12 PR Myths--Busted!

It's OK to Say "I Don't Know"

Myth #8: Answer every question so that you look like the expert. It's OK to say that you don't know something, says Friedman. "It's far better to say, 'That's a good question. Let me check on it and get back to you,' or 'I don't have that information right now, but I'd be happy to follow up and get it to you' than it is to bluff or lie. If a reporter senses that you're not telling the truth, he or she will just dig deeper to find out. And if they find out you're lying, your credibility is shot."

Myth #9: If you advertise in a medium, they'll give you better coverage. When D'Angelo founded her company, she pored over many books to learn about marketing her products. She knew the difference between PR and advertising, and emphasizes that it's critical not to confuse the two. "You'll quickly alienate journalists if you suggest they're influenced by advertising," she advises.

Friedman says that mistaking the objective of the editorial department, which is to inform readers, with that of advertising, which is to promote products and services, is a common mistake that business owners make. "Many editors will run in the other direction if you try to use that argument," she says. "Ethical media don't let advertisers influence editorial content. And it will backfire if you try to do so."

Myth #10: The bigger the words, the smarter you sound. Jargon and overblown language can get you jettisoned as a source, says Friedman. "Some people think that using conversational language is 'dumbing it down' and that they won't be perceived as smart, articulate executives."

Actually, the opposite is true, she says. Using obscure industry terminology or overly complex language increases the chance that the journalist will misunderstand the information and report it wrong. Simple language is almost always best.

Myth #11: Never show emotion. Similarly, says Friedman, it's important to appear sincere and believable, whether the news is good or bad. "Sometimes, especially in difficult situations, interviewees forget to be human beings," she says. "They forget to empathize. They forget to show concern. Or they're afraid that if they show emotion, they might be perceived as weak."

While she doesn't advocate falling to pieces in front of the camera, Friedman says that showing an appropriate level of emotion can make your message much more believable. If you're enthusiastic, show it. If you're relaying sad news, it's OK to show that, too, she says.

Myth #12: Media training is what you need most to be successful in media relations. "Probably the most common misconception I encounter is that media training is a stand-alone component," says Margulies. "The best way to deal with the media is to have a process. The interview isn't the whole event. It's the preparation you do before the interview that can make the biggest difference."

Friedman agrees. "You need to have a solid plan in place for dealing with the media, developing relationships and getting comfortable with the process. That's how you put a successful media-relations program in place."

5 Rules to Live By

While there's plenty of useless conventional wisdom about dealing with the media, there are also some rules you should never break:

1. Respond promptly. "Remember that these people are usually on tight deadlines," says Barbara Laskin, president of Laskin Media Inc., a New York City media training firm. Even if you're unable to do the interview, say so in a timely manner.

2. Never say "no comment." If you cannot answer a question, provide a reasonable explanation instead, says David Margulies, founder of Margulies Communications Group, a strategic PR and crisis communications firm in Dallas.

3. Never lie or speculate. "Aside from the fact that lying is wrong and unethical, it will come back to haunt you," says Karen Friedman, founder of Karen Friedman Enterprises Inc., a media training firm in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. It's always better to tell the truth and explain why you did what you did, even if your explanation is shaky.

4. Know the medium's audience. Every media outlet is different, says Margulies. "Every audience wants you to address WIIFM-what's in it for me."

5. Stick to what you know. Do not try to be an expert or comment on an issue about which you are not fully informed, says Margulies.

Gwen Moran is Entrepreneur's "Retail Register" and "Quick Pick" columnist.

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Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the August 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Say It Isn't So.

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