12 Media Myths That Can Sink Your PR Plan Don't let these 12 media myths kill your public relations plan. Here's what you need to know to get media-savvy -- fast.
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Dan Hoffman had some bad interviews years ago, back when he was heading up operations at an ISP based in Hong Kong. He would read articles in which he was quoted and sometimes find that the published version of the interview had very different information than what he thought he'd discussed with the reporter.
So when Hoffman, now president and CEO of M5 Networks Inc., a $10 million, New York City-based provider of outsourced telephone systems, got a call to appear on Bloomberg Television, he decided he'd better get some help. Hoffman, 36, called his PR agency, Euro RSCG Magnet, to schedule some media training.
"A lot of people think that doing interviews effectively is a piece of cake," says former broadcast reporter Barbara Laskin, president of Laskin Media Inc., a New York City media training firm. "That's why I got into this business. I was a reporter and cared about getting the story right, but with today's fast deadlines, you can't always assume that the reporter is going to figure out what you meant to say if you're not clear about it from the start."
Being unprepared is just one of a host of mistakes entrepreneurs make when dealing with the media. Whether the result of popular misconceptions, bad media training or simply having no idea what it takes to be a good source, here are a dozen of the most common myths about being media-savvy.
Myth #1: It's important to put a positive spin on everything. Not every situation is positive, says David Margulies, who heads up Margulies Communications Group, a strategic PR and crisis communications firm in Dallas. In order to be truthful, you can't always put a bullish slant on the circumstances.
"The example I use in my speeches is the airline executive who says, 'Sure, the plane crashed, but it was right on time when it hit the mountain,' " he explains. "You need to deliver the information the audience needs to know." He advises being honest and sharing the information that is necessary and targeted toward your audience. "Stating the factors that contributed to the crash and giving a careful explanation of what will be done to prevent it from happening in the future would be a better response."
Myth #2: If you don't want to answer a reporter's question, change the subject. A popular media training technique is called "the bridge," and it works like this: If a reporter asks you a question you don't want to answer, you say something like, "That's a great question, but I think the more important point is . . ." That kind of question dodging, says Laskin, is one of the quickest ways to earn a reporter's ire.
"It's not a bridge to nowhere," says Laskin. "Even though the bridge can be an effective technique to insert your key messages, you still need to answer the reporter's question. If a reporter asks about your bad sales last quarter, you can answer the question and still include the information that's important to your company by saying something like, 'Sales were disappointing; however, our new line, which we're working hard on, is going to give us returns,' and explain how."
Why You Should Reject Some Interviews
Myth #3: You should participate in every interview that'srequested of you. No way, says Margulies. Before you get on thephone or in front of the mic and start talking, you need to knowthe context of the story. "Find out what, specifically, thestory is about," he says. "There are some stories youdon't want to be involved in, and some stories where theremight be legal implications."
Margulies recommends getting some background on the topic of thestory and deciding if there's a good business reason for doingit. For instance, it might be a good idea to participate in aprofile of your company in an industry trade publication. However,if a reporter is doing a general story that isn't reallyrelevant to your business or your key audience, and which couldposition your business in a negative way, you may want to pass onparticipating in the story.
Myth #4: Reciting how many other media interviews you'vedone impresses journalists, producers and editors. "Oneword: overexposed," says Karen Friedman, head of Karen FriedmanEnterprises Inc., a media training firm in Blue Bell,Pennsylvania. Friedman says that most reporters are looking forfresh voices and ideas. "In many cases, if you rattle off thatyou've been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New YorkTimes and on all the major networks recently, the reportermight think that you have nothing new to say on the topic or thatyour story's been 'done.'"
Instead, advises Friedman, say that you're an experiencedinterviewee to let the journalist know you're familiar with theinterview process. That will likely make him or her morecomfortable with you as a source. If you're asked forparticular outlets in which you've been featured, then providethem.
Myth #5: A good news release is the best way to get mediaattention for your company. Suggest sending out aone-size-fits-all news release to Victoria D'Angelo, owner ofD'Angelo Home Collections Inc., a $4.5 million home accessoriesdesigner, product developer and distributor in Orangeburg, NewYork, and she'll give you a passionate lesson in Marketing 101."You can't send out one news release to the media any morethan you can send out one set of options to customers and expectthem to purchase your products," explains D'Angelo, 49."A number of books give you the idea that you can print amagic flier and the world will respond. The generic approach is awaste of time."
D'Angelo has found more success with creating customizedpitch letters for magazines and talking points for interviews. Thesecret, she says, is finding out which topics are of interest tothe media and putting that information in the easiest format forthe journalist to use. Says D'Angelo, "If you're notwilling to do the homework, you can't expect greatresults."
Myth #6: Mention your company, product or book as often aspossible. "This is one of the examples of media traininggone haywire," says Friedman. "It's annoying when theexpert mentions the name of the book in almost every sentence, andI'm convinced that it usually backfires." She advisesmentioning the book when it's appropriate, trying for two orthree mentions in a broadcast or one credit in a print piece.
Myth #7: Whenever you don't want something printed orbroadcast, just say it's "off the record." Sayingsomething is "off the record"--usually used when a sourcegives background information to put something in context anddoesn't want it to be attributed--is risky because a journalistdoesn't have to abide by it, says Laskin. "The truth isthat reporters dig. That's what they should always do. Ifyou're naive enough to give them sensitive information thatshouldn't be shared publicly, you can't be sure theywon't use it. If you say it, it's fair game."
It's OK to Say "I Don't Know"
Myth #8: Answer every question so that you look like theexpert. It's OK to say that you don't know something,says Friedman. "It's far better to say, 'That's agood question. Let me check on it and get back to you,' or'I don't have that information right now, but I'd behappy to follow up and get it to you' than it is to bluff orlie. If a reporter senses that you're not telling the truth, heor she will just dig deeper to find out. And if they find outyou're lying, your credibility is shot."
Myth #9: If you advertise in a medium, they'll give youbetter coverage. When D'Angelo founded her company, shepored over many books to learn about marketing her products. Sheknew the difference between PR and advertising, and emphasizes thatit's critical not to confuse the two. "You'll quicklyalienate journalists if you suggest they're influenced byadvertising," she advises.
Friedman says that mistaking the objective of the editorialdepartment, which is to inform readers, with that of advertising,which is to promote products and services, is a common mistake thatbusiness owners make. "Many editors will run in the otherdirection if you try to use that argument," she says."Ethical media don't let advertisers influence editorialcontent. 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 conversationallanguage is 'dumbing it down' and that they won't beperceived as smart, articulate executives."
Actually, the opposite is true, she says. Using obscure industryterminology or overly complex language increases the chance thatthe journalist will misunderstand the information and report itwrong. Simple language is almost always best.
Myth #11: Never show emotion. Similarly, says Friedman,it's important to appear sincere and believable, whether thenews is good or bad. "Sometimes, especially in difficultsituations, interviewees forget to be human beings," she says."They forget to empathize. They forget to show concern. Orthey're afraid that if they show emotion, they might beperceived as weak."
While she doesn't advocate falling to pieces in front of thecamera, Friedman says that showing an appropriate level of emotioncan make your message much more believable. If you'reenthusiastic, show it. If you're relaying sad news, it's OKto show that, too, she says.
Myth #12: Media training is what you need most to besuccessful in media relations. "Probably the most commonmisconception I encounter is that media training is a stand-alonecomponent," says Margulies. "The best way to deal withthe media is to have a process. The interview isn't the wholeevent. It's the preparation you do before the interview thatcan make the biggest difference."
Friedman agrees. "You need to have a solid plan in placefor dealing with the media, developing relationships and gettingcomfortable with the process. That's how you put a successfulmedia-relations program in place."
5 Rules to Live By
While there's plenty of useless conventional wisdom aboutdealing with the media, there are also some rules you should neverbreak:
1. Respond promptly. "Remember that these people areusually on tight deadlines," says Barbara Laskin, president ofLaskin Media Inc., a New York City media training firm. Even ifyou're unable to do the interview, say so in a timelymanner.
2. Never say "no comment." If you cannot answera question, provide a reasonable explanation instead, says DavidMargulies, founder of Margulies Communications Group, a strategicPR and crisis communications firm in Dallas.
3. Never lie or speculate. "Aside from the fact thatlying is wrong and unethical, it will come back to haunt you,"says Karen Friedman, founder of Karen Friedman Enterprises Inc., amedia training firm in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. It's alwaysbetter to tell the truth and explain why you did what you did, evenif your explanation is shaky.
4. Know the medium's audience. Every media outlet isdifferent, says Margulies. "Every audience wants you toaddress WIIFM-what's in it for me."
5. Stick to what you know. Do not try to be an expert orcomment on an issue about which you are not fully informed, saysMargulies.
GwenMoran is Entrepreneur's "Retail Register"and "Quick Pick" columnist.