THOUGHT LEADER: Meet the Media events often fail to serve their purpose

There's something masochistic about "Meet the Media" events. How many professions routinely hold forums starring other professionals who invariably insult attendees? Sometimes I think we should just invite Don Rickles and get a laugh while we take our lumps.

There's something masochistic about "Meet the Media" events. How many professions routinely hold forums starring other professionals who invariably insult attendees? Sometimes I think we should just invite Don Rickles and get a laugh while we take our lumps.

If you've been to just one Meet the Media event, you know what I'm talking about. Typically, a roundtable of reporters, editors, and producers provide profiles about their newspapers, magazines, and broadcast programming (which we should already know). Then they talk about what kinds of stories they are looking for (which we should already know). And finally, the part that's most troubling, they rattle off the dos and don'ts of contacting them (which we should already know). So despite the fact that we know what the media is going to say at a Meet the Media event, we still put them on stage and pay money to hear them say it.

Granted, the intention behind an event that allows PR people to meet representatives of the media is not bad. And most of the media that takes part in such events do not mean to be offensive. But for every nicety uttered, there's always a borderline nasty comment from the folks who feel they have a license to be, well, nasty. Like: "Before you send me anything, make sure you spell my name right on the envelope. That would be a good start."

Thanks for the tip. Perhaps you could show me how to fold the press release so it fits in the envelope. I can't seem to figure that one out all by myself.

During the first Meet the Media event I ever attended, the panel was pompous and full of wisecracks. Like a lamb to slaughter, I dared to ask the following question to the group: "My clients appreciate getting coverage in website editions of newspapers and magazines, but some still really want to see their names in print. How do you recommend that I convince them that a web clip is as good as a print clip?" A lanky, cranky reporter from a well-known Southern newspaper snagged the microphone and cracked: "If you want a print clip, just press the print button on your computer."

I half-expected someone up there to respond like that given the way they had been abusing other people foolish enough to ask questions. But what really surprised me was the laughter that welled up from the audience of PR people. It's one thing for the media to get their kicks out of kicking us, but it's far worse when your supposed colleagues laugh with them at you.

Since that time, I've noticed that most of the media I've seen speaking at Meet the Media events seem puzzled by their own appearance, and come unprepared to say anything more than, "I'm looking for compelling news. If you have some of that, contact me." That's it. Beyond that, their comments degenerate into Perry White-like admonishments of: "Proofread your press releases. Don't rely on spell check. Oh, and don't call me after 4pm when I'm on deadline!"

Insults aside, we should ask ourselves if Meet the Media events deliver on the expectations of attendees. And aren't those expectations wrong to begin with?

Too many PR people think that simply by meeting the media, exchanging a business card and a handshake, that that reporter will cover their clients favorably in the future. Such naivete is distressing.

The media is obligated to do one thing: Write or produce stories that attract readers or viewers, which in turn increases readership and viewership, and ultimately improves the business of the media property for which they work. Part of our job is to recognize their bottom line, not just their byline.

When you're influencing the media to write or run stories that cover your clients favorably, while at the same time covering the media target's you-know-what, then you're doing your job well.

The power should be in our hands, not theirs - which brings me to my final point about Meet the Media events: They detract from our ability to control the press. In fact, I consider them to be inverted press conferences, because at a press conference, it's the media pitching questions (most of them laughable) at us, and it's our job as PR professionals to stand before the media, and answer all of their questions.

I'd much rather be in that position, helping the media do its job and advancing or protecting my client's interests, than be sitting in an audience listening to the folks who should really be listening to me telling me how to do my job.

  • Mark Devaney is director of PR at GraficaGroup.

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