Ron Smith's Teaching Notes on ...

Media Relations


Updated Spring 2016 as a supplement to Professor Smith's textbooks
Strategic Planning for Public Relations and Becoming a Public Relations Writer, (Routledge/Taylor and Francis).


Media relations is a significant element of the wider field of public relations. It involves time-honored approaches to the relationship between an organization and the media, amid new opportunities and new challenges associated with emerging media. Here are some observations on the foundations and practices of media relations.



Honor, credit, recognition or esteem given to a person or organization

1. Reputation involves perception 
2. Reputation should reflect performance 
3. A good reputation has practical value 
4. An organization can enhance its reputation 
5. An organization can jeopardize its reputation 
6. The news media help shape an organization's reputation 
7. An organization risks its good reputation if it does not respond to media inquiries 
8. An organization's reputation is everybody's business 
9. An organization's reputation is fragle

   Link to Teaching Notes on Reputation and Image


Media Relations

An element of public relations and marketing communication dealing with an organization's on-going involvement with news media for the purpose of enhancing its reputation and promoting its product/service/idea

1. An organization wants fair treatment 
2. An organization benefits from a healthy relationship with the media 
3. An organization communicates both proactively and reactively
4. Reporters want news
5. Reporters are skeptical 
6. Reporters for different media have different needs 
7. Reporters have many news sources related to the organization (including official sources, organizational publications, public records, unofficial sources, leaks, and rumors)
8. Reporters also have sources outside the organization (including competitors, disgruntled former employees, and nosey neighbors)


Who is a Journalist?

...A person who collects and disseminates information about events, people, organizations, trends, issues
...Researcher, writer, photographer, editor, graphic artist
...News reporter, columnist, anchor, talk host, pundit, documentarian, blogger, tweeter
...Citizen journalist (user-generted content)

Staff/freelance for newspaper, television, radio, network, wire service 
Staff/freelance/independent for online, blog, social media)


What are News Media?

Newspaper: daily/weekly/other, online/print/both, special-interest, special audience
Television: broadcast/cable, local/network, public/commercial
Radio: broadcast/cable/satellite, local/network, public/commercial
Social Media: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Blog
Newsletter (print/online; organizational/independent)


12 Principles of Effective Media Relations

1. A relationship is both inevitable and necessary between an organization and the media. The actions of the organization will determine if this relationship is good or bad. 

2. The organization should publicly speak with one voice, by designating and preparing a single spokesperson or multiple spokespeople with a coordinated message. 

3. The person closest to the situation should be the designated spokesperson or at least be in close communication with the spokesperson. 

4. "No comment" is never an option. Every bona fide question should be addressed. 

5. The organization should look upon reporters as allies in reaching various publics rather than as intruders or enemies. 

6. The organization should consider itself accountable to all of its various publics, internal as well as external. This includes customers, employees/volunteers, stockholders/donors, supporters, and the community. Further, it should view the news media as one of the vehicles available for communicating with these constituencies. 

7. The organization should not expect to control the media's agenda or their assessment of what is newsworthy. But it can help add issues to that agenda. 

8. The public/media relations office should always be "in the loop" in all newsworthy situations, especially those with negative potential. 

9. Reporters should be accommodated with professional assistance such as parking permits, access, and a functioning media room. 

10. The organization should expect that it occasionally will "take a hit" in the media. Its response should be to accept this, try to understand it, and get over it as quickly as possible. 

11. Media skepticism and scrutiny can be more bearable when the organization interacts with reporters in a timely manner and with openness, accuracy, and candor. 

12. Media coverage is considerably more credible than advertising. The effective use of the news media gives an organization a believable voice in the community.



Media Relations Tools


Direct Information (aka "information subsidy") 

News Fact Sheet (event)
Background Fact Sheet (issue)

News release
   - General
   - Local
   - Broadcast

   - Social media release
   - Transmedia news package (See Link)


Feature release
   - Biography
   - Interview
   - History
   - Service / How to
   - Q&A


Broadcast release
   - Actuality 
   - Video B-roll
   - VNR
   - ANR


Opinion Piece
   - Position Paragraph
   - Position Statement
   - Guest Editorial / Op Ed Piece
   - Letter to the Editor
   - Blog


Photo & Caption
Photo Op


   - In-person
   - Telephone
   - Email
   - On-air


News Conference
Media Kit

Online Newsroom

Examples of effective online newsrooms

American Cancer Assn
The Leadership Conference
US Navy
United Nations
Culinary Institute of America
Jack Johnson
Maple Leafs


Indirect Information 
Story Idea Memo/Tip Sheet 
Pitch Letter 
Editorial Board Meeting


Practices in Media Relations

Information limits
   - Off the record
   - Background only
   - Not for attribution

Silence, "No comment" 
Routine follow-up telephone calls 
Giving courtesies & favors 
Seeking favors 
Thank-you note 
Expect to be rewritten 
Publicity Stunts 
Pre-publication review of articles 
24-hour availability


Issues in Media Relations

Publicity v/ Public Relations 
Agenda-setting role of media  ...  Link to Teaching Notes on Agenda-Setting, Priming & Framing
Framing theory
News = bad news, error, scandal, confrontation 
Celebrity as news 
Third-party endorsement
Info-tainment / sensationalism v/v credibility 
... and consequent minimization of news benefit to public relations


Ethical issues ...  Link to Teaching Notes on Ethical Issues in Public Relations
- Secured placement (aka "branded journalism")
- VNR identification (aka "fake news")
- Identification of sources (i.e. partisan think tanks)
- Front groups & astroturf organizations



Examples of front groups:
...Center for Consumer Freedom (opposes smoking band and fast-foot restrictions)
...National Wetlands Coalition (opposes wetlands protection)
...Americans for Medical Progress (supports animal testing)
...Coalition for Equal Rights (opposes indoor smoking bans)
...Global Climate Coalition (opposed requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions)
...Energy Citizens (funded by oil industry to oppose climate-change legislation)



Blogger Relations


Many people in public relations and marketing communications make it part of their daily research to monitor blogs dealing with topics of interest to their organizations or clients. Blogs can provide a look at the competition and an insight into the interests of customers, donors, fans, and other publics. As an advance glimpse into what could grow into widespread public opinion, they also provide an early warning system into potential problems with your own organization.


How should you pitch a story to bloggers? Remember that bloggers work for themselves (or, figuratively, for their audiences). They are busy professionals. Here are some tips on how to approach them with a story idea.

  1. Read the blog. That’s perhaps the most important piece of advice. Learn about the blog, be familiar with the kind of material it uses, and then try to fit your pitch around what you know the blog is interested in.

  2. Provide information relevant to this particular blog. There is no place for generalities. Rework your information to fit the specific needs of the blog you are hoping to interest.

  3. Don’t overlook smaller bloggers who may not be best known on this subject but who may have links with top bloggers in your field.

  4. Make it easy for the blogger to use your information. Provide a summary, written to the approximate length of most of the entries in this blog. Add a link to a longer online news release or other document if it’s relevant. Remember what you learned about writing good news leads.

  5. Keep the blogger’s audience in mind. Make sure you tailor your information to serve the interest and address the benefit for this particular audience.