Perspectives: Why good media relations matter for brands in the disinformation age

Perspectives: Why good media relations matter for brands in the disinformation age

'Perspectives' is a Telum Media submitted article series, where diverse viewpoints spark thought-provoking conversations about the role of PR and communications in today's world. This Perspectives piece was submitted by Dominic White.

“In the age of disinformation, credible information that people can trust is more important than ever, and that makes [journalism] more important than ever” - President Biden, speaking at The White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington DC, 27th April 2024.

Whatever your opinion of the US President, Joe Biden made a razor-sharp point in this rallying cry to the world’s free press last month. Companies should pause and ponder it as they plot how to manage their reputations in the post-truth era - because more than ever, journalists matter. 
According to UNESCO and IPSOS, 85 per cent of people in countries with 2024 elections are worried about the impact of online disinformation on their fellow citizens. In this contaminated information environment, good journalism is the best disinfectant - and most of the population knows it. 
A recent Australian Government survey shows 95 per cent of Aussies access news every week, with online news sites and television as their most popular sources. The top three reasons they select news and media content are: that it is from a place they have used before and trust; that it is recent; and that it is professionally produced. 
It therefore pays to engage effectively with the professionals who produce that content, and not doing so could cost you dearly. If you’re not convinced, witness the value lost at Australia’s largest food retailer, Woolworths, throughout its reputational crisis this year. 
In late February, the Woolworths share price plunged, and the CEO had to resign after he walked out of a disastrous television interview with an award-winning journalist who asked some legitimate tough questions about alleged price gouging. 
A broader operational crisis has swiped 16 per cent from its stock market value since the start of the year. (In contrast, the value of fierce rival Coles Group has held firm, helped by stronger trading).
If a company has the confidence and training to subject its products, services, and executives to media scrutiny, and understands how the media works, it has a much better shot at protecting and elevating its standing in the public eye. 
It will also recover faster from inevitable PR storms when they strike. 
A quick acknowledgement: “Traditional” news media is no longer the only route to good PR. There are more ways than ever to share your message with stakeholders, and you should use all effective channels as part of a holistic communications strategy. 
But in today’s Wild West of online falsehoods, fiction, and deep fakes, people are more discerning, more cynical, and more reliant than ever on good reporting in outlets they can trust to filter useful information from the daily deluge of junk.  
They look to the mastheads, broadcasters, and writers known for independence, intelligence, and objectivity to comprehend what is going on in the world, be it geopolitics, business news, tech breakthroughs, investment opportunities, or good old-fashioned scandals.  
That is true of the silent sensible majority of the (ageing) population that drives the economy, and it is certainly true of time-poor decision-makers in business, finance, government, and politics. 
The upside of having robust, grown-up, healthy relations with editors, reporters and executive producers can be significant in both the long run and the short term. 
Mainstream news media also remains an optimal way to influence policy, regulation and investment decisions, attract top talent, and win over customers who value transparency and thought leadership. 
Likewise, a well-rounded news write-up or TV package can deliver unparalleled weight, reach and amplification. This coverage has been “earned”. In other words, it adds value to the readers and the writer (not just your company) and is given gravitas by the rigour of the reporting. 
So how do you establish positive trusted relations with the professionals who create the news content that 95 per cent of the population consumes? Well, here are a few basic, high-level tips from a former journalist turned PR advisor: 
  1. Remember that “all journos want is a yarn”: In other words, they want a story to write or broadcast. One of the best media relations advisors I’ve ever met, also a former journalist, taught me this simple dictum. It is a good one. 
  2. Whilst all journalists want is a yarn, don’t waste their time: Newsrooms are bombarded with irrelevant, poor-quality stories all day. A bad PR pitch can do the opposite of what it was intended to do by irritating the recipient, damaging your brand, and in the worst case becoming a news item itself. So…. 
  3. Read and watch the news: Look at the stories your targeted outlets and journalists write or broadcast and make sure whatever you pitch to them is useful, relevant and newsworthy.  
  4. Don’t be scared of journalists: Know the pressures they are under and the tactics they use. Build trust and rapport. Do them a favour when you can (so long as it’s appropriate and ethical), because you never know when you might need to ask a favour in return.  
  5. Choose your targets wisely: Be selective in targeting journalists and media outlets, focusing on those aligned with your goals and values. 
  6. Stress-test your ideas: Consider the possibility that no one cares about your new product or service besides your colleagues, and maybe your Mum. It might not be a story for the top-tier title you want, but it may be if you can find a smart news hook or a catchy angle. 
  7. Don’t lie: You will get found out and it will damage your reputation. 
  8. Move fast and be useful: Newsrooms are exciting and fast-paced. You can maintain a regular presence in the media by offering valuable timely insights and expertise without being intrusive. 
  9. Roll with the punches: The media can, and most definitely will, write and broadcast whatever it wants about your company, as long as it is factually accurate - and that’s exactly how it should be. Respect that independence and correct facts, not opinions.  
  10. Speak truth to power: This is the journalists’ job, of course, but you can save your brand a lot of trouble if you are prepared to take and give honest, frank advice at the highest levels of your company before you talk to the media, especially in a crisis. Company politics can make that hard without external advice. 
Based in Sydney, Dominic White is an Account Director at Allison Worldwide in ANZ. He is also the former Media Editor of The Australian Financial Review and the former Communications Editor of the UK’s Daily Telegraph. 

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