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HR And Your Local Media: Use Your Relationship With the Press to Advance Your Company’s Mission and Your Own Career

HR And Your Local Media: Use Your Relationship With the Press to Advance Your Company’s Mission and Your Own Career

When you consider all the major political and social issues we’ll be wrestling with next year, you can see how important HR will be to the national conversation. Jobs, taxes, immigration, the economy, housing, unions, Federal regulations and the impacts they’ll have on business. Why, it's the HR kitchen sink! This makes your company newsworthy (hopefully in good ways).

Dealing masterfully with the business media could be one of the most valuable aspects of your responsibilities next year. Learn to speak confidently with your local media and you can play a powerful role in positioning your company in a strong, positive light among all your stakeholders. And raise your own personal, professional visibility and career prospects:

Welcome media contacts; but don’t expect to control the outcome. These calls are an excellent chance for you to get your company message out to your community.  But you just have to trust reporters to get your information accurately. Reporters will decline your request to see their articles before publication. A request to see what they've written in advance will make you come off as high-handed, insecure or bossy. Reporters don't work for you.

When an unfamiliar reporter contacts you, agree to the interview but read some of their articles in advance to get a sense of their business philosophy. Not all business reporters are pro-business. (In fact, many reporters consider it their mission to “expose” anything related to big, bad capitalism. Hate me, but it’s true.) An advance search of their body of work will tell you whether they are fair and objective or a human minefield.

Your local business reporters may be friendly but they’re not friends (yet). The good reporters know how to establish rapport quickly and create an atmosphere of trust with you. But if this reporter is new to you, don’t get too comfortable and start spilling the beans. Their objective is to get stories that their competition hasn’t gotten yet, get the information (with reasonable accuracy) and hit their deadlines. They don’t care about you personally. Yet.  If you're tempted to say, "This is just between us, right?", zip it. Don't even fall for "off the record," until this reporter has established his or her own record with you as someone you can trust.

Treat your relationship with your local business reporters as a courtship over time. You can make them care about you and your company’s message, but it will take a while. Return their phone calls promptly. Make yourself available for interviews under tight deadlines. Send them story ideas without expectation that they’ll take each and every one. Give them fresh, original quotes they can actually use, rather than highly polished, bland statements that dodge the question. Be the person they can count on to give them “on background” tutorials about some esoteric part of business that they’re reporting on – even if it has nothing to do with your company. (Reporters -- even business journalists -- typically don't have MBAs, and they will welcome non-judging, patient explanations of business esoterica. This way they can do their very public job, which partly requires them to sound like experts. They keep their professional dignity, and, hopefully, they'll reward you with extra attention and commitment to fairness and accuracy.)

Welcome stupid and annoying questions. Reporters are stretched thin these days and they’re covering multiple beats. So be understanding when the questions are irrelevant, shallow, based on misinformation, or just plain stupid. The reporter is the proxy for the community, so this is a great opportunity to clarify your company’s message and basically spoon-feed your most important information to the world via this reporter’s article. Stupid questions can also be a trick. Reporters often use a stupid question as a tool for getting resistant sources to open up. People just can’t help themselves: They just have to correct erroneous assumptions. Make sure that the information you share is the information you want to share, to honorable reporters who will treat your interview with respect.

Keep your message simple. And your sentences short.  Reporters aren't as passionate and familiar about your topic as you are. And they're taking notes as fast as they can.  They're more likely to get it right if you keep your message basic.

Look for opportunities to boost the fascination factor. Reporters are always looking for fresh twists and takes on their articles.  So don't limit the information you give them to just the questions they ask you.  See if you can offer them an alternative way to look at the article angle they're working on.  A different point of view that might not have occurred to them.  Or even a human-interest  anecdote or two to add color to the story.

Don’t cooperate with the photographer. Always smile for the camera. Always. The photographer might say, “Let’s try something different. This time, don’t smile.” You might think the result will be some artistic, edgy Fast Company type portrait. Nope. That unsmiling picture will be the one that runs and you will come off looking worried, scowling, judging, harsh, mean, unfriendly.

Let corporate communications know that you would like to be on their list of approved spokespeople. Take their media relations training so they will confidently connect you with media requests. You will raise your visibility both within the company and externally among other employers, conference planners, magazine editors, etc. This added exposure contributes additional richness to your resume and attractiveness to recruiters.

Over time you'll develop some terrific relationships with reporters who ultimately develop their own careers to become magazine writers, book authors, speakers, even consultants, like I did.  I started out that way myself many years ago -- as a business writer for the US Chamber of Commerce and then SHRM.  At this stage of my career -- and the careers of HR thought leaders whose careers grew up alongside mine -- the outcome is a lovely, relaxed, trusting network of accomplished professionals who are mutually committed to promoting this wonderful profession and what it can do to advance the interests of the nation and all the people who work here.

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Martha I. Finney is the author of The Truth About Getting the Best From People, and a consultant specializing in employee engagement. For a free consultation on how you can build a vacation-friendly workplace culture, email Martha at Martha@marthafinney.com.

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