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Columns - Guest Column: Public Relations

3 common media interactions and how to handle them.

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As a business owner, you want the world to know about your products and services. And today, there are more ways than ever for potential customers to discover your dispensary. One of the best ways to reach clients is through a thoughtfully managed media presence.

Working with the media doesn’t come naturally to most, but because the media is such a powerful communications tool, business owners need to be prepared for the next time a reporter calls—or you call them.

Here are tips on how to prepare for and handle three common media interactions.

1. Be Prepared When the Media Comes Knocking

Let’s say cannabis news breaks on pending legislation, banking or security, and the local news station contacts you or your staff for a comment. Now what?

First, you need a policy in place that instructs employees on how to handle such calls. Such a policy typically designates a single individual to handle all media inquiries. (This ensures that your dispensary is providing a consistent, thought-out message to all outlets.) This person should get all of the information from the reporter, including the story angle and reporter’s deadline.

While an interview request can be a great opportunity, there are several questions to ask yourself before rushing to say “yes.” For example: Are you an appropriate voice for this story? If the topic is a legal land-mine or you don’t like how the reporter is framing the story, it is perfectly acceptable to decline.

Ask the reporter ahead of time for the basic theme or topic on which she wants you to speak. You can even request to see the planned questions ahead of time, but not every media outlet will be willing to provide them.

Taped Interviews: For taped interviews, try to answer questions in complete sentences, or sound bites. If you do find yourself stumbling over an answer during a taping, you can ask to restate a response. (Of course, this isn’t an option for live television or radio interviews.) For taped segments, including the reporter’s question in your answer makes it more likely that your response can be used on air, and it also allows you to work in the name of your business. For example, if asked, “How long have you owned this dispensary?” your response should be, “I’ve owned Awesome Plant House for five years,” rather than simply stating, “Five years.”

Under no circumstances should you allow anyone to convince you to say anything you would not want to end up on television. Say only what you want to say and what you believe in.

To get comfortable handling tough questions, practice makes perfect. Watch how other business and political leaders respond to situations on cable or local news. Take note of what works and what doesn’t in how someone handles themselves under pressure.

Marketing Assets: One more asset to have at the ready is your own original photography (and video B-roll, even) that shows you, your dispensary, products and staff in the best possible light—literally. The more you can offer the press your own visuals, the more satisfied you will be with how the images work in the article. These photos can also be used for other communication needs, such as on your website, in social media and to accompany press releases. It is a good idea, however, to determine if the media outlet needs exclusive photos, and if so, provide images that you have not used or provided elsewhere.

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2. Initiate the Conversation

Sometimes you want to take the lead to get a story about your business published, or you want to offer support for a piece of legislation, such as home delivery or social use. There are several ways to share your insights and expertise, including calling your local news outlet and offering to speak on why this topic is important to you.

Write Your Own Story: Another option is writing an op-ed for your local newspaper or magazine, or favorite industry news source. This is an opportunity for you to take a thought-leadership position and to be proactive on issues you care about. Industry news outlets are interested in obtaining your insights on what your customers are saying and industry trends you are seeing.

3. React to Negative News Appropriately

Suppose your business shows up in a less-than-flattering way in a news story. How should you handle these situations?

Don’t hide; the story or negative review won’t disappear if you ignore it. In fact, if you don’t have a web presence, a negative news story or review could be the first thing potential customers find when researching your company online. It is more important than ever to be transparent in these situations. Have a response strategy prepared for addressing the issues head on.

Prepared Statement: Have a statement ready to provide when the media calls. If you don’t provide a response, you may be perceived as having something to hide. When drafting a statement, look at the situation you’re in and address it, both to the media and to stakeholders. Accept responsibility; if it is your company, at the end of the day, you are liable. The quicker you accept responsibility and address the key issues, the sooner you can control the narrative and potentially remedy the situation.

If an employee has done something that doesn’t live up to your company’s standards, make it clear what those standards are and what actions you are taking to address and remediate the situation. If something is wrong with a product, admit it, make it right with the customer and, again, clearly state the measures you are taking to address the problem and prevent it from recurring.

Even if you can’t fix the situation immediately, being responsive quickly shows that you are a company that cares about its customers and its reputation.

Last, be proactive with positive news. Create your own content with the engaging messages you want to get out into the world via press releases, videos and other media outreach. The more positive coverage you put out there, the more positively your brand will be received. CD

Shawna Seldon McGregor is a managing partner at Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency.