Media Relations: How to Build Them and Why the Press is Your Friend

January 12, 2017

Deke Copenhaver

Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
In today’s world the media can seem like an angry giant waiting to squash the latest bug on its radar. Whether it’s a celebrity, a politician or a corporation, it often seems like the members of the press are just waiting for the next controversy to arise to pounce on. Although there’s no doubt a good bit of truth to this, if you’re in the public eye building a good working relationship with the media is both a good idea and a good business principle. Here’s five ways to do it.
1.) Provide access
Shortly after being elected to office, I was given one of the best pieces of advice I ever received by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin who shared with me that if the press wasn’t calling her, she was calling the press to ask why they weren’t calling her. During my time in office I bent over backwards to provide access to our local media giving interviews from wherever I was or wherever they asked me to be whenever possible. In my office we had an open door policy which provided easy access on a daily basis.

One thing that I found is that reporters came to really appreciate this fact as they usually spent their time chasing people around as opposed to people they were interviewing making it easy on them. Remember, the press are people with busy lives as well and going the extra mile with them while treating them with dignity and respect as opposed to being the enemy goes a long way towards establishing a bond of trust.
2.) Provide them with content
The media industry is built around content and making good content available to them, whether they choose to do the story or not, is a great way to build relationships. Please note, I’m not at all talking about leaking scandalous content to blindside other people in your line of work or feeding them diversionary stories to move the spotlight away from you or your business. Making good content available means sharing good, accurate information that you have and can legally share with them in good faith. Once again, making people’s lives easier in any way goes a long way towards building relationships.
3.) Always be transparent
At one point I was dubbed the “Media Mayor” with some people saying I never met a camera I didn’t like. That definitely wasn’t the case, but I always figured I had no problem looking straight into the camera and answering questions if I had nothing to hide. Either dodging the cameras or going on the defensive gives the appearance, whether real or not, that you’ve got something to hide to both the media and the public which means even if there’s nothing there, the story isn’t going away any time soon.

Even when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere and someone wants to interview you, my recommendation would be to take a deep breath, try to be polite and do the interview. A focus on not evading the press shows them a good faith effort to be transparent even when the interview may not be the most convenient for you.
4.) Admit when you’ve made a mistake
Everyone makes mistakes and people in the public eye are no different. If you’ve made a mistake, don’t consult spin doctors to see how admitting it is going to impact your approval rating, your bottom line or your bank account. Just own up to it and move on. Relationships between public figures and the media are based on trust and lying to the press is always going to come back to haunt you in the end.
5.) Don’t patronize reporters and paint the media with a broad brush
Let’s face it, the media has developed a reputation for being sensationalistic and at times caustic and there’s definitely something to this. However there are truly good, dedicated people who’ve chosen to make this industry their career for all the right reasons. I know because I’ve worked with them through the years and now regard them as friends. In building these relationships I admit I didn’t always like what they had to say about me, but nine times out of ten I can say that they treated me fairly. In trying to put myself in their shoes I can only imagine what its like to work in an industry with such a love/hate relationship with the public. Once again, as with anyone else, reporters appreciate being treated with dignity and respect. Find the ones you can work with, let them do their jobs, you do yours and always remember to never make it personal.

In know that these days it may seem a bit like an oxymoron for most people in the public eye to put the words "media" and "friend" in the same sentence. However, by following some simple guidelines towards building relationships, this industry can ultimately be the best friend you’ll ever make when it comes to getting good and accurate information out to the public while saving yourself a whole lot of headaches along the way.

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