Thursday, April 21, 2011

Don't Take It Personally

A few days ago, I posted a story about how newsmakers tend to freeze out reporters who don’t report things exactly the way they like it.  Of course, it is not unusual for politicians, corporate heads, religious leaders and other newsmakers to be a little thin-skinned in the face of bad press, but the worst thing their press representatives can do is to take any bad story personally.

I have worked as a journalist and a communications professional for more than three decades.  Whenever I have directed an organization’s communications effort, I did my best to ensure that the communications department’s relationship with the press was based on accessibility, mutual respect and trust.  That was not always easy because some of the newsmakers for whom I worked had a definite disdain for the media.

Even though I had a positive philosophy about dealing with the media, it doesn’t mean that everything went smoothly.  There were many times I had heated discussions with reporters.  A few times the discussions even accelerated into shouting matches.  The key element, however, was that neither the reporter nor I took the discussion personally.  We both understood that we had our jobs to do, and the next time we talked to each other, it was as if the heated discussion never took place.  Each story was a new story, not to be affected by the tone of the previous discussion.

The overwhelming majority of media people with whom I have worked are good, decent people just trying to get the story as accurately as possible.  If I didn’t help them, I knew there was no chance that the organization I represented was going to get a fair shake.  Even if I did help them, the story didn’t always turn out the way I wished it would have, but that’s part of life.  Media people are going to give an opposing point of view, not because they want to embarrass the press representative or the organization that person represents but because they want to balance the story.

For the most part, I have had good relationships with the media wherever I have worked.  The number one reason was that I didn’t take the unfavorable stories personally and kept working with reporters in a positive way no matter the outcome.  Doing so often led to very positive stories on the organizations I represented because reporters favorably remember those press representatives who were accessible and respectful during the reporting of difficult issues and events.

After leaving a few organizations, I have unfortunately noticed that their relationships with the press have deteriorated.  In one situation, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the organization’s relationship with the media would be now characterized as one of fear, loathing and mistrust.  A contributing factor is that some communications professionals take everything personally and hold grudges against those in the media who don’t report exactly the way the organization wants it done.  The sad thing is that those communications professionals are not only alienating the media, they are doing a tremendous disservice to the organizations they represent. 

Being adversarial is one thing, being hostile takes it to another level that almost ensures bad press.  More importantly for the public, the truth loses out.

To those communications professional who take things personally and hold grudges, you are in the wrong line of work.  You should find something else to do for a living.

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