Is There Such a Thing as Free PR or Is It a Can of Worms Best Left Unopened?

Everywhere I turn it seems that people are offering new and improved ways to get free publicity, but I wonder how many of the people that take up doing their own PR really understand how the media works and what it is that they may be putting themselves up for? After all, the hand that feeds sometimes also bites as Max Markson and Deni Hines recently found out during the season of Celebrity Apprentice.

So lets take the blinkers off and have an open and honest look at what may go wrong if you seek out the media for some free PR opportunities.

Firstly if you are interviewed by a journalist be prepared that:

1. They may report the facts incorrectly. They don’t know you like you know you. They will listen and hear through their own filters. On several occasions now I have been in the local newspapers and on EVERY occasion my story has been converted into “a story” that is similar but has “made up” or “twisted” components that make it more newsworthy. Now a few minor errors probably doesn’t mean much to most people, except when those errors affect other people like your family, customers or associated relationships. In my case, the first article made it onto the front page of a large community newspaper that was distributed in two areas and in that article, which was given at the start of a separation from my husband when I was launching a positive women’s association, they said that my husband had deserted me and my four children, when the facts were that I had left him. Further, many of our friends didn’t know about the separation, which was not central to the story anyway, so there was some concerns from friends when they learned through the media about our situation. My husband, understandably, was upset by the article because it made him look like he was negligent in his responsibilities, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Fortunately, we are happily back together and have been for a number of years now, but when approached to print a retraction we were told they had represented the story as it was shared with them so didn’t feel they had to retract anything. I put that one down to a good learning experience for me.

2. They may choose to print or air only a small portion of what you say, which in effect misrepresents you. I recently gave a radio interview and what made it to air was only a fraction of the interview and it cut into the most heated part of the discussion but left out all the supporting information that gave the argument balance. This is particuarly important if you are an expert, weighing into a debate on a hot topic in your field. You have no control over what makes it to air or what makes it into print. So the potential for misrepresentation is huge and the control of what actually does go public is outside of your control completely. So there may be a potentially high risk involved if not managed wisely.

Another example of this is a friend of mine, Janine Mison from Real Women Australia had been interviewed about body image stuff and that interview went to air. A considerable time later another piece on a similar but more controversial topic went to air and they had sliced a piece from her interview into that program to validate their argument, but misrepresenting Janine’s viewpoint, which is way more balanced than portrayed. This meant that Janine then had to try and distance herself from this by putting out PR statements letting the general public know that the footage was used without permission and misrepresented her business. A PR nightmare that had to be managed well.

3. They may not use discretion in reporting and you may be guilty by association. When I was doing a forum recently one of the speakers that I was sharing a platform with was interviewed by a newspaper and she said some things in the interview that used expletives in trying to get her message across. She was being extreme for shock value. There was no way that she ever thought they would use those words spoken at that interview in the newspaper, but how mistaken she was. That newspaper printer her verbatim. That story ran side by side with three other women’s stories who were also speaking at that same event, so all were “tarred with the same brush”, so to speak. I was very embarrassed by the reporting and consequently did not share the article with anyone I knew, which was a shame because the whole purpose of contacting the newspaper was to garnish some free advertising for the event.

In closing, I am not saying that every journalist is looking to misrepresent you. In my role with many of my clients I am constantly seeking media opportunities to help them to get the news out about their products or services with fantastic outcomes and I have friends who have also had some brilliant opportunities because their story got taken up by a popular Radio or TV segment. But if we are very honest about the media and the role of journalists, they are paid to find newsworthy stories and to report what they find as sensationally as they can, so you can’t blame them for doing their job well and certainly there are as many ethical journalists out there and as unethical ones.

My point is that anything FREE usually comes at a cost and you need to risk manage any contact you have with the media. There is never a moment when you can let down your guard and just speak openly because you may be quoted directly at any time. So be wise about how you approach this opportunity.
So my advice is:

  1. Be selective about what you put out to media.
  2. Ask to see any copy, audio or video footage before it goes to air or print where possible.
  3. Be careful about what you give authorisation to – if you say they can use something today, it may well mean if they want to re-use it tomorrow that they can.
  4. Have a Risk Management strategy in place in case something does go pear-shaped and you need to manage the PR you are getting.

I hope this helps you to navigate the minefield that PR can be and I’d love to hear your stories about your media experiences, both positive and negative, so we can continue to learn together on this topic. I’m also available to work with you in your business to strategise how you can increase your business presence.

Guest Writer – Hayley Solich

Strategic Thinker, Public Speaker and Business Consultant, Hayley Solich is CEO of The Creaticians, a Perth-based PR & Branding business that specialises in assisting new and established businesses to launch create and launch new products or services. Hayley daily juggles the competing demands of her businesss, a large family, her not-for-profit community association that she founded in 2007, Women Can International Inc and finding time for her vast network of friends. Hayley is often described as simply inspirational

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