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How to Judge Media Opportunities

With a little risk/reward research, you can avoid the pitfalls of negative media coverage.
March 24, 2010

Getting your company featured in a news article or broadcast segment can be a great way to gain exposure, but what if the piece shows your company in a negative light? Suddenly, what was expected to be a cause for celebration takes an unwelcome turn, and your well-intended efforts bring harm to your company and brand.

Most media opportunities produce positive outcomes. It is the rare occasion when an article does not go as planned--but those occasions often leave the most lasting impression. The key to guarding against such a worst-case scenario is to approach public relations as you would any other business opportunity: Do your research, weigh the benefits and go in prepared.

Gauging the Reward
First, consider the value that your company or organization would derive from exposure in the press. Key questions: What audience does the outlet reach and how much visibility does the coverage potentially offer? Many publications provide a copy of their media kit online, and these often include details on audience size (circulation, viewers, page views, etc).

It's also important to look beyond the numbers and weigh the value of the audience of the publication (quality over quantity). Does this platform reach your target customer, investors, employees, business partners? A niche trade or enthusiast publication may have a small circulation, but a greater percentage of its audience may be more responsive to your product or service.

Hedging the Risk
It's crucial to your media preparation to gather intelligence on the reporter. Visit the publication website and search for past articles. If it's a freelance journalist, see if he or she has a website and find out where his work has been published. Get a sense of the reporter's style and tone. Do articles tend to be positive, neutral or negative? If the reporter has previously written investigative pieces that are critical of the business's practices or company in general, this may be a red flag.

Before the interview, ask the reporter for the scope of the story and sample questions or a list of topics that will be discussed. Also, it's worth asking who else they plan to interview for the article, although reporters might not be willing to divulge this information.

Another important consideration is to learn the publication's expectations for the story. Different media opportunities have different risk/reward profiles:

When Reporters Dig for Dirt
If a reporter calls you directly and catches you off-guard with a story, a good rule of thumb is to see if he would like to schedule an interview to discuss the subject. Get as many details about the story as you can, and then research the reporter's work and assess the risk.

Keep in mind that when a reporter calls, they could be working on an investigative report about your organization, your industry or one of your competitors. In this case, you have to ask yourself an additional question: What is the risk of not getting your side of the story heard? Sometimes "no comment" is truly the safest response; however, "no comment" can also be perceived as an admission of guilt. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for determining the risk/reward of this situation. It depends on the specific circumstances.

Most media opportunities lead to positive outcomes, but there are no guarantees, and big rewards often carry big risks. If your organization can benefit from the exposure, just relax, do your homework and be prepared to answer any tough questions that come your way.