7 Big Mistakes Companies Make When Dealing with the Media

Posted on: 2013-04-03 in How To   |   Tagged: media pitch media relations

By Tom Maddocks, founder and course director at Media Training Associates.

Tom MaddocksIt is easy to get swept up in all the excitement about social media, while forgetting that for the majority of people, the traditional media outlets still exert the most influence.  If you can get a mention in a national newspaper or on a major TV channel, you can potentially influence hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people.  However, during many years working at the BBC and Channel 4 as a business journalist, I realised that many companies make simple mistakes that hamper their media impact, leading to many missed opportunities and sometimes negative coverage.  For my new book 'The M-Factor', I have put together my own list of the most frequent:

  • Firstly if you are seeking to raise your profile, you need the media more than they need you, so respond quickly to any media enquiries – far too many organisations do not realise that an hour or two can make a big difference.  If you take too long to get back to them, they will probably go to somebody else for comment.  Think about the key target publications that are most influential in your market and prioritise them.  If there is a big announcement, the radio and TV news channels will want a live response from somebody within a few minutes.
  • Companies are often too focused on their own messages, and try vainly to get journalists to be interested.  Better instead to think what the reporter's readers, viewers or listeners are actually interested in, and try to come up with something that fits the bill.  If you can come up with an interesting comment or view on a topic the publication is already writing about, you are likely to have much less of an uphill struggle to get them interested, assuming you have the right credibility in your sector.  In other words, don't be too self-promotional.
  • Often company spokespeople haven't really worked out what they want to get across, so they are too reactive when being interviewed.  So the reporter leads the conversation, and many of the points aren't made clearly enough.  Rehearse and practise your strongest points so they come over clearly and unambiguously.  Mistakes get made when you think you can wing it.
  • Small businesses often have just one owner-manager who would deal with any media enquiries, but larger organisations should have some backup, with at least a couple of well-media trained individuals who can step up and take any media opportunities when they come up.  Otherwise inevitably your key spokesperson is tied up/ill/on holiday when the big chance comes up to go on the Jeremy Vine show or BBC Breakfast.
  • Many interviews are with people who are seen by the media as 'subject experts'.  Whether it's flower arranging, mobile phone apps or eco-friendly buildings, there is always a need for people who appear to know what they are talking about, to explain complicated subjects in simple ways.  Why shouldn't one of them be you?   But far too many subject experts (academics are the worst) tend to waffle on without getting to the point. Radio and TV interviews in particular tend to be very short, so do not get bogged down in detail, otherwise you won't be invited back.
  • Inexperienced interviewees tend to get nervous, particularly if appearing on radio or television for the first time.  They try to answer each question as best they can, whether or not it is relevant.  By the end they often realise they have not said what they came to say.  So do not feel you have to slavishly follow the reporter's agenda – if you think a particular point is important, make sure you make it.
  • The final mistake on my list is the 'loose cannon' interviewee who says far more than they should, often just out of politeness because the reporter happened to ask.  New product plans or announcements, for instance, probably should not be made until you are ready – why give away too much information to your competitors?  Don't be defensive, but if necessary be willing to say 'there's not much more I can say on that at the moment, we haven't made a decision yet' or some such.
  • In the social media era, I might add an eighth big mistake – that is not appreciating the way social and traditional media can interact.  If you have customer complaints on Twitter or Facebook, they can be picked up by traditional media journalists and given considerably more traction.  This in turn will lead to further social media criticism if you don't handle it effectively.  Notice how often papers like the Daily Mail now use phrases such as 'critics took to Twitter to lash out at....'   Make sure it's not your organisation at the receiving end!

Tom Maddocks is Founder and Course Director of Media Training Associates, www.mediatrainingassociates.co.uk.  His new book The M-factor: media confidence for business leaders and managers, is available on Amazon.  More information at www.m-factorbook.co.uk

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The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by b2b pr specialist Heather Baker, founder TopLine Comms, an inbound marketingB2B content marketing agency and proud HubSpot partner agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say.  Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact her via email on [email protected].


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