Guest

Know Thy Enemy: How to Work with Tough Reporters

By: Guest | October 25, 2012 | 
25

Today’s guest post is by Elissa Freeman.

Dealing with difficult reporters is a necessary evil if you’re a PR pro.

But does it really have to be?

During my career I’ve developed an approach to dealing with reporters who are inherently difficult.

Sure, I’ve harboured delicious thoughts of telling a choice few just what I think of them; and these are great conversations – inside my head.

If an entity as powerful as the U.S. state department can lose the war of words with an ornery reporter, then so will you.

As someone once told me, “There’s no use fighting against an organization that buys ink by the barrel.”

Here, then, is my secret recipe for dealing with tough reporters.

Know Thy Enemy

Just like you would acquaint yourself with friendly beat reporters/editors, you need to do the same with your critics. Trust me, there will be trepidation on both sides; after all, who has coffee with someone paid to criticize your organization? PR pros with cojones, that’s who. Get to know them; remember they are people too. I always do this. The result? It takes the edge off your subsequent professional encounters. And who knows? You may even end up liking one another.

They are Just Doing their Job

Critics get paid to criticize, not write fluff pieces. Respect their job, provide what is asked (using good PR practices), and chances are your organization will receive fair treatment in the news piece.

They Know How the Game Works

Every reporter knows what happens on the other side once a contentious question is asked. They know you will likely respond by email to control the messaging. They know you are running around getting a quote approved. Just get the quote in by the deadline. This is also called relationship building.

Hold them Close

Sometimes reporters don’t have the whole picture; many of their opinions can be based on hearsay or conjecture. Organize a one-on-one briefing with appropriate members of your senior team. If your organization has nothing to hide and you want to create clarity, these briefings work wonders. Reporters enjoy being taken seriously. Remember: Be prepared for other questions to potentially arise during these sessions.

Editorial Boards

When a media outlet seems intent on hammering your organization on a frequent basis, it may be time to organize an editorial board. The outlet will gather their managing editor, beat reporters, and perhaps the publisher to hear what you have to say. Be prepared with a solid presentation giving an overview of your organization with salient truths/facts they need to know and be prepped to handle the Q&A session that will follow.

What do you think? Do you have other tips that have worked for you?

Named one of twitter’s Top 52 PR pros, Elissa Freeman is a 25-year industry veteran and popular guest blogger and speaker. You can find her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter

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