Tag Archives: reporting

Why PR People Hate Reporters

My last post was written for journalists, to explain why the head of a company might not be inclined to drop everything to do a media interview (Hey You Reporters, Get off my Lawn). I remember from my days as a journalist thinking that everyone, including the CEO, had an obligation to answer my questions.

I also remember the many calls from cheery-voiced PR flacks who actually did want me to interview their CEO so that they could promote some new product or service. Often I was rude. A journalist’s day is always busy and I felt I needed to get on with the real news.

So, now that I’ve switched sides this is an apology of sorts to those cheery-voiced flacks and a wake-up call for smug journalists who like to torment anyone in public relations. They may have to phone you to pitch a story but that doesn’t mean they have to like you. In fact, here are six reasons why PR people hate reporters;

  1. Reporters won’t return calls for a good news story but they scream bloody murder if PR people don’t call back immediately during a crisis.
  2. Reporters never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
  3. Reporters will interview any crackpot who voices a contrary opinion even if an overwhelming majority is in favour of something.
  4. A PR person might spend the entire day lining up interviews and the Reporter will cancel at the last minute without so much as an apology. But if something happens a day later, the Reporter expects the PR person to set up the interviews again.
  5. Reporters never do a follow up story when a problem has been fixed.
  6. If a PR person tells a Reporter something off the record, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s off the record. Reporters often print the information anyway and might even use the PR person’s name if it will make a better story.

Over to you, my PR colleagues – did I leave anything out? And I’m happy to give equal time to any reporter who wants to make a rebuttal.

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Barack Obama Needs a Michael Deaver

It’s interesting to see the media turning on U.S. President Barack Obama for not dealing with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite several trips to the gulf and some harsh criticism of BP Oil, there is a growing perception that Obama is not up to the task. It has also started to show in falling approval ratings.

I think the reason is simply that he hasn’t been seen to be doing anything. In the world of jurisprudence, there is an axiom that “justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.” Obama, as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd points out, is an elitist and cares more about what he’s doing than what he is seen to be doing. That’s a mistake.

When Ronald Reagan was the American president, he was seen to be doing probably more than he actually was doing thanks to his deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, who essentially invented the presidential “photo-op”.

Deaver made sure the media had pictures and video of Reagan on the Great Wall of China, the beaches of Normandy for the 40th anniversary of the invasion and in a Boston Irish pub with a beer in his hand. We may not have known exactly what Reagan was doing but the pictures that Deaver produced led us to believe that he had the situation under control.

Obama’s team did a terrific job during the election of using new media and video to work him into the American consciousness. But the architect of that success, David Plouffe, is no longer on Obama’s staff.

Although he later fell from grace when he was convicted of perjury, Deaver’s days in the White House showed his ability to burnish the presidential image through the careful creation of visuals that enhanced the president. He was quoted in the New York Times as saying “if things start not working, people are going to say, ‘Get off your rear, quit talking and do something about it.’” .

Part of getting past any crisis is showing people that something is being done and that you are working hard to fix the situation. Obama may be working hard but the American people aren’t seeing any evidence of it.

Deaver would have had him in gumboots, cleaning an oily pelican on a Louisiana beach instead of talking at a news conference. It may seem cliché but a picture really is worth a thousand words.

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The Spin Doctor is In

It used to drive me crazy when my reporter friends called me a “spin doctor”. 

To them I had crossed over to the dark side. I had gone from being a keeper of the flame to selling secrets to the enemy. I was revealing to the world the secret handshake and it was not only disloyal, it was downright dangerous. How could reporters do their jobs if everyone knew their tricks?

Reporting is a tough job with incredible pressure but many stories fall into a pattern and are pre-written before the interview even takes place. Reporters decide what they want you to say before they arrive for the interview.

If you haven’t thought about your message or if you think you’ll just answer the questions then you are more likely to be drawn into the pre-determined story. People who have been media trained have a clear idea of what their message is and a very clear idea of what they want to say about the topic.

The reporter’s agenda is to get a good story. The agenda of anyone being interviewed should be to get a message out in an accurate, concise and honest way. In the best of worlds, those agendas mesh and everyone, including the audience, wins.

A reporter has to work harder to interview someone who has been media trained. Cheap tricks don’t intimidate them and a superficial knowledge of the subject won’t trick them. The reporter has to do his or her homework, keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions. Media training makes better reporters.

The job of anyone being interviewed  is to provide as much clarity as possible and that can only be done by strategically planning out what you want to say before the interview begins and then practising how you’re going to say it.

Many reporters actually like to interview people who have been media trained because it increases the likelihood that they will have a well-defined, articulate and succinct point of view. Of course, if a reporter specializes in sensational stories that make people appear guilty or evasive, media training is seen as more of a hindrance than a help.

Over the years I’ve become more thick-skinned about comments from my reporter friends. Maybe it’s because I’ve media trained more than a thousand people and less than a handful of them ever looked forward to a media interview. Their biggest fear is usually that the media will get it wrong.

Spin doctor? I suppose so, but the spin that has worked best for my clients is one that might surprise some reporters. It’s the basis of any message and the quickest way out of trouble – tell the truth.

The trick is to tell it well.

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