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Avoiding Media Misrepresentation- PR Specialist Top Tips

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Avoiding media misrepresentation - top tips from a PR specialistAvoiding media misrepresentation

Mark Knight is a Director at Broadgate Mainland the London PR agency, specialists in financial services public relations amongst many other services.  He sahares some of his top advice on avoiding media misrepresentation. 

Is it possible for PR staff to influence editorial content? I was recently asked this very question by one of my clients - a fund manager, who lacked experience of dealing with the press. It occurred to me that this was an ideal chance to encourage him and leave him feeling positive about the expertise at his reach, while managing his expectations. After completing the desirable though uncommon courtesy of quote checks, my answer was based on the preparation, research and detailed briefing which needs to be done before interviews.

This preparation takes various forms, but is largely aimed at ensuring the client is able to communicate the correct message that they are looking to convey. Reputation is one of a company’s most important assets, and regardless of why an interview has been arranged, the opportunity to enhance a company’s image should not be squandered.  

In-Depth Preliminary

Although it is clearly not possible to directly control a journalist, we as PR professionals need to carefully draw up a thorough briefing with sufficient detail to effectively communicate all the important messages. Additionally, we must bring possibly difficult issues and topics to the client or audience’s attention. In other words, briefings should be specially adapted for each occasion. This would take into special consideration the reasons why the interview had been arranged, and one should attempt to predict what avenues of discussion the journalist would be looking to go down.

Avoiding media misrepresentation PR Wingman

It is best if a public relations consultant is present during interviews, to manage conversation topics - helping to steer the discourse or interjecting as and when necessary. This may involve introducing new conversation topics to open up further avenues of discussion, guiding it away from areas that may be considered inappropriate or off-piste, or stepping in to ensure that certain points are considered ‘off the record’. By being present, we will also be forearmed if it is later necessary to call into question any possibly inaccurate statements It also cements the PR consultant’s position as the contact for the client as and when follow up is required.

Attending the briefing is also a good use of time for the client as the PR consultant benefits from an on the current state of play in the business.

A Sharp Brief

Early in my career, a client was interviewed by a publication and shortly afterwards, a comment was used in a provocative headline in an online news article. After we challenged this, the headline was corrected to the client’s satisfaction - albeit rather begrudgingly. We managed to bring about this correction because our spokesperson was supported by a member of the PR team to emphatically reject what had been alleged. Naturally, the client was pleased with the result and the robust defence. Even today, I am reminded of this when creating interview briefings. We add value to companies and organisations through understanding journalists and reporters, guiding clients and leading them out of difficulty. 

Peer Consultation

It is not only key messages that should take priority in preparation for interviews. We should also speak to peers and colleagues about the journalist involved – personal style, any particular views on areas that your client can discuss, previous articles (especially those about your client or similar organisations) and so on. Are there any current or noteworthy events that might influence the discussion? It is advisable to obtain as much information as possible, and an attempt should be made to pre-empt any particular questions the journalist may ask.

Develop & FlowAvoiding media misrepresentation

Conversely, it should be remembered that if a client reels off key messages by rote during an interview, this could seem rehearsed and lacklustre. By preparing properly and providing a detailed briefing about the journalist, the conversation is likely to develop and flow better. Common ground can be more easily established; in my experience based on various client interviews (with national titles, newswires and trades), such conversations produce the most worthwhile results. Adequate preparation then leads to a productive interview is also likely to lead to further opportunities in the future. The journalist will have your client uppermost in their mind when they are looking for comment at a later date, and will often proactively approach them. The process also helps journalists to better understand the client, which can assist with smoothing over any potential misunderstandings

Finally, although we cannot prescribe what a journalist writes, we can manage many aspects before the interview and provide clients with the best preparation possible to achieve a positive result. This will show proficient PR management and be of real benefit to their organisation. As PR professionals, we pride ourselves on our ability to provide clients with significant insight into how to maintain and enhance their reputation, with our significant knowledge of the media and our skill at crafting a positive message.

Thanks for the top tips Mark!

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Published on: 7th July 2015

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