Establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with reporters is vital for public relations professionals. But equally important, if not more important, is the need to remember where the line between professionals and friends lies.
Reporters have a critical role in bringing information and perspective on decisions, events, products, and policies that impact the lives of citizens. Despite the criticism often heaped upon reporters, true journalism is a noble profession that seeks to transparently convey information to the public in a non-sensational and independent manner free of commercial and political interests.
Firmly understanding the role of a reporter will benefit you in your role as a spokesperson and source. Having a positive and respectful rapport with a reporter is important but it is not the same thing as being genuine friends. At the end of the day, reporters are looking for the best possible story and will use whatever information you give them to do so.
A simple lapse in judgment or slip of the tongue could lead to mentioning information that you didn’t mean to, or a personal opinion that isn’t representative of your organization. To avoid this, consider making a list of the key messages and supporting proof points that you want to make in preparation for the interview. This will help keep the conversation centered on your main purpose and decreases the possibility of getting sidetracked. Before entering the interview, define your goal in advance and know what you want to get out of the interview to ensure that you stay focused.
Monitoring yourself like this during interviews and conversations can be uncomfortable. After working with media representatives for an extended period of time, your conversation can begin to feel like friends chatting. It can be easy to slip into an informal mode and inadvertently share information that is “off message” and is not in the best interest of your client. It is important to remember that first and foremost in the eyes of the reporter, you are seen as a source of information. Whether or not they consider you a friend will always come secondary to their duty to provide the public with information.
Interviews are not conversations, but instead strategic forms of communication appealing to target audiences. Every question a reporter asks is an opportunity to tell a positive story about your organization—you just need to frame the answers to reflect those opportunities.
Building and maintaining relationships is an important aspect for all facets of public relations. Treating reporters with respect and professionalism will create a positive and reciprocal relationship—allowing the reporter to receive quality, newsworthy information and your organization to receive meaningful news coverage. Problems develop when boundaries are crossed, so planning your message and remembering your role will guarantee that no embarrassing slip-ups are made.