Five classic mistakes to avoid when dealing with the media

Business focus on PRGetting PR coverage is a great way to raise the profile of your business but convincing journalists to write about your business is not easy. Tom Maddocks reveals five common mistakes that people make when dealing with the media and explains how to get it right

Making smart use of the media can be a highly effective (and cheap!) marketing tool for small firms, but it is always surprising how many small business owners don't make the effort, or fail to grab the opportunity. They are either scared of talking to the media for fear of being misquoted or respresented in a negative way. Or they think no-one would be interested in them.  Here are five mistakes people make that are easy to avoid.

  1. Not understanding the 'media mindset'. The more you understand how the journalist thinks, the more likely you are to be able to deliver something he or she is looking for. All they want is something that will catch the attention of their readers (or viewers, or listeners). So your business on its own may not stand out, but maybe your personal story will be of interest — did you overcome adversity in some way to get going, or did you make a radical career change that people might find fascinating (city trader to sheep farmer, perhaps?). Or do you have some strong views about local or industry issues that other people in your area or sector would find interesting and relevant? Think as creatively as possible to give them an 'angle'.

  2. Not responding quickly enough. Reporters and editors are busy people, so if they call up looking for comment or opinion, get back to them as soon as possible. Reporters know people are sometimes hard to get hold of, so they will often put out a couple of calls and the company that responds most quickly most often gets the quote. 

  3. Not preparing for the interview. Problems most often occur when people just respond to the journalist's questions, rather than thinking clearly about what they want to get across. Then, all too often, they put down the phone afterwards and think, “That went OK, but what a shame he never asked me about our new product/battle with the planning authorities/industry award – I could have told him some really interesting stuff!” Or they think up a pithy quote in the bath that night, instead of having it all ready-prepared for the reporter. So if you are approached by a journalist, always find out what they are looking for, and say you're busy at the moment but will call back shortly. Use the time to really think about what you want to get across and what would be of interest to their particular readership or audience. 

  4. Not getting to the point. This is particularly important if you get the chance to go on radio or TV! Journalists are under pressure to deliver a lot of material quickly. They get frustrated by people who go into endless irrelevant detail rather than getting on with it. So give them the bottom line point as soon as possible — you can always back it up with the evidence afterwards. Otherwise they may just lose interest and go elsewhere.

  5. Talking in jargon. Don't make the mistake of assuming everyone knows as much about your industry as you do. Even if you are talking to a trade publication, the reporter is unlikely to be as much of an expert as you are. If you talk in gobbledegook, you are likely to be misunderstood, misquoted or just ignored. Use the vernacular not technical language — in other words think you how you would explain it to a friend or family member, who is not in the same line of business.   

Tom Maddocks was a reporter on the BBC’s Money Programme and is a leading media training expert — to receive his FREE Essential Media Training Toolkit visit www.mediatrainingonline.com .

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