Tips for Working With News Media

A working relationship with your local media outlets can be a valuable resource. Learn how to build relationships and a media network.

Tips for Working With News Media

News media outlets don't know everything that's going on in the coverage area. Learn who is the news director or newsroom manager, contact them to explain what you're hosting, and invite them to your event — especially if it involves presentations to law enforcement or military units or members.(Photo: Michael D. Faw)

While many firearms retailers hold most media and news outlets in disdain these days because of their heavily slanted views against firearms and glaringly jaded reports on the firearms industry, it can be rewarding for your business to work with local media.

A working relationship with your local media outlets — newspapers, TV, cable channels, radio, regional magazines and others — can be a valuable resource in calling attention to your range or store and the many services you offer your members, community and region. You should start building your media networks now.

First, remember that building a working relationship takes time, and you will need to make an effort. To develop the trust and bridge the network, invite media members to cover the major public events your range or shop may host. Don’t extend an invite because of a red-hot sale, but do invite media to events that put you in front as a community resource, such as providing personal protection classes for women, family focused events or basic firearm safety classes for kids. Hosting a hunter education course or similar programs could also warrant coverage. 

There are also the special occasions that make great stories and pull media to your front door, such as couples coming for a Valentine’s or date night specials. Be creative in your angle for the special events and make a pitch to media accordingly.

Media could also be invited to your range or store for a basic familiarity tour. Be certain to invite them also when having an open house for your neighbors or customers — or if you host a community sight-in day before hunting season opens. This further establishes that you are part of the community and a valuable resource. 

Of course, there are other stories to be told that promote the business angle, such as additions of new ranges, a move to a new state-of-the-art facility and the grand re-opening or offering a new line of high-demand firearms or customer services such as cleaning or appraisals. Becoming the state’s first dealer with a unique firearm sales display could also be news. In the event that civic groups such as Boy Scouts come to your range or shop to earn merit badges or do a fundraiser, remember to invite the media for special coverage.

Believe it or not, most local media outlets from radio and TV to newspapers are looking for something to write about — the news. You can find these openings and use them to your advantage.

It’s important to note the gray area some news outlets push. Like you, hometown newspapers and local magazines and radios survive by selling advertisements. If you are already advertising there, you have an opening. If your big event needs attention, consider advertising but also ask about any coverage options.

Is it a Story?

Stories have many levels that can make it of interest to media channels and bring media to your business, so plan accordingly. Generally, you will need to give at least a 30-day notice before an event. Key information, such as having the largest or oldest range or most club members in the state, should also be mentioned. Remember, you don’t want to only be the center of attention when there’s bad news about guns in the mass media, you do want to project a positive image and let the media help move this message when business is calm. Work to develop that network with local media that gives you the positive image.

Your pitch to media should have a strong central message, something a wide base of viewers, listeners or readers would like to hear or read about. Thus, some events could go in the sports section of a paper or be reported in the business part of a nightly news broadcast. There are also community pages and bulletin boards, and each may have a different editor or writer covering that segment.

Prepare to Interview 

Before any media member arrives on your doorstep for an interview or to cover an event, take a moment and write down three key points that you wish to make during the visit. Consider answering the basic reporter questions: who, what, when, where and why. Think also about possible questions from a media member — and what your answers will be. Remember to speak clearly, take your time in responding to questions, and be very clear and accurate when using numbers and statistics. It’s important to remember there are sometimes folks who want to fact check those numbers, so mention numbers and stats infrequently. 

If a media member simply calls or emails you for information or a quote, take your time and develop a positive statement. It’s OK to take a phone number and call the person back with an answer. Remember, however, that media members and their outlets often work on tight deadlines. When you do give a quote or provide information, there is very little chance you can ever preview a story or article and make corrections or additions, so plan ahead.

Also, be prepared for the tone of any interview to suddenly change, and then you could be led to answer questions that are not related to your business or interests, such as school shootings or mass murders. It's best to completely avoid those topics. Don’t provide a “no comment” statement but steer the conversation back to points you want to cover. If you sponsor a school shooting team, or host tournaments such as the NRA’s Youth Hunter Education Challenge, point those out as positive youth events. Mention any work or sponsorship of youth groups also.

It’s key to remember that nothing is “off the record” with media, and you could be taped — without your knowledge — from the moment the media person or crew arrives. Even if they show up at your business without prior plans or requests, be positive, calm and show courtesy since you and your staff are now representing all the shooting sports community. Put your best foot forward.

When speaking with media and giving interviews, avoid the common “uhs” and “ahs” to sound more professional. Remember, a press visit is your chance to get your range or shop’s story told, and to do positive outreach in your community and region. Avoid becoming defensive or engaging in an argument, and don’t expand on answers to trip questions when a simple yes or no makes the point. In all media channels, remember that someone watching or reading could become your next star customer, so speak with serving those customers in mind. 

If a reporter seems intently focused on a negative slant about firearms and asks negative, narrow focused questions, then work to overcome that negative slant and speak about the positive aspects in firearms and shooting. Comments about hours of wholesome recreation, personal skill building, family bonding and a healthy lifestyle when hunting (for example, America needs more exercise and healthy/organic eating habits according to doctors and hunting provides those) drive positive messages. The conservation message and how hunting licenses sales helps wildlife is also a great story to deliver. Most conservation programs are supported through excise taxes on firearms and ammunition, and the products on your store’s shelves serve the public’s interest when a purchase is made. Knowing what to say is often a result of being prepared.

Being prepared can make the media member’s job easier and again helps you build that network and become a resource they return to use. Also, pick an area of your shop or range that makes a good impression to hold the interview. Avoid cluttered backgrounds or the range where constant loud noise will ruin the opportunity.

If you have a gun club, consider establishing a Public Relations Committee. This increases the chance someone knows a media member — and can begin the effort to work with that media member. To be more professional, and again to help the media member tell a positive story, you could also prepare a fact sheet about your range, services, outreach programs, classes offered, success stories, etc. Consider mailing such a list to media members you would like to work with and extend an invitation. Media members should also receive newsletters you send to clients and customers, so they stay informed.

Wow ’Em with Words

In the excitement of an unexpected media visit, take a deep breath, relax and don’t be rushed into answers. Take your time, think carefully and speak intelligently. As a rule, don’t say anything you would not utter in a local church. If you don’t know details about a local case or about local ordinances and laws, simply state that you do not know but will find the answer and get back to them. Always avoid comments on lawsuits and shootings.

If asked about machine guns, assault rifles and the likes, use your expert knowledge to accurately inform the public about firearms. Also, use the correct words when talking about firearms (not weapons). Help the media get their terminology correct. 

In addition to contacting media about story ideas and to cover events, you can also invite media members to the range to shoot and learn about firearms. Some may enjoy the experience, you help increase their firearms knowledge so they can report accurately, and some may become great customers.

Media outreach and the resulting coverage are often what you make them — and the time and effort you invest in these can pay great dividends.


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