Guidelines for media relations: the always and nevers

Treating reporters and editors with the respect they deserve also elevates the PR profession.
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While going through a filing cabinet recently, I came across a handout prepared by the public relations division of The Neiman Group, a former Harrisburg ad agency where I worked from 1999-2002.

The title of the handout: Guidelines for Media Relations.

These guidelines are probably more relevant today — in this era when tough reporting sometimes is dismissed as fake news — than when they were written in 1996. While reporters rightly have a different agenda from communications professionals, the two professions have a symbiotic relationship.

Rather than demonize the news media, which plays a vital role in a free society, public relations practitioners should treat reporters and editors with the respect they deserve. This approach elevates the PR profession at the same time.

These guidelines are a great reminder of how to work with the news media while remaining true to the clients and organizations we represent as communicators. This document deserves a life outside of my filing cabinet.

ALWAYS

  1. Return media phone calls promptly.
  2. Be friendly, courteous and cheerful.
  3. THINK before you speak.
  4. Be accurate. (When in doubt, check the facts.)
  5. Be honest, deal fairly.
  6. Try to be helpful.
  7. Update reporters if facts change before “deadline.”
  8. Report ALL media inquiries to your superior.
  9. Receive supervisor’s permission before appearing on camera.
  10. Assume you are on the record and will be quoted.

NEVER

  1. Lie to the media.
  2. Stray from the facts, public record.
  3. DISCUSS: a.) personnel issues, including the need for more or fewer employees; b.) on-going investigations, litigation or labor negotiations; c.) confidential communications (documents that are not public records).
  4. Offer personal opinion, speculation or conclusions, or paraphrase what other people have said.
  5. Criticize — or even discuss — another employee’s performance.
  6. Offer unsolicited information or assume you know a reporter’s intent.
  7. Supply information on “off the record” or “not for attribution” basis.
  8. NEVER say “no comment.”

And Remember …

  • No one expects you to know everything. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know” or “I’ll have to find out and call you back” or “It would be better to talk to … “
  • Keep in mind the differences among fact, opinion and policy, and always stick to the facts.
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