Media relations

A is for availability

The A to Z of media relations
Supported by Unicepta
Noun: the quality or condition of being available

Why do so many PRs send out a press release but subsequently are too busy in meetings to respond to queries about its contents? I appreciate that the press release may be just one aspect of a working day, but if you are not going to be available to answer questions, why include your contact details? Would it not be better to brief a colleague to take the ‘inevitable’ calls?

More irritating still is when a chief executive or senior director quoted in the release is then either not in the country or unavailable to expand on their statement. Most journalists want to do more than a cut and paste job. They want to create their unique story, which means ‘interrogating’ the statement or at least getting their own version of it.

You can’t expect a right of reply in the bad times, if you don’t offer a response in the good times.

Journalists don’t expect PRs to be at their beck and call (well, maybe some do) but they do expect them to respond relatively swiftly to queries and follow up calls. (Obviously, daily journalists take priority over weekly or monthly writers – there is a deadlines’ hierarchy.)

A particularly irritating feature of some agencies is to listen to the journalist’s queries, promise that somebody will respond and then, when all hope is virtually lost, email across a bland statement that addresses few, if any, of the original questions. The chance to build a relationship has been lost, or at least set back. Lifting the phone and answering a few questions will garner loyalty and respect.

Equally irritating is the growing trend for media relations departments to have a ‘fill in this form’ section for journalists to make contact. Having filled in one or two of these forms myself, I can assure you that ‘Your request has been received. We aim to respond within 24 hours’ is not helpful for somebody on a deadline. Nor does it satisfy an impatient editor.

The clue to media relations is in the title. Relations. Building relationships with journalists will ultimately bear fruit, even if there may be some tricky moments. Making yourself available, even if you are unable to answer all the questions posed, is a good starting step. Following up with the journalist when you’ve sought out information they needed, is an even bigger one. We like proactivity.

Why should I bother? Oh, there are myriad answers to this query from grumpy PRs. But here’s a thought: you can’t expect a right of reply in the bad times, if you don’t offer a response in the good times.

Many years ago, a FTSE 100 chief executive was known for starting his holidays shortly after the company had released its financial results and he had finished briefing investors and analysts. When I say shortly, I mean within minutes. He was never available to discuss the performance, which admittedly was dismal, with journalists. So, when the company inevitably failed, he had no friends in the media. I don’t believe he was ever appointed to a high-profile role again.

By contrast, when Dalton Philips was ousted from Morrisons supermarket after profits halved, the media was full of complimentary articles about him. Philips, who was recently announced as the chief executive of food manufacturers Greencore, had made a policy of being available to speak to journalists, even when the conversations would inevitably be difficult.