Most disciplines have unwritten rules or principles that professionals live by, and the practice of public relations is no exception, but no PR or media relations “law” is ironclad.
There are times when you might need to break the rules, or at least shake up PR industry convention when it comes to dealing with the press. Here’s my list.
Rule 1: Never say, “No comment.” Of course, we tell clients this, and the words have become such a cliché that any PR person would cringe to see them in print, but most know that there are times when the only response to a media inquiry is none at all.
For example, pundits advise “getting out in front of the story” in a crisis, but we don’t always have all the facts during the roughly four-hour window available for responding. If you don’t have the facts, you probably shouldn’t be speaking to the press.
Rule 2: Don’t bother journalists unless you have news. Someone else’s news can also be your story, if you have a colorful quote or interesting point of view. “Newsjacking,” which we used to call “news-surfing”—or hijacking a breaking news story or trend with your client’s comment—is a time-honored way to be featured. Just don’t expect to be the main story.
Rule 3: To be media worthy, your product/service/story must be unique. Not really, and few are. (That overused, hyperbolic descriptor probably won’t get you far, anyway.) Yet, as we like to say in the biz, one product is just a product, but two is a category. Your news might meet with a stronger reception and have more impact as part of a broader category story or a classic “marketing wars” faceoff.
Rule 4: Cast your net widely when pitching a story. A better way to assess media potential and promote the story to maximum advantage may be to offer first crack, or “exclusive” access, to a single, highly influential outlet and then go wide. Yes, sometimes you can have it both ways.
Rule 5: Media-training your client or spokesperson will guarantee message delivery. This one’s debatable, but I think media prep is overrated. It won’t typically transform a reluctant or meandering speaker into a great interview. When it’s overdone, it can result in a flat or overly commercial interaction that can kill the chances for future interviews. There are times when it’s best to find a third-party expert, or restrict the client to pre-recorded and print interviews.
Rule 6: The PR person stays behind the scenes. In many situations, it’s tricky for a PR rep to be quoted or to outshine a client, and most traditional agency people are more comfortable behind the scenes. Still, there are plenty of communications specialists who take an active role in a client interview, and not just for preparation. It’s particularly vital for advocacy campaigns where misinformation can abound and opinions and conclusions are hotly debated.
Rule 7: When in doubt, hold a press conference. This is a bit of a cheat because few PR professionals would agree, but some clients think a product or service launch deserves a fancy press briefing and that journalists will come running. Chances are they won’t, and it may not serve the client well. A strategic media approach beats an expensive event nine times out of 10.
Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story originally appeared on her agency’s ImPRessions blog.