Media relations is like a BBQ

 Photo: istockphoto.com

Photo: istockphoto.com

Who doesn't love a good barbecue? The sizzle and smoke-infused goodness of your favorite meat on the grill. The tantalizing texture and flavor of grilled peppers, onions and buttered asparagus. And, of course, the palpable anticipation of family and friends as they await a meal, expertly cooked under the open sky.

Few summer activities can rival the awesomeness of a barbecue that goes according to plan. But you might be surprised at how often things don't go according to plan. The National Fire Protection Association says that from 2005 to 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 8,200 home fires involving grills, hibachis or barbecues. In 2009 alone, 17,700 people went to the emergency room because of injuries involving grills. And in December 2012, ESPN anchor Hannah Storm was seriously injured in a propane grill accident at her home, suffering second-degree burns on her chest and hands and first-degree burns to her face and neck.

While delivering a media training session a few weeks back (hmm, maybe I was getting hungry at the time), it struck me that barbecuing and media relations have a lot in common:

The promise is alluring

Many executives and managers will salivate at the prospect of a glowing media article about their company just as quickly as they will at the idea of a perfectly grilled hamburger. Let's face it...being covered by a media outlet in a positive light is good for business. It's good for search engine optimization. It's good for the ego. Overall, it can be a very appetizing prospect. And for that reason...

It's easy to get blinded by the end result

That flank steak is going to taste better if it's properly prepared...If it's marinaded in advance, grilled at just the right temperature for the right amount of time. Likewise, your media story will benefit from detailed, methodical preparation. Researching the issue. Preparing your content. Having credible, interesting statistics close at hand. Taking the time in advance to turn a complex idea into a catchy sound bite. You can't just slap an idea on the grill and hope it turns out well. A great media spokesperson, just like a great back yard chef, understands the process is just as important as the end result and allocates their time and effort accordingly.

Practice makes perfect  

I've been barbecuing for over 20 years now. But it's only in the last 10 years that I've really upped my game, learned some effective techniques for quality grilling/preparation and expanded my repertoire of meals that I can grill with a high degree of confidence that the outcome will be something I can be proud of. I feel sorry for those friends and family members who had to endure the experiments I cooked up in those early days. The same applies with media relations. Just as I wouldn't try grilling filet mignon for the first time when my future in-laws were coming over for dinner, I wouldn't want my first attempt at a media interview to be live on Channel 5. This is where media training comes in. Honing your messages. Practicing your delivery. Taking it to a new level and leaving the charred mistakes in the garbage (or the training room), where they belong, instead of having them on the dinner table (or posted online) for all to see.

Both command respect

Barbecuing and media relations can both be fun, worthwhile experiences. But overlook one detail or make one little error and things can go bad in a hurry. It's easy, when grilling, to forget that there's a large tank of extremely combustible material just inches below the cooking surface. Gas can pool and ignite. There are thousands of house fires each year caused by negligent barbecuing. A leaking hose or rusty tank can spell disaster in just a few seconds. Then there are the dangers of undercooked meat. The same goes with media relations: Saying something regrettable when the mic is on. Not taking the time to prepare answers for potentially tough questions. Spending valuable interview time talking about your competitors instead of your company. Putting your hand over the camera lens. Getting into your car and driving away mid-interview because you don't like where the interview is going. Walking away backwards for the same reason.

These are all real examples by the way...

The recipe for success

Whether you're grilling up some burgers on a hot summer's evening or sending out a news release to attract media coverage...you'll increase your odds of success by focusing on the process more than the end result, by realizing that greatness only comes with extensive practice and by approaching the endeavor with a healthy dose of respect.

Happy July 4th to our American friends and happy barbecuing this weekend!