When to say no to media coverage

Business leaders for organizations large and small spend so much time trying to get their message out it can feel like a dream come true when the media approaches you for inclusion in a story. This is even more true if the media outlet is a national news organization, with the potential to reach people across the country.

Before you jump in with both feet and say you’ll participate, it’s important to pause and think critically about the invitation. Here are some tips on what to evaluate and discuss with your team before you say yes to an interview.

Make sure you have a story to tell

This is an important consideration, especially if you’ve been contacted by the media rather than proactively reaching out to them with a specific story in mind. Even when you are responding to a request for an interview, you should be thinking about what you want to convey.

Why? Because without some form of messaging framework or a specific point you want to make, your answers can seem meandering and unfocused. This could come across to the reader as a lack of expertise, undoing hard work of building thought leadership on a topic. That’s a missed opportunity, rather than a chance at positive press.

Put another way, before you say yes to a press opportunity make sure that the request aligns with business goals for your organization’s public relations and communications efforts.

Risk vs. benefit analysis

If you’ve ever worked hard to secure positive media coverage, having a news story opportunity come to you might feel like a dream scenario. And, it could well be. But it is smart planning to examine the potential pitfalls of embracing a media opportunity, and that will take an honest assessment as to what the risks of the interview might be.

Is the story about a topic your company has struggled with previously? If so, it’s smart to expect a question about the past. Is that something you’re willing to get into?

Even if the reporter doesn’t ask about the past, consider social media responses after the piece runs. Having a positive story run that then generates a social media backlash isn’t that uncommon.

What about the reporter? Does he or she have a background of hard-hitting, investigative pieces? Do they ask tough but fair questions, or is there a perceived agenda?

Making sure that you understand any risks is an important part of being prepared for an interview. It might be worth it to your organization—just make sure you’re approaching the opportunity with your eyes wide open.

Is the publication a logical fit?

This circles back to the point about business goals, ensuring that they are front and center with any media opportunities pursued. Research is always important, especially if a reporter you don’t know has contacted you. Take some time to look into the publication and the journalist—not every media opportunity will be a good fit. For large, national media, finding out what the journalist’s “beat” is—the topics they typically cover—might be important to determining if an opportunity is worth pursuing. Will the piece reach your target audiences? If it is completely unrelated, you might want to pass.

Pay attention to the messenger

Journalists are always working on deadline, and with shrinking newsrooms they are more stretched than ever before. If you’re contacted by a reporter about participating in a story, find out what the deadline is before agreeing to participate.

If the right person isn’t available for the interview based on the outlet’s deadline, it might be wise to pass on the opportunity. Having someone who is unprepared fill in just to take advantage of a media opportunity can actually cause problems. If you don’t have the right person and don’t have the time to bring a backup up to speed, decline the interview.

How to decline a media opportunity gracefully

After spending so much time cultivating relationships with members of the media, it can feel deflating to have to turn down an opportunity that comes to you.

There are ways to do it with grace, and in a manner that will safeguard your relationship with the reporter for other stories.

  • Above all, be polite. Thank the journalist for the opportunity and explain (briefly) why you aren’t able to participate.
  • If the reason you’re turning them down is that it’s outside of your area of expertise and you know of someone who is an expert, pass along that name instead (with the individual’s permission first, of course). By doing so you’ve done two things: one, you’ve helped connect the reporter to a knowledgeable resource, and two, you’ve relieved the reporter of having to go back to the drawing board when they are on deadline.
  • Thank the reporter for their interest and reiterate your willingness to help out on topics that are in your wheelhouse.

With these tips in mind, you can approach each media opportunity thoughtfully and deliberately. And, if it is wisest to pass up an interview offer, you can do so in a way that preserves your future opportunities.

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