How to Talk to Reporters Without Alienating Clients
Media relations is a wonderful tool for building exposure, especially for those who work in professional services, like accountants, lawyers and consultants. Getting your name and commentary in the press establishes credibility, because it comes with an implicit endorsement from the media outlet that you are a leading expert on the topic.
It also helps your company’s exposure through search rankings and, let’s be honest, it feels good to see your name in print (or online).
One of the most common excuses I hear from professional service firms not to engage with media is fear of alienating clients. The general concern is that someone from the firm will see something that diverges from their client’s position, and that client will angrily redirect all of their business elsewhere. It sounds a bit dramatic, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that some have lost – or nearly lost – clients over less.
Even if that sounds totally plausible to you, the fact is, there are plenty of safe ways to engage with reporters without risking client relationships. Here are a few examples:
1. Provide context or explanation without taking a stance. Often laws and policies that cause controversy on the public stage can be hard for non-experts to follow. If you have expertise on an issue that is at the center of the news media’s attention, but has your client base divided, offer to help reporters better understand the nuances of the issue and their various implications on those affected without taking a decisive stance on the issue. Even if you don't end up quoted in an article, you can build goodwill with reporters that will lead to future opportunities.
2. Offer commentary about trends. Provide perspective on issues that are trending in your area of expertise, like new tax proposals, legal cases under review or growing market forces that are likely to affect client decisions. What’s on the horizon that your client base should be aware of or thinking about and what about it do they need to know? Even just raising a reporter's attention to these issues can lead to good media coverage for you and your company.
3. Contribute original content. Write articles about relevant topics and submit them for publication to industry magazines and newsletters. These outlets are often understaffed and appreciate contributed articles from authors who have credibility on issues that matter to their readers. Most will edit for style and length, but once you agree on a topic, they leave the content to the writer. That means you can exclude anything you wouldn’t want your clients to read.
Finally, however you choose to engage with media, don’t underestimate the value of media training, which teaches you how to maintain control of any conversation and give powerful interviews while adhering to a refined or limited set of messages.
Working with reporters can be intimidating for those who haven’t done it, especially when your business requires you to show discretion, but don't let fear get in the way of your success. If you want to learn more about how to implement a media relations program without alienating your clients, contact us. We can help you design effective PR strategies that make sense for you and your business.