Media relations

B is for briefing

The A to Z of media relations
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Simply what it says on the can. A briefing should offer a journalist, either on a one-to-one basis or, if unavoidable, in a press conference, information that adds to their knowledge of the subject in question. A briefing should not simply repeat the details of a press release, but instead should add context and colour.

Journalists use briefings, particularly one-to-ones, to develop the narrative of their piece, lifting it from a rather ‘flat’ report of the facts to one offering insight and bespoke quotes. They should be allowed to question and challenge. A briefing is not the time for ‘no comment’ when asked a tricky question.

And, it goes without saying, that if you’re offering a briefing, you should know your stuff!

Briefings can be off or on-the-record, but it is important to clarify this at the start. For example, a briefing may be held to introduce a new client or chief executive to key journalists. Unless otherwise stated, these are usually viewed as informal meetings to establish a relationship between both parties, and invariably off-the-record.

If the rules of engagement are not made clear at the outset, and something is said that is juicy or newsworthy, the journalist is quite within their rights to report it. You can’t retrospectively enforce ‘off the record’.


Problems with briefing

Briefing against
Everybody denies they do this, but every journalist – at some point – has received a call offering an alternative view on the story on which they are working. In truth, journalists love this. Who wouldn’t? If somebody is ‘briefing against’, they are hardly going to be offering glowing testimonials but instead salacious details on which hacks thrive.

But there are risks to this strategy. If you are planning to ‘brief against’, make sure that you have a long-standing relationship with the journalist you work with. You must trust them, but they also must trust you. They will need to check the veracity of your ‘nugget’, and then may face a legal battle to get it published.

Briefing one media outlet and not another
Seriously, why would anybody do this? Offering a private briefing to a journalist who has a scoop is one thing – well done them! – but briefing just one media outlet and ignoring others sends the message that it is viewed as the most important. Now that may well be true, but why would you want to offend all the hacks working on competing publications? It’s just a blanket invitation for them to ‘dig for dirt’.

There are more subtle ways of doing this, which will still offend but perhaps not as much. Offer the most senior spokesperson to the favoured publication, and other lesser sources to the others. Host a one-to-one for the ‘favourite’, and a joint conference for everybody else. They’ll notice, but they’ll still have a story.

Briefing one media outlet about another journalist’s story
It happens. Regrettably. A hack gets a scoop – cue excitement – but they don’t work for the type of publication with which your organisation wishes to be associated, perhaps tabloid rather than broadsheet? Your solution: to brief the desired publication on the scoop, offering guidance and context to mitigate any sensational details. It’s a dangerous game to play.