When you think of public relations, you probably picture a lengthy, flattering New York Times feature with a pithy headline and a well-lit portrait of you splashed on the front page. Even if you know better and are well acquainted with the unglamorous nuts and bolts of executing a campaign, that’s the pinnacle, right? Anyone can dream.

Most people know this kind of placement is rare, and they manage their own expectations accordingly. (Some don’t, and that’s fodder for another blog.) But almost everyone takes for granted that they want that outcome. It’s intuitive — of course you want a big feature story. That’s what aiming for the stars looks like.

The truth is, it’s risky to visit outer space, both in real life and in metaphor. While most companies believe they want that spotlight, they often lack a full understanding of the risks involved. The process is time-consuming and labor-intensive, and it requires a narrow tightrope walk to avoid a negative or undesirable end result.

By their nature, features are meant to be fully considered articles concerning a company’s values, partnerships, successes — and yes, failures. That’s going to be a particular focus for any media organization trying to tell a good story, and that framing can fall far outside your control. Companies should assume that a reporter will not only speak with sanctioned spokespeople, but current and former clients, partners and possibly former employees. I’ve even seen a reporter engage with a CEO’s ex-wife to gain additional color. That client didn’t end up loving that profile.

With so many variables in play, the headline risk for a company feature is exponentially greater than any other media engagement. Before pursuing or moving forward with an opportunity, you must consult with your public relations counsel to properly analyze the risks and rewards of having a journalist look under the hood.

After an assessment is made, if the decision is to move forward, consider implementing the following guidelines:

 

  • Set appropriate ground rules with the reporter as to how and when they engage with the company as early as possible.

 

  • Decide if you want to point the reporter in the direction of sympathetic clients and partners, in order to further shape the story.

 

  • Get ready to contextualize any potential negatives and failures within the narrative you hope to communicate.

 

Of course, if you could guarantee that glowing piece in the Times, by all means. But there’s plenty of brand building to be done on planet earth that doesn’t risk your entire reputation.

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