Top ten lists are fun. Here are the Ten Commandments of Media Relations, used by permission from a great new book on public relations by Richard Laermer and Michael Prichinello called Full Frontal PR: Getting People Talking About You, Your Business, or Your Product.
1. Thou shalt not bribe journalists. If your story isn’t good enough for the media, or if your pitch isn’t hitting home, regroup, fix the problem, and patch all the holes. Bribing a journalist is buying your way into the publication, and if that’s what you want, make life easier for both of you and buy an advertisement. The best way to get a journalist to take your story is to prepare and hone the pitch so it delivers your message and addresses the media’s real needs.
2. If you’re happy with the way a story turns out, thou shalt not send a gift thanking the reporter. Your intentions may be perfectly honorable, but once again, a gift is problematic for a journalist. All you’re doing is putting her ethics up for debate, because if she ever chooses to cover you in the future, a case can be made that you endeared your way in. Send a handwritten note expressing what a pleasure it was to work with her. That’s best. It’ll take longer to get there than a call or an e-mail, but it’s the way to go. Also, if you decide to take a reporter out for dinner, discuss who pays for the meal beforehand. It’s much simpler and more clear-cut for everyone.
3. Thou shalt strike the word favor from your media-relations vocabulary. You hear it day in and day out — PR and business people saying that they’ll make a call because so-and-so at this paper owes them a favor. Eliminate the notion that the media owes you anything, and your expectations will be manageable.
4. Thou shalt not let your boss or colleagues tell you that they’ll handle getting the media coverage if you’re the one with the connections. You’ve gone to great pains to build the media relationship, so you should decide the best way to deal with someone. Friends in the media? Sure, that’s a reality. But a friend, secondhand? Rarely, if ever. What your higher-up thinks is a friend usually is someone he talked to at a cocktail party.
5. Thou shalt not believe that whatever you’re doing is too important to disclose. Entrepreneurs, inventors, and generic know-it-alls always seem to be in a very unhealthy form of “stealth mode,” tediously toiling away on their next big idea in a locked lab guarded by nondisclosure agreements. But, of course, they want to be famous, too. The first thing to remember is that no matter what you’re doing, provided it isn’t curing cancer or AIDS, someone else is doing something more important than you are.
6. Thou shalt not miss a deadline. Don’t miss a deadline. Oh, and one more thing: Don’t miss a deadline. The media live and die by the clock. If you’re working with a reporter on your story, always make her schedule yours. If you’re late with information, she’s late with the story to her editor. This makes her look bad, and then the space in the paper or broadcast that was reserved for her story will have to be filled quickly, and then the whole production goes up in smoke.
7. Thou shalt not pitch one of your stories that just appeared in a competing newspaper or magazine and pretend you didn’t see it or have anything to do with it. When that little fib comes back to haunt you — and it will — ouch, does that smart!
8. Thou shalt not break a deal. If you offer a reporter an exclusive, make sure it stays an exclusive. If you set up a press embargo for Friday, don’t try to change the date to Monday or Tuesday later on. Success in PR is based on verbal agreements, so honor them, and there will be more deals for you to close in the future.
9. Thou shalt not lie. Never. Don’t even exaggerate. This one doesn’t need much explanation, other than to reiterate that lying about a product or service makes a journalist who reports it look like a dolt. Not to mention the obvious ethical problem on your end. Don’t do it! But if it does happen, if you or someone in your company does lie, well then, call back, apologize, and make amends quickly. Say the devil made you do it, if you have to.
10. Thou shalt not give journalists only one option for using your story. If you are collaborating with a reporter on one angle, and it isn’t working, don’t just sigh and say, “Ah well, maybe next time.” Find angles anew — there are always more. If you don’t, you may as well just sit around and wait for the reporter to kill the piece and with it your opportunity for press coverage.
If you like these, the book has 17 more must-read commandments for anyone that wants to promote their professional service firm with PR.