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Turning Down a Press Opportunity Isn’t PR Suicide

Many public relations professionals may find it hard to believe, but it’s okay to turn down a press opportunity. And I’m not talking about opportunities where you may get sandbagged by a reporter. I’m talking about a press opportunity that looks good, at least on the surface.

Case in point, a financial news broadcaster has twice contacted my company in the past few months seeking an interview with one of my co-workers. Normally, I would be excited to get one of my editors or analysts out in the media talking about stocks because it helps promote our newsletters. A few minutes of time could turn into thousands of dollars in revenue from new subscribers.

Forgoing some potentially “easy money,” I turned down the broadcaster’s offer both times. After conducting some research into the company, I decided this particular media outlet was not a trusted source of news and opinion. I did not want my company’s name associated with it, and I blacklisted anyone at my company from speaking to the broadcaster.

I feel good about turning down these opportunities, because I did so to protect our brand. We’ve worked too hard to garner credibility in a sometimes not credible space, and I didn’t want to blow up almost four years of work in exchange for some free marketing.

Typically, the phone calls and emails I receive are from accredited media outlets. It’s a no-brainer when the Wall Street Journal or the Associated Press calls. I’ll drop pretty much anything to spend some time with their reporters and I make sure the other people in my company who deal with the media (public relations staff and otherwise) extend them every courtesy. The trouble starts, however, when someone calls from a media outlet I’ve never heard of.

Some rather dubious media outlets have contacted me looking for a quote or an interview over the years. The first thing I do when I get these requests is to do a little digging to see if the media outlet is legitimate. For example, if the outlet is attached to some sort of political organization, I turn down the request. Politics plays no role in my business and I don’t want prospective customers thinking that we agree or disagree with a particular political view.

In other cases, I’ve turned down requests from media outlets I’ve felt simply don’t do a good job from a journalistic perspective. I actually encountered this on a few occasions when I was writing for the New York Post, as companies declined to speak with me because they felt they wouldn’t get a fair shake from the paper. While I disagreed with this contention — the business section, in my opinion, had pretty much nothing to do with the rest of the paper — I did respect the decision. Despite the fact that my stories ended up seeming one-sided because certain companies refused to speak with me, I don’t think anyone ended up any worse for wear.

Presently, I have a list of about 12 reporters I won’t speak to. The majority are on the list because they’ve either blatantly misquoted me or lied to me. A couple made the list because, well, I just think they’re not the brightest people in the world and dealing with them is like pulling teeth. They waste my time and their reporting is generally so bad that I’d rather not have my company’s name in one of their stories.

Occasionally, I also turn down opportunities where the media outlet is not aimed at our target audience. It’s not that I’m a snob. We deal with complicated issues and it’s time-consuming trying to get someone up to speed sometimes. I’ve also seen zero yield from stories in publications that are outside our focus area, so the incentive just is not there. I try to garner publicity to increase sales, not for the pleasure of seeing myself quoted.

I’m always pleasant when I turn down an opportunity because you never know where a reporter will end up or how a media outlet will evolve. Regardless, I always remember two things: that my job is to help generate sales through public relations, and that we have a brand to protect. These two ideas help me stay away from useless and potentially damaging publicity.

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/.

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