Getting back on the press' good side

It takes persistence and understanding to repair a damaged media relationship.

It takes persistence and understanding to repair a damaged media relationship.

For PR pros, maintaining positive media relationships is vital. But deadlines get blown, clients can be difficult, and competing outlets might get a better angle. So when circumstances infuriate reporters, admitting an error can start the healing.

Steven Le Vine, president of grapeVine PR, recently arranged interviews for a celebrity client, only to have them blown by the client's overwhelmed manager.

"We apologized profusely, explaining we [were] still trying to work out the kinks in the communication," he says. "When a situation like this occurs, you want to show the media you understand just how difficult it is for them and that you are trying your best."

It helps to stress that you learned a lesson. "Tell them you are in the process of streamlining communication between you and your client [to avoid] reoccurrence," he adds.

While many media expect exclusivity to mean first scoop, Spelling Communications AE Marcus Bass prefers a broader definition that involves recycling interviews, bylines, and other material to produce fresh spin.

This approach recently got Bass in a bit of hot water when he booked a client's spokesperson for syndicated columns in the business sections of competing newspapers.

The business editor of one newspaper was not amused and shut the column down.

"I explained to this irate editor that my client's loyalty remained with their paper and this separate column was set up unintentionally," Bass says. "I reiterated to her that my job is to get as much exposure as possible for my client, but I also must take into consideration the relationship I have with her."

Bass also extended an olive branch, as the editor was eager to have the client's prominent senior managers contribute to a bi-weekly column.

"Can you imagine if I had to choose one column over the other?" Bass says. "One of the newspapers would probably never cover any of my clients again, let alone make space available in their paper on a routine basis."

A few months ago, Renee Miller, president, of The Miller Group, promised an interview with a client that got sucked into a real-estate deal rendering him unavailable.

Though the deadline was blown and the reporter was angry, news value still existed. So, after much apology, Miller rescheduled. She recommends such immediate persistence. In PR, time does not heal old wounds.

"Fortunately, he was able to fill the space, get his interview, and we got back in his good graces," Miller says. "If a journalist is upset, do your best to make things right."

When a relationship is damaged, dive into the details and uncover a fresh angle.

Terry Hemeyer, senior counsel, Pierpont Communications, recalls a client that was acquired by a larger competitor. The competitor hired a New York PR firm to spur major financial media coverage, but in the process neglected the client's hometown paper.

"The story The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times runs is different than what plays in small-town America," he adds. "You can apologize. You can send old releases, some financials, [or] some flowers. Won't matter. But, repackage the content, pull out key points relevant to their readers, [offer] a fresh angle - that's what they'll appreciate."

Before Karen Friedman founded Karen Friedman Enterprises, a communications training/consulting shop, she spent 20 years as a television reporter.

As an anchor for the CBS station in Milwaukee, a PR pro aggressively pitched a community issue Friedman was reluctant to cover. The PR pro promised a rally that evening, expecting 200 protesters.

"My assignment desk planned live coverage during the 6pm news," Friedman recalls. "When we got there, about five people were standing in the street holding signs."

It is never a good idea to lie. But, more likely, PR pros eager for placements may exaggerate. Friedman was more frustrated that the PR pro did not understand her needs.

To repair relationships, Friedman says the onus is on PR pros to prove they now understand what is required and also itemize other areas where they can deliver value.

"Journalists do feel the need to mend fences," she says, "if they think they are in danger of losing a source or losing the ability to have access to a spokesperson."

Technique tips


Be honest at all times and apologetic

Demonstrate your value

Pause. Avoid confrontation


Get angry or even. It's always business, never personal

Ever appear angry during an interview


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