It’s easy to still get excited when the Caller ID flashes the name of a newspaper, magazine, or television network. Media opportunities are, after all, the whole point of public relations. Those in the public relations industry can easily fall in love with the attention that comes from an audience, but you still have to be careful when accepting an invitation for a media interview or television/radio appearance. Many public relations consultants refuse to believe it, but not all media opportunities are golden.
Some time ago, I made the poor decision to sit in on a panel discussion about a subject I was unqualified to discuss. The panel’s moderator/organizer was a friend in a pinch. I stressed that the subject was not a specialtiy and that I would defer to the other panel members. My friend insisted that he just needed a body, any body.
To my dismay, a public relations rep had asked a cable network to tape the panel discussion for a possible airing. Throughout, I nodded my headed in agreement or shook my head in disagreement with the other panelists, terrified of saying something stupid. With just a few minutes left in the session, I felt relieved. I had only chimed in twice with broad comments; both times the panel seemed to agree with me.
When the final question was asked, I expected to say nothing. Unfortunately, another panelist asked me point blank for my opinion. I blathered for a minute, looked at the impatient audience, and said, “honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know even remember the question at this point.”
The audience laughed; my moderator friend used the opportunity to close out the panel discussion. The cable network never aired the event. My obvious lack of knowledge was forgotten by anyone with better things to think about. The experience taught me a lesson.
Recently, I’ve turned down a number of media opportunities. A producer for a cable news show wanted me to join some other guests to to discuss an issue that I recently wrote about–a meaningless issue as far as my work is concerned. There was no upside for my company. Even if I came off sounding like a genius, the program does not reach our target market. The subject was controversial, which means there is always room to make a mistake. The other pundits could have strong opinions on the matter, whereas I’m ambivalent. And as an organization, my company cares less about the issue than I do.
Sometimes I’ve begged off a subject because I’m simply not up on the news. A few weeks ago, a telecom reporter wanted me to comment on an announcement made by AT&T. I was unaware of both the announcement and the reason behind the announcement. The reporter wanted to walk me through the back story and AT&T’s press release. I just apologized and said I was too busy to look into the matter.
I could gotten a quote out of the story — just not an intelligent quote. Coming off uniformed does not advance my company’s public relations agenda of presenting its employees as people in the know.
I did not feel a pang of regret turning down these media opportunities. The same can’t be said for another offer I had to turn my back on recently.
A publication wanted to profile my company, something everyone in the office could agree was a positive. The timing, however, was off. A profile a few months down the road would have been a lot more interesting and beneficial to the company. My employers debated the issue; we decided to hold off. We understood that the publication would likely be uninterested later, something we had to accept.
It’s not easy refusing media opportunities, but when you have doubts, ask yourself whether there is any tangible public relations upside that could come out of it. If the answer is no, ask yourself if the publicity is worth the risk, time, and energy involved.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.