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What is Media Relations?

By Britt Archer
Updated May 16, 2024
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Media relations is a division of a company or organization that handles contacts with the outside media, be they press releases, interviews, or stories about to break. The nature and structure of the division necessarily depends on the company at issue. In a small non-profit group, interactions with the media might be handled by someone who also has other functions, whereas in major multinational corporations the media team often includes dozens if not hundreds of employees. The basic goal is the same in all cases, though; namely, to manage the group’s presence and identity in print, broadcast, and online publications. Experts in this field often work with members of the press to shape the public’s image of the company, and may feed editors and producers selected facts and tidbits in order to influence the media’s larger impression. In most cases, the head of the company or its larger leadership team is responsible for setting media policies and goals. Professionals in this field often have some overlap with a company’s public relations division, though the tasks and central goals of each are usually quite different.

Broad Importance of Media Interactions

In most countries, the media plays an active role in bringing information about private companies to the public’s attention. Sometimes this happens as something of a natural consequence; a company that designs a revolutionary new product or drug, for instance, is likely to have the launch of that product covered in newspapers, often as a means of public information more than sales or advertising. Members of the media and press core often work on their own initiative, too, seeking out stories and writing or covering things that members of the public wouldn’t necessarily know about otherwise.

Media relations teams cover both angles. It’s usually the job of people in these departments to help provide media personnel with accurate and timely information, as well as to manage the information that is dispersed. In the case of good news that’s being shared, members of the media team often want to be sure that all the right facts and statistics are cited. If the news is more negative, they often go into crisis management mode and try to find ways to spin things so as to focus on the positive. Relations officers will often facilitate interviews with top executives and may arrange for things like press releases or public news conferences.

Types of Work Involved

There’s a lot of variety when it comes to the expertise of people in this field, as well as their work settings. Smaller companies often have just one person working with the media, but bigger businesses may have entire departments or teams. It’s also common for corporations to contract with professional media consulting firms, on either a long-term or per-project basis.

The field is often quite broad. Some relations experts deal primarily with print media, while others are more concerned with television and radio broadcasts. It’s also common to find online brand management experts working as liaisons with the media, either to mitigate information spread online or to extend its reach. The Internet-based media often operates differently, both in terms of timing and standards, than the more traditional sectors, so having someone with expertise in the online space assigned to this task is often in a company’s best interest.

Policymaking Process

A company's media policy is generally decided by the most senior members of the executive leadership, usually the Chief Executive Officer or other members of the board. The policy doesn't just affect those at the top of the corporate food chain, though, and for this reason executives often actively recruit the advice of media specialists before making any fixed decisions. Policies range from the minimal to the extreme, but most require employees or members of a group to speak with management before speaking to members of the press about company issues or events.

In most cases, the first step toward building effective media relations is to build a plan. This plan outlines the elements needed to build a relationship with local, regional and national news outlets. It also specifies how this will be done, the image the organization intends to portray, and other noteworthy events that may tie into the company's goals.

Potential Overlap with Public Relations

Media teams often work really closely with public relations officers, and in some ways their work is very similar; in others, though, it can be quite different. Both teams may be involved in disseminating information, and when it comes to crisis management they often work very closely with each other. The core of public relations is to interact with members of the public directly, though, whereas in media it’s to reach members of the press. The press may influence public opinion, of course, but there is usually a bit more distance.

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Discussion Comments
By animegal — On May 08, 2011

A media relations officer sounds like an interesting job to have. Can someone tell me what kind of schooling and experience you would need to get this kind of position?

By lonelygod — On May 06, 2011

I think hiring a good media relations person is essential for a business to be successful at promoting itself. Those in the field have a huge number of contacts and can make sure that your message and name reach the public through the media in an efficient and effective manner.

Has anyone ever had experience working under a media policy before?

I am curious to know what kind of rules would be put in place for employees.

By wander — On May 05, 2011

I remember working at a mall and when they were shooting a news story in the building they had a media relations worker out helping with the news crew.

Some of the employees were asked to speak on camera and they had to go through the media relations person for some coaching before they were allowed to speak on camera.

I find it interesting how even something as simple as a shopping mall wants to make sure it is portrayed in a certain light. I would say that media relation professionals are akin to a movie director, assigning roles and making sure everyone says their lines correctly.

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