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13 Winning Ways to Make Enemies in the Press

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What a world of difference there is in the way organizations handle problems when they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

While issues are often relatively minor from a national media standpoint, almost every organization encounters problems each year as they have public run-ins with the media.

When a company is just starting out, it will do almost anything to get press coverage. As the company matures, senior people are less available to, and have less time for, editors and reporters. Without working too hard, therefore, management and its representatives can cultivate a cadre of enemies within the press.

To do the task well, however, you should follow a set of 13 simple guidelines that will ensure that you alienate many, or most, of the Fourth Estate.

Please be assured that this is not intended to be a definitive list. With a little imagination, you can add your own guidelines.


1. Develop essential and non-essential media lists

In every industry, there are target market, secondary and tertiary publications. Set up your list, work only with the target market editors, and ignore inquiries from all other publications. Just because they're interested in your organization doesn't mean that they can do you any good or that you should waste your time working with them.

2. Put up roadblocks

This is an extension of guideline No. 1. Establish a priority list of editors that you will talk with and those that your PR person should handle. Or, if an editor or reporter has a frivolous inquiry, have someone else in your organization handle it for you. The key is to make certain that most of the requests or inquiries fall into the last category.

3. Return calls in due course

Regardless of whether the re-porter is on deadline, make it obvious that their time and effort couldn't possibly be as important as yours. Return calls for information or input when you get around to it. If it's a daily newspaper, 6:00 p.m. is a good time. For weekly publications, Friday at 2:00 p.m. is ideal. For monthlies, five or six days after the initial inquiry should be sufficient.

For the clincher, respond with a "no comment," or tell them that you don't have the requested information available. Tell them you'll get back to them.

4. Scream when a story isn't 100% positive

Regardless of whether you and your company are right or wrong, expect every article to be a glowing report of the company, its products and its people. If a reporter has the audacity to print something negative, call his or her publisher and demand, at the least, a retraction. Better yet, demand that the reporter be fired. Follow up with a letter to the publisher, the editor and the reporter.

5. Strike back

Another excellent reaction to the problem encountered in guideline No. 4 is to place an embargo on the guilty publication. This can be as simple as not responding to inquiries, or for greater impact, pull your advertising from the publication since it is no longer a "good" publication in reaching your prospective customers.

6. Use one-syllable words with reporters

Make certain that the reporters know that you know more about your subject than they do. Talk down to them. Explain each point at least three times. Regardless of the question, make certain that they know how dumb you think the question is. For added impact, let them know that your time is much more valuable than theirs is.

7. Pick and choose your opportunities

If your organization is going to get some immediate coverage, it is perfectly acceptable to work with and cooperate with, the press. However, if there's a possibility that your assistance will develop open lines of communications and a strong long-term relationship, forget it.

8. Insist that everything be cleared

About half-way through an interview, remind the editor or reporter that, naturally, everything you've said will have to be cleared through public relations, or better yet, through your legal department. Oh yes, insist (demand!) that, once the article is written, you have the opportunity to review it before it is printed. In some instances, the copy may be submitted for technical accuracy. When this happens, edit the copy freely, and hold it until just prior to the publication date.

9. Have all queries and responses screened

You pay PR people good money to develop and protect your image, as well as to promote the company and its products. Get the most out of them by making certain that all questions and answers go through them. In this way, they can coach your people on the proper answers, and they can clean up the responses so that they either show you in the best possible light or say absolutely nothing at all.

10. Give multiple exclusives

If you've got some really hot company or product announcement to make, negotiate with the best publication that you can think of in order to get the maximum editorial coverage and treatment possible. When you have firmly locked in, do the same thing with two or three other pubs. After all, your organization is so important that each should be thankful that you gave them the "opportunity" to cover your announcement in such depth.

11. Torpedo the energetic reporter

There are times when you send out what seems to be a simple release, and for some reason, it strikes a responsive cord with a reporter. He or she wants to do something bigger than a three- or four-line piece in their publication, so they work with you on some major coverage. In reality, it's a great idea. In fact, it's too good of an idea for that reporter alone, so call some other reporters and give them the same information. Or, an unsolicited inquiry may develop into a major piece. Again, call a number of publications to spread your wealth around.

12. Tie your weak stories to advertising

This is a variation of guideline No. 5. We all know that money talks. If the piece that you want to place is very weak or just a puff-piece on the company, make it known to the reporter that you're a big advertiser with their publication and expect the item to get major and immediate treatment. In order to improve your chances of top-quality treatment, send the story, along with your advertising insertion order, to your media representative and have him or her do the legwork for you.

13. Make certain that they send you clippings

Every time you send a news release to an editor or reporter, remind him that you need clippings of the article or piece when it is finally printed. After all, unless they send you the printed piece, how can you make certain that they're doing a good job?

* * *

This baker's-dozen of guidelines for alienating the press should be followed explicitly by the novice. As you become more experienced, you can add some of your own.

Never, never violate these rules. You might end up helping someone in the media and perhaps winning some allies or—worse yet!—friends.


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G. A. "Andy" Marken is president of Marken Communications Inc. (www.markencom.com). Reach him via andy@markencom.com.

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