Read an Excerpt
Media Training 101
A Guide to Meeting the Press
By Sally Stewart
John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
for Media Success
In this chapter, we cover the basics of working with reporters,
including the six steps for generating good public relations
(PR), explain what reporters want from you and how to deliver
on their expectations, and discuss the importance of being realistic
about your company's weaknesses-before a reporter uncovers
You have built a successful business. Your earnings exceed expectations.
You've got all the right employees in all the right
places. You're planning to expand, perhaps by acquiring a
competitor or opening an operation in Asia.
Congratulations. But, have you given any thought to exactly
how you are going to share your dreams with the rest of the business
world? After all, sharing your vision is the first step in securing the
support you will need to grow your business, attract new customers,
and create the excitement your company needs to turn your vision
As a former reporter who spent 13 years covering major news
events for USAToday and as a public relations consultant who has
worked for some of the most respected and successful companies in
the world, I can attest to the power of good media communications.
A story about a company can generate orders and trigger investor
interest, but if the story is unflattering, it can quash investor enthusiasm
and employee morale as well as slash company growth.
When a financial analyst receives a call from a reporter about a
certain stock, his answers and the resulting story could have great
impact on the company. How can you make sure that your company's
story is one that will fuel your business goals?
In this book, I give you an insider's view into how reporters and
PR operate. I also show you how to present accurate information
about your company, its products, and strategies to the press. The
media can then deliver the best possible message to an audience comprised
of your current and potential customers, employees, business
partners, investors, and vendors.
Many of my clients approach me to represent them anywhere
from six months to a year before their target date for unveiling a
new product, commencing an acquisition, or going public with a
significant company development. These clients know about the
benefits that media exposure can bring to their businesses. The
right stories can attract strategic partners and bigger clients; the
right stories can educate the Wall Street community about a company's
business model and smooth the path toward securing investments
crucial to a company's growth. Positive press also can help
to attract and retain top-notch employees, and it can give your
company the kind of brand-building image you can't buy, even
with the world's largest advertising budget. A flattering magazine
profile of a CEO that appears right before his company makes a bid
to acquire another company can help ease the negotiations. After
reading the profile, the leaders of the soon-to-be-acquired company
may feel more comfortable with the CEO.
Unfortunately, bad press can sink a business. The wrong story
at the wrong time can rob your company of its future. For example,
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia was hardly the only company
exposed in the financial scandals of this new century. However, the
unflattering media stories about CEO Martha Stewart that emphasized
her arrogance, snobbishness, and disdainful treatment of her
colleagues helped fuel government investigations and the drastic
slide in the price of the company's stock.
Recklessly plunging into a public relations program without
strategic planning can turn clients, vendors, and partners away from
doing business with you. Once a negative story is written, it's not
Before we get started on your media training, let's review a few
ground rules that are essential to any successful public relations
program. I'll explain these rules in further detail in the coming
chapters, but for now, these foundational rules will give you a sense
of how journalists approach their job (and your company's story)
and what you should do to prepare yourself for generating great
Understand how public relations really works.
Know what reporters really want.
Not all stories are created equal.
Measure your pain threshold.
The Alpha Dog Story leads the pack.
Beggars are never happy.
Reporters are not your friends.
The New York Times equals The Santa Monica Daily Press.
Phony is baloney.
You can't pitch what you don't know.
Understand How Public Relations Really Works
Public perceptions are built over time and so is public demand for a
product. I once worked for a CEO who believed-no matter how
energetically I argued with him-that a single story would make
the phones ring in his order department. Every time we got a story
about his company's products into the press, he ordered extra phone
lines installed and if they weren't lighting up with consumers placing
orders, he was disappointed. Any positive story will make a few
consumers open their wallets, but generally, there won't be a tidal
wave until the stories build into a pipeline filled with demand, and
that takes time and more than one story.
Another one of my clients, Scott Painter, the founder of
CarsDirect.com, has the right idea. Scott believes public relations
fuels sales, but he knows that there are many steps in the process
of getting sales and that just one misstep can undo all of the
work that went into getting the story. Here is his step-by-step
Seven Steps for Turning PR into Sales
Step 1 Awareness: A consumer reads a story and becomes aware
that the product and/or company exists. This step is particularly
important in the development of new companies that
don't have a lengthy history or a strong consumer following.
Step 2 Interest: A consumer reads another story and, as a result,
becomes interested in learning more. Alternatively, the
consumer hears about the story from someone who read it
firsthand. His interest has begun to grow and he now
wants to know more about the product and your company.
Step 3 Action: Another story might prompt the consumer to ask a
friend about the product or to do some research about it on
the Internet, or perhaps the story generates interest from
another reporter at another publication. (Reporters read
other publications to look for story ideas.)
Step 4 Understanding: The consumer reads another story or studies
his Internet research to begin to understand how the
product might help his life or business.
Step 5 Advocating: As the company's publicity continues to grow,
the consumer reads yet another story and begins to discuss
with colleagues, friends, and family members his intent to
buy the product.
Step 6 Buying: The next story prompts the consumer to purchase
the product. At this step, the consumer has high expectations
for the product. He anticipates that his experience
with the product will match the flattering stories he has
read. (Indeed, although the media is often criticized for
being biased or inaccurate, most of us believe the journalism
we read and watch.)
Step 7 Judging: The consumer uses the product and judges whether
it was all the stories said it was. If it's not, then the process
shifts into reverse. The customer returns the product, tells
friends and colleagues that it was a failure, feels that he's
been duped, and might take action against the company by
writing letters to the media or giving an interview to a reporter
that is highly critical of the product.
At any step along the way, an unflattering media story can derail
the process of building consumers' interest. A consumer might be
ready to buy your product or an investor might be willing to devote
some capital to your company, but until he completes that transaction,
he is likely to change his mind if he reads some bad press.
These seven steps show how overlapping public relations initiatives
can encourage consumers to test new products. However,
the steps also demonstrate how public relations can work against a
product or company that fails to live up to its stories. When reality
doesn't match a company's public relations, the company develops
a reputation for hype that will hurt its future publicity efforts. Reporters
who believe that a company misled them into writing a puff
piece won't cover your next development or, even worse, they will
punish the company by writing a negative story. By following the
Foundational Rules for Public Relations Success that I outline in
this book, you will understand how to present the facts about your
company to the media with confidence and accuracy.
Know What Reporters Really Want
Rick Orlov, the highly regarded political reporter for the Los Angeles
Daily News, tells a story about a disgruntled reader who called
one day to complain about one of his stories. The reader accused
Rick of intentional bias. The conversation went as follows:
"I know just what you were thinking when you wrote that
story," the reader said.
"I bet you don't," Rick said.
"You were thinking, 'I'm going to get those guys,'" the reader
"Actually," said Rick, "I was thinking, 'As soon as I finish this
story, I can go home.' "
This says it all. What reporters really want is usually pretty simple:
They want their calls returned, they want a quote for their story,
and they want to do their job and go home. Don't make your relationship
with reporters complicated.
Not All Stories Are Created Equal
When you begin seeking press coverage, don't leap at every chance
to be included in a story. In many cases, if a reporter's proposed story
angle doesn't fit in with your company's strategic public relations
plan, it's better to pass on the opportunity.
If a potential client came to you and wanted to buy your company's
services, and if you found out that that client had a poor
credit history, along with a reputation for suing its vendors, you
probably wouldn't be interested in signing them up. Use the same
discretion with your PR.
When I was vice president of public relations for an Internet
company, the NASDAQ began falling and, as with many public
high-tech companies, the value of stock options began taking a
nose-dive. A reporter called me because she was doing a story about
low employee morale related to the sinking worth of stock options.
A public relations professional who operated under the assumption
that she should grab any press opportunity would have granted
the interview. However, my company was not yet publicly held and,
according to the valuations assigned by top-tier investment banks,
our stock option price was still stable. At that moment, it would have
been misguided to give investors the sense that our morale was declining
when, in fact, we were still doing well. I told the reporter we
didn't fit the story angle and, as a result, we missed out on a chance
to have our company's name in the paper, but we also avoided being
lumped in with less fortunate companies.
Measure Your Pain Threshold
Any credible story is sure to include something you would have left
out if you were writing the story. If, for example, your stock was at
an all-time low six months ago, but today it's at an all-time high, it
is a pretty sure bet that the story will mention that and speculate as
to whether the high can hold. If the company's past CEO resigned
after a sexual harassment scandal, then it's a given that the negative
history is going to be retold in the story, even if today's CEO has
presided over a positive change in the company's culture.
Before you move forward, take an accurate, no-holds-barred
measurement of your company's pain threshold. If the company
would consider it a failure if the story were to mention any glitch
from the past, then don't try to get a story published because you
will only end up failing.
No publication or broadcast program wants to be known for
doing puff pieces and any story must have the essential element of
drama. Therefore, a story about a high-flying company will ask the
question, "Can it last?" A story about a political candidate who is
leading in the polls will pose the question, "But is there any momentum
behind the candidate?"
It's a reporter's job to be skeptical, to ask the tough questions,
and to set up the drama. Often, business people think that when a
reporter is asking tough questions, he is, in effect, sticking a knife
into the company. As a former reporter, I can tell you that it's fine
for a journalist to take a few jabs at your company, but what you
want to avoid is having that reporter stab you in the back. See
Chapters 9 through 11 for more detailed advice on how to avoid
being stabbed in the back by remaining calm, nondefensive, and
sticking to the facts.
Comedy also can be an element of a story that some executives
might find difficult to take. Recently, one of my clients was the
focus of a story that started with a joke. My client didn't think the
joke was funny and assumed that the reporter was intentionally
making his company a laughingstock. On the contrary, every outsider
who read the story chuckled at the joke and believed that the
company was favorably covered in the story.
A story that is generally accurate but points out a wart or two
will actually appear more credible than a story that's purely positive;
furthermore, it may result in increased business for your company.
This fact is even more apparent in business journalism
because business reporters are, on the whole, tougher, smarter, and
more sophisticated than their general assignment counterparts.
Their stories will turn over all the rocks and expose past history,
but ultimately, most U.S. business publications and programs like to
celebrate capitalism and corporate successes.
The Alpha Dog Story Leads the Pack
When an editor assigns a story about a company to a reporter, the
first move the reporter makes is to seek out everything that has ever
been written about that company. The Internet has made that process
very easy. At some of the larger newspapers, magazines, and
TV news shows, the reporter calls the in-house librarian and orders
a Lexis-Nexis search. If the resulting research turns up unflattering
facts, such as a pattern of unscrupulous business practices and
faulty merchandise, it's a given that the reporter will mention those
old accusations in her new story.
Moreover, it doesn't matter if the company has changed or if
new management is in charge.
Excerpted from Media Training 101
by Sally Stewart
Copyright © 2003 by Sally Stewart.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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