Nine essential must-know rules when dealing with the Australian media 

- April 10, 2024 4 MIN READ


Whether you’re a startup, small business or a large corporation, there are nine essential rules of engagement you must understand when working with the Australian media and securing coverage for your business, writes Kathryn Goater and Anthony Caruana, Co-CEO and Co-Founders of Media-Wize.

If you’re not willing to accept all of these, then PR and earned media is not for you. It is best to stick with advertising, sponsored content and marketing.  

1. Everything is on the record 

The golden rule is if you don’t want it to appear in print, then don’t say it. PRs and companies are unable to have changes made after a story is published. The only way to protect your reputation and brand is to ensure you’re happy to see anything you say in print. This is why practicing your messaging and learning interview techniques in advance is so important. This rule also applies to anything a journalist may potentially overhear you say, even when you may not realise they are listening. This includes at events, in airport lounges or in building lifts when a crisis may be unfolding in a business. 

2. The journalist controls how the story is told – not you 

You can influence and persuade but you cannot control how journalists will describe you or your company or tell your story. Journalists are turned off by overt sales and promotional messages. They roll their eyes at claims you are the biggest or best. Stick to the facts and make sure that anything you claim can be substantiated.  

3. Engaging public relations services does not guarantee media coverage 

 A common myth is that buying PR services guarantees media coverage or a certain nominated number of media clips. Beware if a PR or agency promises this as they cannot, unless you are buying sponsored content – which is a form of advertising. Media coverage earned on merit means you are newsworthy or have an expert opinion to share.  A PR with friends in the media still does not guarantee media coverage. What guarantees coverage is a journalist/media outlet that deems the story is worthy of publication – it remains their decision. Many PRs have great relationships with journalists, and this increases the chances that your media release or pitch will be considered. But ultimately it comes down to how newsworthy it is. Being friends does not mean you can pitch garbage and expect coverage.  

4. Do not request to see the interview questions in advance  

Don’t ask the journalist to see the interview questions in advance or request your PR team to do so, especially if you authorised the dispatch of a media release or pitch and the journalist is replying to you. If you insist on asking this question before you agree to talk to the journalist, then you run the risk of the journalist never wanting to work with you again. Remember a journalist doesn’t always know what they will ask you, it depends on how you answer the previous question. An interview is a conversation and has an organic flow. You might tell the journalist something that sparks their interest and as a result they will ask another question to learn more. The best strategy is to have your PR team provide you with the list of questions that are most likely based on their expert knowledge and prepare from that.  

5. Do not ask to check or approve the story or headline before publication

Don’t ask, or have your PR team ask, the journalist if you can see the story before print, or request edits or change the headline – they will say no. It is important to understand how the media works (independent editorial control) and focus on making the journalists’ life easier to increase chances of coverage.  

6. You cannot change the story after it is published, unless it is a factual error  

If the journalist spelled your name wrong, or the company name wrong or missed a zero on a number then that can be changed. But just because you don’t like something, or wish in hindsight you never said it, is not grounds for a change.   

7. An interview does not guarantee coverage 

Another common myth is thinking because you got an interview that will guarantee coverage. It still won’t, it remains the journalist’s decision if they got a strong enough story in the interview to enable them to write it. This is why media training and practicing how to come out punching with insightful and impactful, well worded quotes is so important. It increases the chances you will make the final cut.  

8. You cannot dictate when you want the story to be published  

 Sometimes journalists sit on information for days, weeks or months. Sometimes they hold it waiting for something topical to break that they can link it to for a wider context. Sometimes they want to talk to other industry experts for their opinions to incorporate. There are occasions where if you have been able to secure their agreement on an exclusive that is time sensitive around a certain announcement that you will be told in advance when the story will be live, but even then things can still shift if other breaking news means they decide to hold it back for longer.  

9. Don’t run an event and think journalists will attend

More than 7000 journalists have lost their jobs in a raft of major media cutbacks in Australia over the past 7 years. Those that remain are time poor and under more pressure than ever before. Most journalists get 100-300 emails a day with invites to events, media releases and pitches and at their best can only write 2-3 stories. This means they assess carefully what they attend and how necessary attendance is to get a story. Depending on the news cycle of the day and the newsworthiness of your event it is possible, but tough. A better strategy is to issue a media release to journalists, offer them interviews in advance of the event via phone and focus the event on customers, partners and prospects.  

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