not always practical. That’s exactly why earned media IS so beneficial. Earned media often carries more weight with consumers because it does come from a third—party source. Plus, this give and take is the very epitome of good public relations – “a mutually beneficial relationship between organizations and their publics.”
So throw those reporters a bone and check your disappointment at the door when the story doesn’t read word for word from your news release. It’s a small price to pay for a fair and balanced story. When it’s NOT fair and balanced you can bellyache all you want. I’ll tell you how best to do that next month.
Tammy is the owner of Mother of Pearls, a full-service, boutique public relations agency in Carmel, IN, that specializes in media relations, media training and crisis communications.