Media relations: Take the rough with the smooth
Inspiration for our latest blog this month comes from Simon English, financial editor at the Evening Standard writing for Roxhill.
His recent article, A doomed PR tactic, reminded me how, despite the myriad of so-called communications specialists in government, they often get it so spectacularly wrong.
English wrote about Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s visit to Rwanda, accompanied by “friendly” journalists only. The chosen few were: The Times, Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph and GB News.
There was no room on the plane for The Independent, Mirror, Guardian or BBC.
Clearly this was an attempt to punish those outlets not in support of the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, and to secure only positive coverage. But, as English pointed out, social media was out in force to hold the government to account.
Unsurprisingly, The Guardian’s coverage of the trip was negative, no less so because of the lack of invite.
Whichever way you look at this, it was a bad tactic. Regardless of wherever I have worked – in-house or agency – playing the media off against one another is a dangerous game, worse still is attempting to remove yourself from any scrutiny from media you deem unsupportive.
I admit that working in legal PR, there are some journalists I prefer to deal with over others, but ultimately part of the role of a PR consultant is communicating to all relevant audiences. The readers of The Independent, Mirror, Guardian and viewers of the BBC have as much right to hear first-hand about the Home Secretary’s trip as do the readers of The Times, Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph and GB News.
Of course, that’s different from offering a journalist an exclusive in return for more in-depth coverage which we do from time to time, but to try to divide and conquer in this way is a cynical attempt to minimise criticism.
It also sets a precedent for mistrust between subject and media. Any seasoned PR person will know that any attempt to evade, block or divert the media is counterproductive. If you look as if you have something to hide, the media will work hard to make life uncomfortable.
Simon English gave a great example of how both an energy company and a supermarket barred some sector journalists from a media dinner because they didn’t like some of the stories they had written. Unsurprisingly, it backfired because other journalists decided they wouldn’t go to the dinners either, one of them was even cancelled. Not least because those journalists who were deemed acceptable to attend would have looked like mouthpieces for the organisation
Those who seek to court the media in the good times, need to accept it is a two-way street and be open enough to respond openly and robustly in more challenging times