The price of media spotlight

I was out at a media briefing for a fairly high profile media company the other day. I came out rather frustrated.

Several reputable trade media publications were at the brief as well, a decent media turnout, I would say. Unfortunately, this turned out to be what I can safely call a sales pitch for the company – a presentation that gave little or no insight on the company or any new developments, but merely running over and over how great the service is.

As I probed further on the company’s business plans or any figures or results (the classic question any trade publication would ask) nearly all questions were turned away. After several non-answers to myself and several other press members, at one point at last, a heavy and awkward silence hung over the table.

The spokespeople looked around expectantly to be questioned, but from the scant presentation and evasive answers, there was little to carry on.

I left thinking the company could have better strategised their publicity strategy. Why call a media briefing if you are not ready to answer questions? While us reporters love tough questions and these are rightfully left un-answered at times, (yes I actually admit sometimes “no comment” is the only prudent option), if you aren’t willing to reveal your company’s workings to a degree, you shouldn’t be calling a press conference and thrusting it in the media spotlight.

Yeah, there’s a price to pay for media spotlight, and it’s a good story.

While I don’t intend this to be one long rant from yet another pissy journalist about poor public relations folks (don’t one of those just pop up every five minutes?) who don’t have the luxury of a large reader audience to rant on, I must say, from a business perspective, a poorly thought out public relations strategy like the one I’ve just highlighted is such a waste. All these media folks gathered and you couldn’t answer any questions? Really? I think then, a press release might have sufficed.

How about the time I was offered a one-on-one with a senior representative of a brand that was in crisis? Expectedly, I asked what the turnaround plan was ahead, and instead, all the spokesperson did was to repeat that the brand was doing very well. After a period of questioning and the same pattern repeating itself, I ended the interview, after which the executive’s public relations personnel ran out after me and asked if I would delete the recording and not run the interview after all. (Really?? The story ran, for the record.)

What did I expect, you may ask? Well if you’re going to call a one-on-one after your brand has been in flak globally for quite awhile, you might want to prepare some intelligent responses that run a little deeper than “our company is in great shape”, for a start. That is, you better have had something substantial to say.

Or how about the folks that send us exclusives for stuff isn’t even news anyway? (Yea, I’m sure you’ve heard this one.)

I can count the number of times someone has sent a piece of news and gone: “Hi, this is exclusive to you, so I expect this to be at the top of your news.”

Sure, so if you sent me news on your company installing a new slick coffee machine that you gave to no one else but hey, lucky me, I’d have to lead with that? Let me propose this then. If I painted a dead ugly portrait of you, (but remember I made it just for you) would you hang it up in the middle of your office for me?

We ran an article once on public relations being the one of the most stressful jobs around. (That article got hits in the hundreds by the way, obviously that hit a nerve.) Just a week ago I had a chat with a senior public relations professional in crisis communications who told me how he would be called into major crises at any time. I have no doubt it’s a decently challenging role to be in.

But all I ask is a good story. If you don’t know what that is, call. (Promise I won’t be an ass if you’re genuine.)

Just stop sending me these strange request/threats (are you the Mexican mafia?) and let’s work on getting out some brilliant pieces.

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