Five lessons from my media relations experience


The work of a Public Relations professional involves among others promoting understanding between and among different stakeholders. This involves reaching a variety of constituents with information. The media remain key to achieving this.

No PR campaign can be effective without involvement of the media.  Most PR departments of organisations as well as PR Agencies thus assign Media Relations Officers with the primary responsibility of building and managing relations with the media.

Current Ghanaian Media Landscape 

Ghana currently has a very saturated and vibrant media space, with all of the agencies going after the same sources of advertisement to meet their commercial needs among others. News stories that the media go after are largely political in nature. Social issues tend to receive secondary attention from the media. While the media exist to inform and entertain, their commercial interests also need to be met to enable them achieve this primary responsibility.

Subscriptions alone do not enable the media to cover their commercial needs. Corporate advertising contributes a lot to realising media commercial needs. Thus, Ghanaian media require payment from businesses in exchange for print space and airtime. The media space’s expansion in Ghana over time has meant that corporate advertising spend is having to be spread very thin. The media are therefore having to be deliberate about ensuring that they have the resources to survive – and they have therefore become extremely commercial. The media have become particular about editorial material whose content comes across as advertorial in nature. They are therefore very quick to spot the fine line between commercial pieces and news stories.

The years of media freebies are over, with media managers arguing that the media have to survive – fuel their operations and equip themselves to remain relevant, hence the need to be commercially inclined.

Media and Business communication needs

Media and businesses depend on each other for survival. Media channels serve as critical avenues through which businesses reach their audiences. Businesses remain important sources of information to fill media pages and obtain resources for media operations. Thus, businesses and media depend on each other to meet their commercial goals.  While most businesses are dependent on the media, they are also extremely careful about their media spend. The media, on the other hand, equally need business media spend to remain profitable.

As advertising becomes more and more expensive, businesses are spending less on advertising and employing the use of press releases which are now structured to be advertorial in nature.  In recent times, this situation has become one of the main headaches of the media – and their reaction is to not publish such press releases. The media are requiring adverts from businesses to publish their press releases.

The other dilemma faced by the media is that some media houses give such press releases wide publicity; meaning the media houses which refuse to publish them miss out on some public attention, and possibly readership.

The current unspoken message from the media seems to be, “If you do not do business with us, then be prepared to pay for advertising rates in respect of your press releases sent to us”.

Digital Communications 

Some businesses also seem to be of the view that using digital media saves them from having to spend on traditional media. They even seem to believe that a Media Relations professional is not required in respect of social media communication. With the advent of digital media, therefore, many organisations no longer attach any importance to the media relations role. They are of the view that media relations have nothing to do with digital media but is more associated with Traditional media.

They argue, “Why waste money in building relationships with the media, when you can use the same resources to enhance your brand reputation with a wider, unknown audience that does not need relationship building?” My advice is that although digital communication is essential and has gained roots, you relegate/neglect Media Relations at your own risk.

Media Relations 

Those of us with years of experience working in the media believe that media relations   remain critical for every business. The orientation that the Media Relations role is no longer required in most cases comes from a limited or inaccurate understanding of the Media Relations professional’s role. The Media Relations person is often wrongly seen as one who uses his relationships in the media to get news published for organisations, or helps to ‘do damage control’ in crisis situations.

Another wrong perception of the Media Relations person is that they organise payment of ‘soli’ to the media.  Media Relations is a key component of the Public Relations function, with important strategic responsibilities – which include building and maintaining enduring relationships with all media channels in a sustained manner for mutual benefit. Thus, delivery of the product/service-message requires a planned and sustained effort to create and maintain goodwill with media personnel and organisations.

My Experience

Through my 15 years of practice as a journalist and Media Relations consultant, I have learnt some lessons I deem essential to becoming a good Media Relations professional. I have summarised those lessons in 5 simple thematic areas.

Be a friend

I have learnt to have a relationship with my media friends that transcends business hours. The traditional hours of 8am to 5pm are not enough if you want to establish a proper relationship that will last years. Relationships are first and foremost the basis for friendship. Be their friend. Call up and check on your media friends, hang out with them; sympathise and enjoy with them.

Have a Plan

Have a plan. You cannot succeed without a well-written comprehensive plan, spelling out what you want to do. Your plan must contain basic but essential information: like who is it that you want to engage, when do you want to engage them, how often do you want to engage them, and what form should the engagement take?

Earn Trust 

To be able to establish and maintain a good relationship with the media, you must first earn their trust and confidence. Be truthful. Your word must be your honour. Do not be dishonest.

Have a budget

The reason why people shun Media Relations is that it requires a dedicated budget. There is no free lunch.  Resources need to be assigned for maintaining the channels through which you communicate with valued stakeholders. The cost of handling a crisis is much more expensive than maintaining a good relationship with the media, such that you can work with them in good times and difficult times.  Have a dedicated budget, even when it hurts the organisation most.

Be Civil

Please endeavour to be civil when dealing with media friends. Be polite, kind – but firm. In situations of misunderstanding, keep a calm demeanour and composure. Be careful how you handle ‘paparazzis’.  The self-styled journalists will gate-crash your events with a self-entitlement attitude. Remain resolute and stick to your list of invitees, but be polite in your handling of uninvited media personnel   Remember that the paparazzi you treat with disdain today may be the one assigned to your programme when they join a media house you invite to a programme.


In conclusion, Media Relations require expertise and attention on the part of the practitioner. Every organisation needs to take media relations seriously. If you think it’s expensive, wait till a crisis hit your organisation.

About the Author

Bernard is a consummate communications professional with Media Relations as his speciality. He is an account lead with Media plug, a Media Relations Consultancy that specialises in media-buying, stakeholder management, media-intelligence and event management.   

Email:[email protected]   Contact: 0244445380

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