The media’s coverage of David Petraeus has been telling, and instructional. The former CIA director and decorated general who stepped down in early November after admitting to an extramarital affair had been a media darling. Not only did he have the stripes to prove his skills and heroism, but he showed respect for the journalists who covered him, and kept the media close (not as close as his biographer, but I digress…).
Petraeus understood the give and take of publicity, so reporters had relatively easy access to him. When the story broke of his affair and resignation, many reporters were kind in their coverage. Perhaps too kind? Other top dogs have not been so fortunate when it comes to post-scandal media coverage. Petraeus had banked decades of goodwill with reporters, and while he is arguably dealing with the worst crisis of his life, from a media relations standpoint it could be worse. I’m going to state the obvious before offering 5 tips for establishing goodwill with reporters. And that is, don’t get yourself in a crisis in the first place. But whether you’re battling a scandal of your own making or dealing with an inadvertent crisis affecting your reputation, how you treated the media BEFORE the event can make a considerable difference in coverage and the speed of recovery. Establishing professional and strong relationships with reporters is tantamount to successful media relations. Here are five tips you can take the media relations goodwill bank:
1. Be accessible: take reporters’ calls, respond to their emails, enjoy a face to face meeting every now and then. You can get away with a few rejected invites to comment, but after several blow-offs, you will be branded as inaccessible and possibly a jerk.
2. Tell the truth well: not only should you be upfront and honest, but you should carefully consider your choice of words, as everything you say can be the headline.
3. Respect reporters’ deadlines: educate yourself on the rhythms of each reporter’s work day and help them be successful by getting back to them on time.
4. Read their work: stroke their ego – read their articles, blog posts, and other writings and every so often send them a complimentary note or a follow-up thought.
5. Connect them with other influentials: be the person who connects reporters with other sources and interesting people; a journalist can thrive when their ecosystem of contacts expands.
There are countless more ways to build strong relationships with reporters. What would you add to this list?
— Diane Schwartz
On Twitter: @dianeschwartz