Media Relations: Bridging the Gap Between Stakeholders and Your Organization

There is a lot of talk today about the influence of the media on everything from elections to organizational brands. Developing and maintaining positive media relations has never been more important given the technological advances that make information, both factual and inaccurate, readily  available through traditional and social media. Negative comments in a blog, article, or news reports posted online can go viral just as quickly, or even faster, as positive ones. Most organizations welcome positive media coverage to share their story with important internal and external audiences. The good news is that you do have some control to ensure a positive story and telling your organization's story in a balanced, favorable light. The media are not an audience for your story, the media are a conduit by which you reach your desired stakeholders to achieve your goals, such as building goodwill for the organization or inoculating against hostile attacks by detractors like labor unions hoping to organize your workforce.

Top Benefits of Positive Media Relations

You want a clear, consistent voice in the public arena advocating for your organization. An engaged, powerful voice is an important tool for enhancing and protecting your company's reputation and influencing public discussions about your company. A trusted, credible company voice can also help you maintain positive employee relations by ensuring the public messaging aligns with the internal messaging that reinforces your efforts to promote your organization as an employer of choice.

Additional benefits of media relations include:.

  • Creating an understanding of an issue, product, or point of view;
  • Raising the organization’s profile;
  • Building goodwill for the company;
  • Ensuring outreach by a reporter should the reporter mention your organization in a story or news report;  and
  • Inoculating against attacks by detractors, competitors, labor unions, disgruntled employees going public, and other opponents.

The business environment is more dynamic and complex today than ever before. Corporate reputation, brand, and executive leadership teams are continual targets for people and groups that want to discredit or harm a company to advance a specific cause or purpose. The availability, and ease of access to so many media channels today allow opponent to quickly and broadly inject themselves into the public discourse. Not long ago, IRI Consultants discussed attacks on corporations and their business practices through documentaries like Dark Waters, American Factory, and InHospitable. As I've recently pointed out in the podcast InHospitable: Corporate Reputation Management, every company may not be the topic of a documentary, but every company is at risk of bad publicity.

Who Are the Media?

There has never been more communication channels than those that exist today. The internet has changed the communications landscape in terms of access to information and a platform to engage in issues from financial communications to crisis situations and social responsibility to political preferences. While some may believe that traditional media is dead or dying, the reality is with five generations of employees in the workforce today, the media tool box for communicating with them has just gotten larger. There were those who thought radio would kill newspapers and TV would be the demise of radio. But, they’re all still around and part of the media landscape. So, while Gen-Z  may only read content delivered to the palm of their hand as determined by an algorithm, it is still important to appreciate the value of all the media channels when endeavoring to tell your story to your key stakeholders. Following are the various media channels.

  • Daily newspapers – print and online versions
  • Weekly newspapers – print and online versions
  • Television – traditional and streaming versions
  • Radio – traditional and online versions
  • Internet
  • Periodicals – magazines, trade journals, etc. in traditional and online versions
  • Issue-based or specialized media - newsletters, websites, videos
  • Non-traditional media – influencers (third parties who can make the news), bloggers within the targeted audience ecosystem, social media

Successful media relations require understanding the persona of your target audience and utilizing the most effective channel to reach them with your story.

A lot of media has received a great deal of attention in the last few years as a biased source of information. "Fake news" is now a rallying cry not to believe what is being communicated. Statista's research found that Americans spend 347 minutes per day with traditional media and 470 minutes with digital media. Whether or not you believe the media is biased, you still must vigorously protect your organization's brand and reputation through the use of carefully chosen and appropriate communication channels.

Why Is Media Relations Important?

Media relations is the broad distribution of the company's story to inform all stakeholders. Stakeholders include your employees and their family members, community members, suppliers, partners, shareholders, investors, customers, and any other group or association with a vested interest in the company. A labor union would like to have a vested interest in your company, which is one reason they closely monitor traditional and non-traditional media to find openings for reaching out to employees or running a corporate campaign. If you’re unfamiliar with the term corporate campaign, it is an attack by a union on a company or an industry with the goal of putting so much pressure on the target that it will give in to the union's demands. These attacks are multi-pronged and often run for years.

Successful media relations play an important role in a communications strategy for protecting your reputation and your brand. Positive media relations will:

  • Increase awareness of company attributes such as contributions to local employment, corporate social responsibility (CSR), environmental and social justice, expansion and growth plans, community engagement, and good employer metrics
  • Provide third-party credibility, authority, and authenticity to your issues;
  • Build trust in the organization and its leadership
  • Establish non-biased support
  • Authentically evaluate facts
  • Establish or strengthen thought leadership platforms
  • Support risk management efforts

Of course, the risks include the promotion and acceptance of damaging, incorrect reports about the organization, a labor union leveraging employee dissatisfaction with an organizing drive or the launch of a corporate campaign, unhappy employees misstating the facts about working conditions or compensation and unhappy customers who go online to complain about customer services or products.

As Warren Buffett once said, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it...” The reality is organizations can quickly have their reputation ruined in a short period of time unless they effectively manage their media relations and stay ahead of potential risks. It's not hard to find examples of organizations almost destroyed after becoming victims of a disinformation campaign. PlushBio Cosmetics was targeted by an influencer who created a Facebook page, promoted it on Instagram, and recruited other influencers. The influencer campaign was, "PlushBio destroyed my face." In truth, the company was investigated, and the factory and products were found to have nothing wrong. The company is still in business .

What Makes News?

First and foremost, what you wish to share with stakeholders through the media must be news. Just because you believe it is important, doesn’t make it news. When you send out a press release to targeted journalists or news syndication services, the journalists and syndication services decide what is newsworthy. You may think it's important information, but the media has to think so, too. This is true for all sources of media. You can buy ads, of course, or hope the media voluntarily shows up or requests an interview, but even then, the information you have to share must be newsworthy to make it into print, on air, or broadcast.

That means it must be some or all of these:

  • New, engaging, relevant, or unexpected
  • Meaningful to the audience of the journalist
  • Enlightening about new products, new hires, or new ideas that will have an impact on the audience or change an existing narrative
  • Emotionally connected to a human-interest story 
  • Controversial or highlights a conflict.

Successful media relations focus on understanding what journalists want when looking to generate coverage. Put yourself in the reporters’ shoes and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the information provide exclusive content?
  • Are there facts and figures supported by interesting quotes?
  • Is there an element of drama, like a rapid success or failure, outsized personalities (think Elon Musk), controversy, and/or spicy quotes?
  • Is the reporter able to respond and access the story in a timely fashion?
  • Can the reporter get concise answers that support time frames and space available for reporting?
  • Does the organization or person know the reporter's publication and previous or ongoing coverage of the topic?
  • Does the person engaging with a reporter talk straight with honesty and transparency?
  • Is there a personal approach your organization can use with the reporter?
  • Are there references that support the information, like financial experts, public policy or third parties who can speak authoritatively about the organization and its policies?

How Do You Engage the Media?

Good media relations is a relationship-building endeavor. While there are many ways to engage the media, the foundation begins with an investment of time and effort to get to know the journalists who are most appropriate for sharing information about your organization to your key stakeholders.

Here are a few ways to engage the media:

  • Identify the journalists who regularly cover your issue or industry
  • Build one-on-one relationships with the reporters (Ask them for coffee to get to know them – not pitch a story. This is a continual effort to build trust and credibility with people on your media list.)
  • Arrange interviews when you have newsworthy information to share
  • Develop press releases to share information and get facts in the hands of reporters
  • Hold a press conference that gets attention for your news and utilizes company executives to raise the importance of the content
  • Use newswire services to distribute your content to a broad media list
  • Consider an editorial board meeting to raise your organization and leadership with editorial staff
  • Produce informative videos to send to media outlets
  • Create events to draw attention to an issue or your company and its products
  • Create a media kit containing background and pertinent information about your company and leadership

How Can You Be Successful with the Media?

Just like in sports, academics, and music, the key to success is practice, practice, and practice. You must know your organization’s story – the who, what, where, why, and to/for whom and must be able to articulate it in short, clear, concise language that is easy to understand and digest. You should focus on three or four key points you want to get across when engaging the media and don’t be afraid of repeating those messages over and over. You should use facts and figures and give examples to bring your story to life. If there are third-party sources that can validate your message, such as industry rankings or employee satisfaction survey, use them to add credibility during your interview. Remember, the reporter is generally not an expert on your organization or your issues so be sure to use quotable language that is easily understandable by the reporter and their readers or viewers. Finally, make time to rehearse your interview and practice answering likely questions that will come up.

Media relations is a specialized endeavor and most people in an organization shudder at the idea of conducting an interview with a reporter. Always engage your public relations team to ensure you have the most beneficial, and positive experience. If this is outside their expertise, or you wish to have someone with specific knowledge, like dealing with organized labor issues, you can engage consultants who are well-versed in dealing with the press on specific issues. There are also media training experts who can assist you in increasing your comfort level when dealing with the media and help you prepare to be successful during the interview.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email