February 2002 Issue

   Public Relations

Lloyd P. Trufelman
President, Trylon Communications, Inc.

Prior to establishing Trylon, Lloyd held executive marketing positions at such communications companies as MTV Networks, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, WNYC Communications Group, Howard J. Rubenstein Associates and CBS Masterworks. In addition he has directed press relations for political candidates on the national, state and municipal levels. An accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America and a member of its Counselors Academy, Lloyd has served as a board member of Promotion & Marketing Executives in the Electronic Media (PROMAX), and is a member of the New York New Media Association. He has been a speaker at meetings of the International Radio & Television Society, Public Relations Online Conference, Cable Television Public Affairs Association and Cable Television Administration and Marketing Society.

The Media is Not the Enemy
by Lloyd P. Trufelman

"The press is, almost without exception, corrupt." That extreme sentiment was expressed by no less a personage than Henry David Thoreau, the great American naturalist and writer. I would like to suggest that while Thoreau knew a lot about a certain pond in Massachusetts, he had a thing or two to learn about the Fourth Estate.

He was talking about another time and place, but I think that unfortunately, many, if not most, of today's corporate executives would agree with Thoreau, and that lies at the root of many current public relations dilemmas. But most journalists are not demons conspiring to ruin lives, or trying to embarrass for embarrassment's sake. They are instead professionals with a job to do, which is to find the facts, vet and communicate them clearly, honestly and succinctly. To work most effectively with their clients, and to achieve the most productive results, today's public relations specialists - no matter what their fields of expertise - must understand and be able to communicate that the press are to be worked with, not against, and that the more they know about how the press actually operates, the more effective they will be in communicating their own messages and realizing their own agendas.

Like anyone else, reporters don't like being lied to, avoided, spun or stonewalled. The difference is, if a reporter believes or finds out this is what is happening, chances are so will hundreds or thousands of his or her readers. But a well-thought out, forthright approach to a reporter will pay dividends for the current as well as future stories, and the key is recognizing that the press, in almost every case, would rather work with a subject than against him.

Public relations without a solid grasp of the innermost workings of media relations (and how the press can most help a client's cause) can be likened to a doctor handing out prescriptions without first examining his or her patient: Bad medicine, almost certain to lead to a bad end.

What goals are trying to be achieved? What's the best course of action to reach those goals? What venue or outlet will reach the most appropriate audience and have the most significant impact? What is the timetable to ensure that all that is supposed to be done is completed in the most efficient manner? These and other pertinent questions cannot be answered without appreciating that the press is to be embraced, not shunned.

We're always afraid of what we don't understand. Any public relations professional truly interested in not only helping his or her client but also significantly advancing their cause should constantly strive to demystify "the press" and help clients achieve a comfort level with reporters they encounter, whether one-on-one or in a larger setting. They should subject their client to the same legitimate scrutiny that the press will.

Before clients can feel comfortable, however, their public relations staff/agency must have a thorough knowledge themselves. Well, you say, of course public relations practitioners know how the press works. Not necessarily.

Has your PR person ever been in a newsroom? There are far too many public relations "experts" who have never seen a news assignment desk in action, who don't understand the importance of different beats, and who don't know when it's a good time to contact a reporter and conversely when they should be left alone. It sounds obvious, but the more prospective PR hires know about the press, the closer clients are to getting what they are paying for: sound advice and relevant, credible coverage.

A solid PR/client relationship should be centered on the concept of "newsworthiness," with the PR authority not only able to communicate in precise terms what makes a good story but how to get that story told in the most advantageous way. I am a strong advocate and practitioner of what I like to call "Reverse Reporting," a method through which PR specialists work closely with their clients to craft the stories that will receive the most effective and widest coverage possible, a method that absolutely requires a comprehensive familiarity and close association with the press.

None of the above guarantees, however, that the press will conform to one's expectations, or that the results will always meet with approval. But the press/PR connection is a two-way street, and the more a journalist trusts the PR professional, the more likelihood there is for a collaborative, not adversarial, relationship. In this case, familiarity does not breed contempt, but instead client contentment.

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