Matter Chatter

Tips for Dealing with “Hostile” Media

There’s not much that’s more frustrating than feeling like you’re not being heard, unless it’s feeling like you’re not being understood.
And when the person who isn’t hearing and understanding you is also writing about your company in places where tens of thousands of people (customers, stockholders, analysts, employees) are reading about you, frustration is layered with fear that your story is being misunderstood by the market. Here’s a comment I have gotten from almost every new client I’ve worked with over the course of my PR career.

“Lois Lane, with the Daily Planet, really has it in for us. She never includes us in stories about our industry, and when she
does, she makes us sound like we don’t know what we’re talking about.”

Here’s my advice. And though it is exquisitely simple, it can be anything but easy. But it’s a common-sense approach to a familiar challenge
that I’ve used with many different clients over the years, and it hasn’t failed yet.

1.  Hit the reset button on your emotions. Frustration and fear are two feelings that have no place in the effort to re-engage and build a relationship with Lois Lane. Remember that the goal is for Lois to understand your story, not to prove you’ve been wronged or to win a debate with her.

2.  Be dispassionate, and reassess the situation. Sit with someone who doesn’t work with your company (or who is new to it), someone who will give you an honest opinion on whether the articles you’ve interpreted as negative, are in fact negative.  Be open to the possibility that you are too close to the situation to be assessing it accurately.

3.  Re-engage meaningfully. Remember, a problem in communications very rarely falls on only one party’s shoulders. This process is designed to help re-open communications in a productive way.

If the assessment reveals that Lois’ coverage is not truly negative, but perhaps is missing some key elements of your company’s story, then you need to recalibrate your storytelling. Your goal is to re-engage on an education mission – sharing your story in ways that will matter to the Daily Planet’s readers. Do they like to hear customers’ perspectives? Do they want financial analysts who can speak to your business? Give Lois all the tools she needs to give her readers the best story possible.

If Lois’ articles really are negative, you need to assess all the reasons why. Does she rely on an analyst’s opinion of you, and that analyst dings you regularly? Is she mistakenly comparing you to a company that isn’t actually a competitor? The answers to these kinds of questions
will help you craft a plan for engaging in a direct, but not hostile, conversation about how you can work better with Lois to ensure that her readers are getting the whole story. Remember that this isn’t personal. It’s all about ensuring that Lois’ readership understands your company.

4.  Consider Lois a valuable contact, not a potential mouthpiece for you. Read what Lois writes, even when it isn’t about you. If your customers read her articles, you should too. And if you have a statistic or a friend who can help her with a story she’s writing that isn’t about you, you’re building trust with Lois by providing it to her. If it’s something you’d do for a business colleague, you should do it for your friends in the media too.

5.  Remember that Lois is a person. This isn’t personal, but it is human, and understanding Lois’ pressures can help you to communicate better with her.  Here’s Lois’ life: She has conversations with hundreds of people every week. She has probably been assigned at least two new industries to cover in the last year. She has multiple deadlines and office politics just like everyone else. She is predisposed to be cynical, because that’s what a reporter is supposed to be. She doesn’t want to look like she’s being snowed by a company line. You need to work to give her something more than a corporate positioning statement – give her time with your customers, let her understand your story in a way
that is credible to her, and to her editor.