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What Aretha Teaches Us About Media Relations

Every once in a while, something appears on the internet that reminds me how grateful I am for this complex series of tubes. Without it, I might never have stumbled across a tale of intrigue, rivalry, and sending of shade via fax. So of course I instantly sent the link to nearly everyone I know. And now, I share it with you, dear reader.

Not because it’s hilarious, though it is. Not because it’s a fascinating glimpse into the rivalry between two soul legends, though it is. But because it is a perfect primer on how not to do media relations.

Aretha Franklin Resurrects 5-Year-Old Beef with Dionne Warwick Via Fax (Elle)

Aretha Blasts Dionne Warwick but She Declines to Fire Back (AP)

Of course, if you’re Aretha Franklin, you don’t have to know how to do media relations. All you need to do in this world is wake up and do whatever your Queen of Soul self feels like doing. Including sending a “lengthy fax” to the Associated Press to detail your five-year-old disagreement with fellow soul legend (and Psychic Friends Network host) Dionne Warwick.

But for us mere mortals who work with the media day in and day out, this story offers several helpful reminders.

  1. Consider timeliness. Unless you are Aretha Franklin throwing shade on Dionne Warwick, you have next to no chance of getting a five-year-old story picked up. Timeliness is key in identifying a news peg and pitching, so move quickly to improve your chances of coverage.


  1. Target your outlets. Had Ms. Franklin summoned me to her (unbelievably fabulous) office to ask for the Associated Press’ fax number, I would have gently suggested that we consider other outlets with more of an entertainment focus with which to share this story. Consider which outlets have the largest draw with the audience you’re trying to reach, as well as those that will help you tell you story in the most compelling way.


  1. Don’t fax things. Who faxes things? In all seriousness, take a moment to research the reporter you’re targeting in whatever media database you use. Most reporters are clear about their preferences and 99.7 percent of them prefer email. Reporters are upfront about whether or not they are open to follow-up phone calls. If I had a dollar for every reporter who has strongly discouraged follow-up phone calls, I could buy a very nice fax machine.


  1. It’s not always worth it. If you’re dealing with a story or a statement about you, your institution, or your leadership that isn’t entirely accurate or is being taken out of context, consider carefully whether its worth pushing back and, if so, how strongly you should push. Ms. Franklin’s five-years-later allegation of libel against Dionne Warwick certainly seems a bit late and more than a bit petty when you keep in mind that what she’s calling libel are statements about her attendance at a 2012 funeral and the nature of her relationship with Whitney Houston.


All this being said, I love this story, I love Aretha Franklin’s style and I love the (fictional) image of her walking into a Staples, dropping her fur coat, and demanding someone help her send a message to Dionne.


Stay golden, Ms. Franklin – and please don’t fax me.