Why The "Little" Things Matter In Media Relations

Note: My firm signs a confidentiality agreement with all of its clients. This client generously granted permission for me to write this story despite that agreement.

My firm recently conducted a media training session with the senior executives of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). Among our trainees was the LPGA’s impressive Commissioner, Michael Whan.

In preparation for our session, I read dozens of news stories about the LPGA. One of those stories—an article by Jason Sobel that ran on ESPN.com in 2010—immediately caught my eye, because it teaches all media spokespersons a critical lesson.

 

LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan

 

Here’s how Sobel’s article began:

“There are a few things about new LPGA commissioner Michael Whan that struck me as noteworthy upon the first time I interviewed him:

  • He makes the call. Literally. There is no office assistant or lackey who phones for Mr. Whan, then puts you on hold while the commish gets around to talking. He punches the buttons all by himself, which is momentous for its opposition to others in such positions.
  • It’s never “Mr. Whan.” In fact, it’s not even “Michael.” He instead introduces himself simply as “Mike.” Again, that may not sound like much, but it’s a personal touch others reserve only for the most informal moments.
  • He says thank you. Not at the end of conversations, which is pretty standard. No, he actually sends an e-mail thanking the interviewer later that day. I can count on one hand the number of times that’s happened over the years.”

Whan impressed the interviewer before the “official” interview even began simply by placing the call directly. That “small” thing gave Sobel a positive impression of the Commissioner from the very start, influencing not only the tone of the article, but becoming the article’s lead.

CEOs and executives should learn from Whan’s example. While they’re at it, they should also keep in mind that speaker phones can also rub reporters the wrong way, since they can suggest that the executive is far too important to actually pick up the phone (plus, the poorer audio places a barrier between interviewer and interviewee).

Whan’s humility—introducing himself as “Mike” instead of “Michael”—also made a strong impression on the reporter. Mike is as friendly and accessible in person—and despite his humility, there’s no doubting that he’s the big boss. But it does leave a strong impression of a man who is customer-, fan-, and audience-focused rather than self-focused.

Finally, there was his thank you. In addition to being extraordinarily polite, sending a post-interview “thank you” note offers spokespersons a final opportunity to restate their most important messages. Plus, if they forgot to say something during the interview, the post-interview email can be a wonderful opportunity to make that final point.

These points may all seem obvious, but as Mr. Sobel pointed out, they’re also rarely used. His article serves as a wonderful reminder that sometimes, media relations is about the “little” things that far too many people neglect. 

PR folks: What “little” things do you do to improve your relationships with reporters?

Reporters: What “little” things do you appreciate from PR folks?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.