Insight on Interacting with Media and the Public
By Bruce Mendelsohn
Tell the truth. This is as true today as ever, and even more important. At stake is not merely your personal credibility and self-respect, but also that of our overall profession. For instance, my experience in law enforcement taught me that the profession has long had an adversarial relationship with the media. Too often the media has been burned by the injudicious uttering of no comment. When I provide media training to law enforcement professionals, I tell them no comment means youre hiding something.
In his 2002 book, Truth To Tell: Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself: Notes from My White House Education, Lanny Davis (Special Counsel to President Clinton) devotes a whole book to reviewing the imbroglio between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, in the process underscoring why telling the truth is so important from a reputation- and record-management perspective. It is a must read for public relations professionals.
Tell it early. Know this about our 24-7-365 media culture: If you dont tell the truth early, you can be sure someone will tell it for you. And when they do, the ensuing media coverage will drive how you and your agency respondinstead of vice versa. Tell the truth early and you drive the story.
Gather a bunch of PR pros together and well recount innumerable examples of why telling the truth early is essential: Watergate. Armstrong Williams. Kobe Bryants rape allegations. Jack Abramoff. Concealing the truth beneath more lies is a blanket full of holes. PR counselors must adhere to the guiding principle of telling the truth early, and advise our clients to do so as well.
Tell it often. In the not-so-old days, a story hit page one, the next day it was on page 10, and the next day it was gone. These days, with weblogs, personal websites, YouTube, instant article forwarding, and viral communications tools too numerous to name, you must repeatedly tell the truth. Telling it once isnt enough. Get your facts in order, share the facts with others in your organization who interact with the media, and make sure the truth becomes your rosary: Say it every day if you have to. Mean it.
Consider what happened in 1999 in a small Colorado town called Columbine. Disgruntled students meticulously planned and executed a massacre at Columbine High School. As soon as the story broke, and during the following two weeks of worldwide media coverage, Jefferson County Sheriff's Department PIO Steve Davis told the truth, told it early, and told it often. As much as he was permitted to disclose without jeopardizing the ongoing investigation, we knew. Thats a great example of The Insight in action.
When you understand the nine words that comprise The Insight, youll begin to understand how to guide every interaction you have with the media. Make The Insight your media and public relations mantra, and youll be on your way to becoming a credible, trusted, and respected information source.
Bruce Mendelsohn recently moved to Massachusetts from Washington, D.C., where he was Director of Marketing and Communications for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.