Can you handle the headlines?

The importance of a media handling strategy

Stepping in to the shoes of a journalist last month was an interesting experience in many ways.

I’d been tasked with writing a specialist supplement for one of the industry trade magazines and, in the course of my research, I approached 10 companies (by email) to gain contributions for both the main editorial features and the news section.

Only four responded at all, one of which declined (their prerogative and no issue there). Of the three remaining companies, one had indicated their interest by email but then didn’t follow up. When I chased them by phone, the receptionist couldn’t tell me who (other than the MD) handled media enquiries and didn’t even take my details for someone to call me back – she just asked me to send another email which she “would circulate round to a few people” for a response.

Having been both an inhouse and freelance PR practitioner in the past, I was taken aback by this situation. In my experience, getting free editorial coverage was a gold-dust opportunity these days – especially for a specialist business.

The companies who didn’t respond, or failed to provide a spokesperson, missed a very valuable opportunity for free publicity and to position themselves as thought leaders in a respected trade publication, not to mention potentially losing out on future opportunities.

The two companies who responded properly both had an allocated person to handle media enquiries (one was external, one was internal) and these companies got heavily featured as a result – because they were responsive and provided useful, relevant information.

Now, imagine that I had been a news journalist seeking comment on a negative rumour or an incident relating to that company. Journalists should always offer right of reply, but if they can’t get hold of someone to respond to their enquiry then their duty is done. Unfortunately, though, if a company doesn’t respond, or doesn’t do so effectively, they have not taken the opportunity to give their view, or indeed influence the message. This can be hugely damaging.

Whether you have an inhouse marketing team or not, having a clear media handling strategy in place is critical – to help manage reputation and capture opportunities. Here are my top three tips on putting together a simple but effective media handling strategy.


  1. Select your spokespeople

Assess which people in your organisation are best qualified to handle media enquiries. You must make sure they are:

  • Suitably trained and experienced in dealing with the media
  • Confident dealing with difficult or sensitive requests as well as the positive opportunities.
  • Clear on what they should and should not say

Having more than one approved spokesperson is helpful to make sure there is always someone able to respond. If you don’t have suitable people internally then it’s worth appointing a PR contractor or agency to help field enquiries.


  1. Set the process

It is important to have a set process for responding to media enquiries – and although there are best practices in this area, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. When determining the right process for your organisation, you must consider a variety of factors including:

  • Who is the first point of contact for incoming enquiries
  • Who and where are the points of escalation if they can’t answer the enquiry?
  • Should different people handle different types of enquiry (perhaps you only want your senior team to respond to enquiries that might impact your reputation, for example).
  • Who should be informed of the enquiry and where should it be recorded for future reference?
  • Do you have a way to monitor for and capture any resulting media coverage?

Make sure you review your process periodically to check that it is still relevant and effective – and that you’ve accounted for anything that might have changed, including spokespeople leaving the organisation.


  1. Communicate the policy

Make sure everyone in your organisation understands your media policy and what they should do if a journalist approaches them. This is especially important for certain groups of employees including:

  • Front line staff (e.g. front of house, receptionists, those manning listed telephone numbers etc.)
  • Customer facing teams
  • Senior management

There are many other considerations, but these three key steps will put you in a good starting place to make sure you can respond effectively, whatever the media enquiry might be.

Don’t be the company who misses out on valuable media opportunities – or worse still, makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Get your media handling policy in place now to give yourself a better chance of controlling the external message about your company.

If you don’t have a media handling policy in place, or you think your existing process needs a review, we can offer help and advice – just get in touch for an initial consultation.

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