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Is Your Web Site Media Friendly?

Lynn Fenske

You've spent thousands of dollars to launch your Web site. It's a major component of your current communications strategy. But does it help or hinder one of your most important audiences - the media?

Unless you are a media relations specialist, it's easy to overlook what reporters, editors, researchers and broadcast producers require to gather news and information. Deadlines are brutal but the needs are pretty basic. Since they must work efficiently and expediently and mostly by telephone, what media people need first and foremost is a contact name and a telephone number.

When tackling a new story, journalists will start with its principal players and who they already know relevant to the story. Masters at networking, they have learned that people lead you to other people who can help tell the story. When additional research is required or facts need checking, then staff writers can turn to research assistants or librarians to assist in the search. Freelancers are left to do their own research. In each case the search begins in the same basic ways: checking out the Sources directory (in print or at www.sources.com), the phone book, the Internet.

Who in your organization is designated and trained to handle media inquiries and where can they be reached? While the Internet can be a very expensive medium for providing such information, if it is not readily available from your Web site chances are you'll risk missing the call. When the media is seeking your comment or opinion relative to their story and they can't reach you when they need to, they will call someone else equally equipped to comment, likely your competitor.

To create a media friendly Web site, here's what you need to consider:

  1. I'll restate the obvious. Include the names and telephone numbers of key personnel, particularly those assigned to handle media inquiries. And don't be sending anyone into voice-mail hell. If you depend upon voice mail to manage incoming calls, be sure to check messages regularly and return calls promptly, particularly those from the media. A journalist on deadline always needs to speak to humans, so be available.
  2. Publish E-mail addresses but only if you are willing to check messages regularly and reply expediently. Remember, media people need you urgently. They telephone first, resort to E-mail or the Internet second.
  3. If you provide a press room or media centre on your Web site, be certain the information is timely and up-to-date. While archival information about your organization can be helpful in some cases, it has limited value to a news story. A journalist's job is to find out what's happening today, not yesterday.
  4. If you have information on your Web site accessible only by accredited journalists then here's a really valuable piece of advice. Let journalists choose their own password. Or if you must assign them a password, then provide them the opportunity to change it to something convenient for them. This way, you are making it easier for journalists to use the same password(s) for access to different databases rather than have to work with and remember several different passwords, each of which works only with one particular database.

Media relations must be an integral part of any effective communications strategy. Don't try to hide from the media. More reporters are doing more of their own research as their story is being written. Be available. Be helpful. Return their calls. Don't rely on your Web site to try and hide an inability or unwillingness to handle media inquiries.

You really do want the media to call you and consider your personnel important contacts and resource people, particularly in times of crisis. With proper training and experience, your personnel can work with the media to provide clear images of what your organization is all about - in good times and in bad. As Michael Levine so aptly points out in the first paragraph of his book Guerilla P.R., "our civilization is utterly dominated by the force of media. After our own families, no influence holds greater sway in shaping the text of our being than do the media that cloak us like an electronic membrane". So stay media friendly, particularly on the Internet where more and more influence is taking place.

Lynn Fenske is a freelance writer specializing in communications and media relations.


This article originally appeared in The Sources HotLink, published by Sources and available online at www.hotlink.ca.

See also:
Getting the Most out of the Internet, Including Six Internet Fictions to Consider
Get the Internet working for you

 

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