I’ve seen so many companies make so many stupid mistakes when dealing with the press that it’s not even funny. You’d think that brilliant management teams that can leap all buildings in a single bound would use that same IQ to apply some common sense when they work with the media, but they don’t. So here’s a few simple, obvious tips to consider when you want/have to deal with the press:
#1 Don’t lie
This is so common sense yet gets blown so many times I gotta lay it out. When you’re talking w/ a reporter, remember that there’s a damn good chance they will fact-check everything you say, and many times they will fact-check it by calling your competitor. So whether you’re bragging to the reporter about the latest coolest thing that you did, or trying to cover up for the latest dumbass decision, know that your arch-enemy will have a chance to tell the real truth, just in case you didn’t.
So how do you handle that? Easy: prepare. Whether you’re going to call a reporter with good news or you think you might get called by a reporter on some bad news, make sure you’ve brainstormed a list of all possible questions you might get asked and have an answer ready for each and every one of them, and please, make sure your answers are drop-dead honest. This doesn’t mean you need to gush out every single thing that’s ever happened, just make sure that whatever you do talk about is so honest that the best your competitor will be able to say is, "Wow, I didn’t know that."
#2 If it’s public, they’ll find it
This may seem overwhelmingly obvious, but you’d be surprised. If you’ve had to make any kind of a public filing, the press already knows about it. So don’t deny the fact that you’ve started a new company, or filed for X, or had a judgement against you, or sold your stock, or whatever. They know. Don’t insult them by breaking rule #1.
#3 WTF is your message?
You’ve spent tons of time refining your elevator pitch, right? Why don’t you spend a fraction of that time getting your media message buttoned down too? What is it that you want everyone to know? If you can’t spew that out in just a few words, what makes you think the reporter can? Be clear on what you want the main message of your conversation to be. I know you want to keep talking about every wonderful thing under the sun and I know it makes you feel really great, but leave out the crap and stay on message. If you can’t decide on what you’re trying to say, the reporter will.
#4 Who should cares and why?
People sometimes think that the press really can’t wait to publish the fact that your company shattered last year’s sales records. The press doesn’t really give a rat’s butt about anything. What they do care about, however, is what their readers care about. So before you pickup the phone and get all excited that your supplier just gave you a shiny trophy for selling the most widgets in your area, think about this: what percentage of this media’s audience will really give a crap? And if it’s < 20%, don’t waste their time and make yourself look stupid by calling them about a story that on one will care about.
#5 Be prepared to answer questions you might not like
If you do have something newsworthy and the media is interested, in addition to preparing for #3, you also want to prepare for the possibility of getting asked about something tangential, like "Can you explain why you fired your VP of Marketing last month?". Just because they didn’t call you last month on some dirty laundry doesn’t mean they won’t ask you about it now. Be ready.
#6 Come to Jesus as early as you can
The best way to not get bad press is to call them before they call you. It’s 10,000 times better than getting an unexpected call that don’t return, or, worse yet, respond with "No comment". When you call them first, you’re in control. You’ve thought through the questions, you’ve got the right answers, and you know what your message is. When you stick your head in the sand and then the phone rings, it’s almost a guarantee that you won’t get out the message that you want. And their’s nothing the media loves more than some juicy bad news.
I’ve got a few more points that I’ll share later. Stay tuned.
[update: Guy Kawasaki’s blog has some addition Q&A with Adam Lashinsky of Fortune magazine and there’s some interesting overlap. ]