|Taming the Journalist Gone Wild
By: Elizabeth Friedland
The vast majority of journalists and bloggers a PR pro works with are stand-up, ethical professionals that often become a publicist’s best buddy. As in any profession, though, there are always a few bad apples that spoil the bunch. It can be tricky to deal with difficult reporters without risking the relationship, especially when the outlet is one you or the client needs to keep close. Below are a few tips to help neutralize the most common rogue reporter types.
The Sneaky Spin
M.O.: They lay out a plan to do a lovely fluff piece on your client. You vet their request, decide they’re friendly and then, boom. As soon as they’ve got their interview subject, it becomes clear they’re trying to dig for dirt.
The Fix: The defense is all in the pre-planning. Make sure to arm your client with talking points that could cover anything a journalist may ask — especially including the sensitive, icky stuff. In rare circumstances, it may be necessary to stop the interview and say something like, “It seems you’re looking for a different angle than what you previously suggested. Perhaps we should regroup and reschedule the interview at a later date when we understand what you’re looking for.”
The Needy Writer
M.O.: Whether they’re green to journalism, lazy, or have an ego the size of Snooki’s bump, this writer will email and call you incessantly, asking for additional information and going over questions you’ve already answered. Suddenly, helping this reporter is becoming your full-time job.
The Fix: If you’ve done all you can to make sure the reporter has everything they need to write a complete and accurate story, it’s okay to wean the journalist from your help. A simple, “At this time you should all of the information you might need to cover the story. Thank you for your interest, and we look forward to reading the piece!” should be subtle enough to signal that you’re done.
The Tantruming Blogger
M.O.: High off their power, this blogger functions as the town crier, making mountains out of specks of dust. They’ll voice their fury on every social media channel available until they take down your client.
The Fix: Publicly acknowledge their influence, appeal to their ego, and move the conversation offline. Reply to them on their social media channels so their followers can see both sides of the story: “Hi X. We appreciate hearing your feedback. We know you have a very loyal following, so it’s important to us that we can assist you. If you would, please give us a call or shoot as an email and we can set up a time to talk more about this. We’d love to have you involved in a solution!”
The Rule Breaker
M.O.: This journalist doesn’t think the rules apply to them. They’ll sneak onto property, take pictures without proper authorization, publish confidential documents, or flat-out misrepresent (ahem, lie) about the facts.
The Fix: Shutting out a contact entirely should be a last resort, so unless the violation was egregious, give everyone a second chance. However, make it clear to the reporter which behavior was unacceptable and why, and let them know how you can work with them to avoid their rule breaking next time. “When you asked to see our new prototype in advance, we agreed — so long as you held the story until our launch. We value our relationship with you, which is why we offered the sneak peek, but we won’t be able to work with you any longer if you violate our agreement again.”
Elizabeth Friedland in Senior Digital Strategist, specializing in PR, at Hirons Advertising & Public Relations. To learn more than you ever wanted to know about her, visit www.elizabethfriedland.com.
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