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What type of publicity should PR pros actually avoid? How do I know when it’s too risky to accept a media interview for one of my clients? Do the advantages of some types of press ever outweigh the disadvantages?
Dear Cautious Communicator,
Four ProfNet experts weigh in:
“Press coverage is an excellent way to raise your visibility and strengthen your brand,” says Dan Sondhelm, senior vice president and partner with SunStar Strategic, a public relations and marketing consulting firm for financial services. “However, it’s important to be selective in the opportunities.”
1. Exclusive Interviews
Turn down a media opportunity if you’ve already given one news outlet an exclusive on an interview, says Atoinette Kurtiz, owner of Strategies PR, host of Writers Roundtable radio show and founder of LaJolla Writers Conference.
For example, she recently turned down an interview for her client for “The Gayle King Show” because the client had already been booked for the “Anderson” show.
“This is not unusual,” she says. But always set up to rebook the client at a later date.
2. Off-Topic Interviews
“Often, I speak to executives in the industry who tell me that they accept every interview that comes their way, even if the subject isn’t relevant to what they want to discuss,” says Sondhelm. They think that all press is good press, as long as they “spell my name right.”
“My next question is: So you want to be a talking head?”
Just because someone sounds smart, doesn’t mean they are on message — and when it comes to supporting the sales team, it’s all about the message, Sondhelm explains.
It’s actually not a matter of affecting the expert’s credibility — being a source in an article is a good thing — rather, for sales and marketing efforts, it’s important for an expert to be seen in articles or interviews with the same message over time, says Sondhelm. “That shows that the executive is disciplined and audiences know what the executive stands for.” It also makes it easier for the sales and marketing teams to find appropriate quotes to use for their purposes.
Additionally, booking experts for off-topic interviews can cause the experts to become frustrated or annoyed during the interview, he explains.
But just because a media opportunity doesn’t work for one client, doesn’t mean it won’t work for another, adds Sondhelm. “Often, after a client declines, we will offer the opportunity to another client.” That’s a win-win-win: the first client stays focused on key coverage, the second client gets a relevant interview and the reporter gets a solid source.
3. Questionable Media Outlets
If a media outlet has a questionable reputation, or if the outlet’s interests aren’t aligned with your client’s interests — and there is no upside for your client or company — it’s wise to decline publicity opportunities, says Aline Schimmel, principal at Scienta Communications. However, if there is an upside, help the expert prepare for the interview so that they can steer the reporter in the proper direction.
For example, it may be beneficial to take an interview with an M&A-focused outlet — even if that topic isn’t aligned with your client’s interests — just to highlight the strengths of your client’s company or their partnering strategy, perhaps bringing potential partners to the table or increasing the interest of an existing party, says Schimmel. “At the same time, it’s important not to take interviews that might damage an ongoing negotiation, so this is a fine line to tread.”
As for controversy, Schimmel once turned down an interview when the issue at hand was extremely contentious and she’d already given the reporter the only statements she could. “If your instinct is that the reporter is not open to the company’s view and is only looking to catch the company spokesperson with a negative quote,” then it may be best to just say “unreachable for comment,” she says. But she notes that she’s only had to do this once in her 20 years in the industry.
On the other hand, Schimmel might actually consider an interview with a controversy-seeking reporter if the news is so positive that it would be too difficult to make it contentious, or if salacious claims could be drowned out by other positive factual coverage. “There is risk in these strategies though, so it’s important that the spokesperson be well trained in how to handle challenging interviews,” she stresses.
4. Lack of Progress
Another reason to turn down interview requests is if the media outlet has previously interviewed someone from the company and there is no sufficient progress to warrant an update, says Schimmel. Be upfront with the reporter and set a date to regroup in the future once specific milestones have occurred.
5. Bad Association
If your client’s industry just had a major accident, like the Costa Concordia, for example, and your client is another cruise line or a cruise travel professional, then granting a request for your company executive to be interviewed about the incident or safety practices is risky, says Agnes Huff, Ph.D., president and CEO of Agnes Huff Communications Group.
It may not be appropriate to comment on another company’s accident, whether your client is discussing what may have caused it or attempting to highlight their own company’s safety practices, Huff continues. “If you do, you are now linked in the media to the company with the accident,” she explains.
“Furthermore, with any large-scale accident, especially with loss of life, the investigation will eventually result in government and media scrutiny for that entire industry,” she says. “In cases like that, where we see a risk to our client’s reputation, we would not recommend participating.”
Remember that it’s ultimately the client’s decision to accept an interview or not, so don’t make promises to reporters that you can’t keep, says Huff.
If a client declines an interview, let the reporter know as quickly as possible, and through your own networks, try and refer another expert to them, if possible, she continues. This practice will result in mutual respect between the PR firm or agent and reporters.
Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.