I’ve been encouraging newsmakers to subject themselves to media interviews for the past 20 years. But when the tables turned and the media “spotlight” was on me, everything I used to say to tell clients seemed less important.
I remember many of them balking and hesitating to participate. Either out of modesty – real or feigned. Or fear. Or mistrust. Often, I’d catch myself getting impatient with them, thinking, “This isn’t that big of a deal.”
And then last month, a reporter wanted to do a story about ME and something that’s close to me. And now I understand way better where those reluctant folks were coming from.
This time, I broke all the so-called “rules” about not trying to influence coverage. I’ll explain why, and what I learned that will make me approach future newsmakers differently.
What was this story about? It’s not related to my PR training business – I’ve been fortunate to have been covered by trade publications through the years, and that has never been sensitive for me. Part of the job.
Nope, this was a Salt Lake City newspaper wanting to do a piece on . . . the elementary school flag football team I coached. They wanted to embed some of the fun videos we had made, and were intrigued that we found a way to have fun, help every player score, and also win games.
But when I got that call, all of a sudden, I’m hearing myself think all those “crazy” concerns that those reluctant spokespeople would spout to me in the past:
“Jim down the street is going to think I’m full of myself and that I called the paper to brag.”
“The other coaches are going to be out to get me because they’ll think I’m trying to get the spotlight.”
“What if the reporter is inadvertently insensitive to some of the kids who aren’t athletic and they end up feeling left out or looking bad?”
I know. It’s elementary school youth sports, for crying out loud. It’s not a big deal.
But that’s exactly my point – it’s not a big deal to other people, but it was to me. There didn’t seem to be anything to lose to an outside observer. But to me and the players I felt responsible for, there was. That feeling brought with it emotions I had to manage.
The reporter and his editor were cool. I just told them straight up that I appreciated their interest and would love to work with them, but I had to be assured that none of the kids would be portrayed in the slightest negative light, even accidentally. And that to ensure this, we would fact-check the piece together before it went live. I knew they might get kind of offended and back off doing the story, but was willing to accept that.
They agreed. Later, when the reporter emailed me to set up the fact-checking call, I did what I had told sources many times over the years “you can’t do.” I asked him to email me the draft before it went live. I insisted that I wouldn’t try to edit it, just fact-check it.
The reporter patiently explained that’s against their policy, but he would be happy to go over it with me on the phone. We did, and caught a couple misunderstandings.
Then I did something else I would have never let a source do in the past – I straight-up asked him to include the names of my assistant coaches. They had been left out, and although the reader wouldn’t miss them, it would have been unfair to all the hours these men had sacrificed. The reporter agreed.
And in the end, none of my concerns came to fruition. A few people in the neighborhood got a kick out of it and barely anyone else noticed. My rational mind probably knew this is what would happen all along. But that didn’t change the emotions I felt once my personal life was the subject of a news article.
My biggest takeaway is that I’ll be much more attentive to those kind of concerns from newsmakers going forward, especially if the line of questioning veers into their personal life.
And in cases like this, when the reporter has come to me, or needs my client as much or more than they need his story, I won’t hesitate. I’ll suggest or request anything that would help with accuracy and that might allay personal concerns my clients might have.
I know some media trainers who might cringe at this, but times are changing. Journalists can always say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. And if we aren’t comfortable with their approach, we can always decide not to participate and write a blog post instead 🙂