Opinion: We must learn how to handle press relations

David Philpott, chief executive of the Kent Air Ambulance Trust

If politicians, fundamentalists and all sorts of other people have learned to make the most of the media, why is it that so many in our sector handle journalists with latex gloves and sterile tweezers?

I suspect it is an inherent fear that anything we might say will be twisted and distorted, so that when the story appears, it is splashed as a scandal in the red-tops. How vain that we should think ourselves that important!

Some organisations I know like to flirt with the media, but we all know how dangerous flirting can be. My approach is much more direct, since I believe that there needs to be a commitment from both sides.

To make the relationship with the media work, you have to spend time with journalists and broadcasters and - most of all - give them what they want. I regularly take journalists to lunch. The trust that develops from socialising in this way means that journalists often phone me an hour before the papers go to press asking if I have a story that they can use as a filler.

At the Kent Air Ambulance Trust, we calculate that we receive around £100,000 per month of free media exposure through local newspapers and specialist publications. We do not use a PR agency, but generate all of our press releases in-house. The key is to make a story out of everything.

A case in point is a recent donation of £28,000 from an elderly widow.

Our press release focused on an anonymous mystery donor from Rochester - not the amount. It was the bait that got the press phoning for more information about her. The media enquiries were all about how many other large donations we had had, what kind of people donate, how can our readers donate, and so on.

Put simply, journalists have a job to do - just like all of us. They are not on a mission to expose your organisation and wreck your life.

They have a deadline looming and probably have an editor breathing down their necks.

If you regularly give them the kind of well-written press releases they want, journalists will be indebted to you, and they will want to work with you in the future. A little cooperation goes a long way, and it means that they can leave the office on time and pick up the kids from the child-minder!

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