Public relations experts offer 10 ways to invite negative press with the consumer media and provide some alternative suggestions. The advice comes from: Jonathan Bernstein, of Bernstein Communications, in Monrovia, Calif., and Linda Martin, of Porter Novelli's office in Irvine, Calif., both of whom advise home builders; and Debra Hotaling, senior director of public relations at KB Home, in Los Angeles.
1. Clam up. Banish the words "no comment" from your lexicon. Instead, say, "I'd very much like to comment on this [lawsuit] as soon as I've read what's been filed," recommends Bernstein. Tell journalists that you want to respect their deadlines, he adds, but would appreciate their respecting your need to have sufficient information to make an informed response.
2. Deny and lie. In a recent mold case, the owner of a commercial building shut down the building without informing the tenants of the reasons why. They eventually found out when a disgruntled former tenant posted information on a Web site, in a way that was not kind to the builder. Get the truth out quickly.
3. Treat reporters like employees. A client once reprimanded a reporter when an article appeared that wasn't as positive, Martin recalls, as the client would have liked. "She sent a nasty e-mail, which of course could be forwarded. She was then surprised that the reporter didn't phone for comment on the next seven stories." Advise a reporter only if there is a factual inaccuracy, says Martin, and ask for a remedy, including a corrective article if necessary.
4. Assume you can wing the interview. Be well-prepared with your company's essential facts and policies before doing an interview. Never assume that the public knows your side of the story, or is even familiar with the basic facts of your company.
5. Choose your words loosely. Don't assume the reporter will edit out poorly chosen expressions. In one interview, a builder said: "Screw the city council," assuming the reporter wouldn't print it. He did. On sensitive issues, make clear to reporters which statements are for "background only" or "not for attribution."
6. Assume one message meets all needs. Company spokespeople need to be clear about the type of audiences the media are actually reaching and hone their message accordingly. "Building is very national and very local," notes KB's Hotaling. One way to begin is to ask the reporters about their audience, and discern their knowledge about the subject before answering their first question.
7. Withhold information from your own employees. Your employees can be your best publicists.
8. Link advertising to editorial content. Threaten to withhold ads if an article isn't slanted your way -- that will show them! Actually, such tactics can create an adversarial relationship where none existed.
9. Not blow your own horn. The press will write good things about you even if you don't tell them, right? Wrong.
10. Skimp on dedicated public relations staff or council. Many builders try to get by with tiny departments handling an array of investor, public, government, and community relations. Different skills are involved in preparing speeches, company reports, and publicity materials while dealing with unplanned community-relation flare-ups and a barrage of media inquiries. Experience matters. Expert communicators not only can help builders be prepared for emergencies but also can improve community and media relations.
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Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.