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Dealing With the Media

“Dealing With the Media”

Manage your relationship with reporters and editors in good times and bad through good "media etiquette" and simple planning.


The media can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. When the local or national media writes about you and sales bounce up, you’d like to buy a cup of coffee for every reporter you see. When you’ve had a bad quarter, though, or your best selling product has to be recalled, the media can look more like an executioner.

How can you avoid such a seesaw relationship with the media? Learn to manage your relationship with reporters and editors in good times and bad through good "media etiquette" and simple planning.

In this Quick-Read, you will find:

  • A plan for when the media calls, so you’re prepared whether it’s good news or bad.
  • Quick tips on preparing news releases.
  • Advice on how to respond in a crisis.


Have a plan before the media calls

All news is really about storytelling. Before you talk to a reporter, make sure you can tell your story. You will already have some experience with this if you’ve developed a business plan or presented your company to investors. Reporters want to know many of the same things: What do you do and how do you do it? What sets you apart from your competitors and makes you unique? You should also be able to talk about the people behind your company. Prepare a one-page bio on each of your top managers and owners, and create a company history with a timeline.

Think about the messages you want to deliver. Focus on those messages when you talk to reporters. Be sensitive, however, to the reporters’ needs as well. They may have deadlines and may only want to know a particular fact about you or your company. A little courtesy goes a long way. It may help you develop relationships that could lead to greater coverage in the future.

Quick tips on preparing news releases

The important thing to remember is that a news release should be "news worthy." Reporters who cover your company or industry lose interest if they receive humdrum news releases from you, such as announcements about awards or promotions you’ve given to your employees.

The best way to pick subjects for news releases is to get to know the publications in which you want your company to appear. What kinds of stories do they publish? If the newspaper never runs stories about new product releases, send those instead to trade publications covering your industry.

Keep news releases short: about 400 to 500 words on one page. Most publications won’t print your news release word for word, so use the release to pique an editor’s interest in your story, not to deliver every minute detail. Avoid jargon; don’t use exclamation points; don’t praise yourself; don’t exaggerate. Think about the single most compelling aspect of the news you want to tell, and convey it in the first sentence. Make sure you include the name of a contact person who is readily available by phone for the week after you release the story. If a top executive in your company is quoted in the news release, make sure he or she is available for additional interviews in that first week as well. For more tips, please see "Writing and Distributing a Press Release."

Handling a crisis

Your best friend in a crisis is speed. Don’t let others shape the way your story will be told, even if the news about you is very bad. If your company is accused of doing something that injured people or damaged the environment, express your concern for the injured parties even if you believe you are innocent. Adopting a defensive posture without demonstrating compassion will damage your image and generate ill will toward your business.

To ensure a rapid response from your company, prepare a communication packet for emergencies. For example, the PR firm Mona Meyer McGrath &amp Gavin created 50-page crisis kits for its client Mall of America. The three-ring binders held sample press statements covering every conceivable catastrophe. When three people were shot and injured at the Mall’s "Knott’s Camp Snoopy" park, the company’s staff immediately launched an information campaign for the media — providing as many details about the situation as possible, working with police and developing a "key message" for the press about the rarity of such incidents and the safety of the Mall.

Generally, "no comment" is a bad response. You can almost always offer something: express concern for the situation; express the values of your company; promise a detailed response within a specified period of time.

Never present misleading information in an effort to minimize the current crisis. A little lie can bloom into an even bigger crisis. Be honest in everything you say, even if you can’t say much.

And finally, do something to correct the situation honestly. Don’t just practice crisis communication. Offer crisis action.


When Washington state health officials tracked an outbreak of E-coli to Odwalla’s apple juice several years ago, the company’s management team acted by immediately pulling its juice from stores. This decision was followed within hours by a detailed search of company facilities to find how the contaminants got into the juice. Managers set up a "situation room" where they collected information and developed a list of possible sources of contamination.

Within 72 hours, the company launched a Web site giving information about the crisis to the public and the media. It also expanded its 800-line from one line to eight to answer questions. It took out full-page ads featuring letters from company officers expressing concern and sorrow for those made ill.

Finally, the company brought in third-party experts to review its operation and report to the public on the safety of its juice products.

"I think the feedback we got was that our swift action and communication with the public saved us," recalls Sydney Fisher, director of communications.

DO IT [top]

  1. Write bios for each of your top managers, and update them regularly.
  2. Have photos taken of top managers and keep them on file.
  3. Write a company history that is brief and factual, giving the dates when the company was created, received financing, launched products and acquired other companies. Include any other significant events.
  4. Do an editorial content analysis of your most important local daily newspaper, business newspaper or magazine, and trade publication. Make a list of the kinds of stories these publications are interested in, and tailor news releases to fit.
  5. Invite to lunch an editor or reporter who covers your industry, and ask him or her what stories are likely to interest your target publications.
  6. Create several crisis scenarios for your company, and discuss with your management team how you might handle them. Address not only public relations concerns but also communications and company response in general.
  7. Instruct your staff that if anyone from the media contacts them, they should not answer questions themselves, but provide the name of the person in public relations who should handle all such inquiries.



Winning with the News Media: A Self-Defense Manual When You’re the Story by Clarence Jones (Video Consultants, 1999).

Spin: How to Turn the Power of the Press to Your Advantage by Michael S. Sitrick and Allan J. Mayer (Regnery, 1998).

Crisis Communications: A Casebook Approach by Kathleen Fearn-Banks (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001).

Internet Sites

How to Write and Execute a Press Release. by Susan MaGee. Edward Lowe Foundation Business Builder.

Oh, the Mistakes Spokespeople Make: Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Blow an Interview, by Steve Bennett.

"Winning Ways to Make Enemies in the Press," by G.A. "Andy" Marken. MarcommWise Knowledge Bank, 1997-98.

Crisis Management, excerpted from from Winning with the News Media, by Clarence Jones (Video Consultants, 2001).

Article Contributors

Writer: Kathy Watson