Put the Popcorn Away, Today’s Media War Means Good PR Matters

lorna blog 3.28To say this has been a rough week for U.S. media would be a blatant understatement. From the resignation of three CNN reporters for reporting errors, to yesterday’s White House press briefing tirade between Sarah Huckabee Sanders and media present and generally, to Sarah Palin’s announcement today of a defamation suit against the New York Times, the heat is on for journalists, media outlets and communicators to maintain credibility and objectivity in an increasingly volatile, vitriolic atmosphere.

For PR and communications professionals, our role is becoming more essential – and challenging. Sure, we’ve traditionally served as liaisons between the media and clients, but we are now bridging a quickly widening and more contentious divide. War has been declared: on media, on fake news, on press briefings, on magazine cover authenticity, on facts. And, there are more questions than ever for all involved, from journalists and media executives, to corporate spokespersons and political strategists, as well as public relations counselors:

What are the facts? Who can we trust? Where is the backup? What is the actual impact? Who is listening/reading/watching/reacting/posting? What next?

But before we rush out for emergency disaster kits and tackle each other for the last loaf of bread at the gas station, let’s get a grip. There may not be quick resolutions to the conflict at the national level. But, there are still core certainties to how we do business as PR professionals. Our approach still has a strong bearing on how our organizations and clients are perceived and positioned in the public eye. While techniques and vehicles for communications may be changing, and while tones may be shifting nationally, our professional rules of engagement remain rooted in good faith and good sense:

7 Core Rules of Engagement for PR Professionals:

  1. Prioritize Substance and Strategy:

Don’t cave to the pressures of instant news or a 24/7 content cycle. Keep messages informed, backed by the facts, and guided by a long term strategy.

  1. Be Credible and Stick to the Facts

Assume that any message or sound bite will be fact checked in real time and plan accordingly. Provide media backup and third party resources for facts or figures. Validate the credibility of any contributing sources.

  1. Correct Misinformation Quickly

1Humans make mistakes. Most (reasonable) people will correct them. If news coverage or public discussion requires correction, pursue it in a timely, reasonable and politely persistent manner.

  1. Save the Flame Wars and Theatrics for the Other Guy

Your credibility (and your client’s) is worth more than a fleeting moment of instant stardom. Resist the temptation to throw a verbal punch for the sake of short term attention or emotional gratification. If you do choose a brazen approach, be armed with the facts and prepare for ensuing attention. Don’t shrink from the spotlight you’ve created.

  1. Manage Expectations for Media Engagement, Set the Tone

It’s easy (and dangerous) to assume that your audience shares your understanding of the desired outcome for media relations. Give clients and journalists a clear understanding of the context for your engagement and discuss in advance how the process will work to avoid potentially, derailing surprises.

  1. Engage Creatively

Social media content drives news and personal engagement. Period.  While traditional media dukes this one out, new media and social content are driving messages home on a personal level for most Americans. Use creative content development to your advantage, and target your audience and message for higher impact.

  1. Embrace Diplomacy

It’s easy to engulf ourselves in heated debate, especially when traditional rules of public engagement seem to have gone extinct.  Keep your personal and political assumptions at bay. Set aside conspiracy theories for your personal fans. Journalists, clients, detractors and allies will listen far more intently to a calm, objective tone than a projectile verbal assault.

Now, to diplomatically resolve who devours that last loaf of bread…

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