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The Media Clinic - Media Training, The Business Case

Many professionals 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 advisors.

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 the case.

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 or comment.

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.

©2006 Richard Donkin - all rights reserved