and business leaders will encounter journalists
at some stage in their careers. For some, these
encounters will prove rewarding, possibly career
enhancing experiences. For others a brush with
the media can be tantamount to career suicide.
Can anyone forget the “in
joke” made by Gerald Ratner to fellow executives
at the Institute of Directors annual meeting in
1991 where he described his company’s products
as “total crap”? The Ratner’s
chain of jewellery shops, he said, were selling
earrings “cheaper than a prawn sandwich”.
A newspaper report of the speech,
and the subsequent media debate aroused by his
comments, wiped an estimated £500m from
the value of the company and cost Mr Ratner his
job as chief executive.
This is an extreme example of
the damage that can be caused by ill-considered
remarks. In practice business leaders are quoted
every day in the press, often attracting positive
attention both for themselves and their businesses.
Most companies understand the need to communicate
with the media and spend thousands of pounds on
internal press offices and external public relations
But does the PR relationship
buy them the kind of in-depth personal insight
that every media-savvy business leader should
possess? Do the public relations firms pitching
to your business really know the journalists in
your field? In my experience, as a working journalist,
I know that PR firms will sometimes hint to potential
clients that they enjoy a “special relationship”
with a particular journalist. This is very rarely
No matter how well they may know
a caller, journalists must treat every piece of
information or story that they come across with
the same dispassionate questions: what is this
worth to my readers? Is it something they need
to know and could not find easily anywhere else?
Is this something I could use to illustrate a
point in my column or feature? Why should I be
interested in this?
In the past two years I have
developed a practical consulting package designed
to explain how the media works, how individuals
can position themselves to speak confidently with
journalists, how they can avoid common pitfalls
and how they can become a “contact of choice”
when a journalists needs an authoritative opinion
My media clinic, sometimes run
with a collaborator for small groups of senior
business people can prove a useful addition to
your company’s media and communications
needs. Contact me for details: [email protected]
In the meantime, read my advice
on dealing with journalists: When
the journalist calls.