I don’t have any problems sending news releases to reporters by e-mail. Every time you attend a conference or meeting on media relations these days that seems to be the preferred distribution. (Unless you are talking about timely disclosure announcements, etc.) But what about answering questions from reporters? I thought about that this morning while on the treadmill (way too cold, snowy and icy to be on the road). That situation came up last week in a story involving Kent State.
Bill Sledzik has the details on his Tough Sledding blog. I won’t rehash it here. But it’s fair to say the story was not favorable to the university or to the administration.
But here’s the point. When asked to comment on the story by Akron Beacon Journal reporter Carol Biliczky, the administration passed. Biliczky reported that the administration responded to her questions by e-mail. I’ve known Carol Biliczky for more than 20 years. We worked together at BFGoodrich before she moved to the Beacon Journal. Carol is an excellent reporter. She is fair. She does her homework. And she listens. So why not talk to her? And what are the long-term implications of responding to her via e-mail?
As best I can tell, there are four newspapers that routinely cover Kent State. The Daily Kent Stater, The Plain Dealer, The Record Courier and the Akron Beacon Journal. In our public relations classes we teach students (among other things) to be responsible and responsive when working with reporters. I don’t think the e-mail response to the Beacon Journal met either of those tests. And what happens tomorrow or next week when Kent State has a story it would like Carol Biliczky to consider? Well, it is about relationships – in the long run.
In saying this, I am not being critical of Kent State’s public relations professionals. They work hard, represent the university well and achieve a lot under sometimes challenging conditions. I know this because I spend part of my days working with them and also with students who work with our student-run public relations firm, Flash Communications. I don’t know who made the strategic decision about how to respond to the story. And it doesn’t matter.
Still, this is a learning opportunity for our public relations students. (And I hope at least some will become regular readers of this blog.) E-mail and media relations. Yeah, it works. And I’m sure there are times when reporters prefer getting e-mail answers to questions. But if you’re trying to avoid a real discussion with a reporter, then an e-mail reply seems to me to be the equivalent of a digital no comment. It sure doesn’t demonstrate that you are trying to be responsive or responsible – and forget about the relationship-building part.
Let me know what you think. You can post a comment – or, uh, send me an e-mail.