As a highly sought-after media RD or consumer influencer, you’ll likely be presented with paid opportunities from industry clients. When taking advantage of these opportunities, there are a few unspoken rules that will protect your credibility, your client and the relationship, the consumer, and, importantly, our profession. The following are some of the many guidelines to keep in mind:
- Research all messages. Don’t take someone else’s word; you’re the expert. Review the data yourself, understand the mechanisms and details, see what health advocacy organizations are saying, and ask questions if anything is unclear.
- Don’t denigrate. It’s not uncommon for a product to be marketed as “better than X.” But, as RDs, taking a stand against another healthful food to make a competitive point could further confuse the consumer and affect your credibility. We don’t want to insult an apple to make an orange look good.
- Disclose financial relationships. If you receive an honorarium or compensation to deliver a message for a brand or food category, disclose it. If you’re blogging or posting, say that you were happy to receive compensation for your time. Broadcast: “I love this product so much; they’re a client of mine.” You don’t have to get into the details of your relationship, but disclose that you’re actually “going steady” in one way or another.
- Know when to say no. Many RDs are established freelance contributors or staff members of publications or TV networks. If you work in this arena and are being paid for your work by the publication, it gets a little tricky if you also receive funding from an industry for a story you’re covering. Simple solution: Talk to your editor. Disclose your financial relationships. You may decide not to accept industry support for your paid work—branded or not.
- Remember all foods fit. Think carefully about exclusivity clauses and consider when you need to push back when coming to an agreement with clients. It makes sense that you wouldn’t be paid to spread the word about more than one type of nut (for example) or competing brands, but make sure clients understand you may recognize the goodness of other nuts in your work as well. Again, if you work for apples, you can still value (and eat) oranges—you’re an RD, after all.
- Know that messages matter. Companies carefully craft brand messages based on scientific data and regulatory recommendations. They want to ensure they’re conveying accurate information about their products. So when you’re in the planning stages and you’re in agreement on messages, stick to them when you go to print, post, or speak.
- Avoid surprises. Whenever you’re working with companies, give them a complete run-down of what you’re doing—theme, description, research covered, messages, images, and any other foods you’ll be discussing. Nobody likes surprises, unless there’s a party involved.
- Don’t get blindsided. This is especially important for a live interview. Ask clients if they have Q&As for you to review. Discuss specific issues or questions that could arise and how you will address them.
- Be a fan. Working with clients that you truly believe in will create a smoother relationship for both of you. Conveying messages will be easier, more credible, and, ultimately, better for consumers because you really mean what you say.
There are many things media RDs have to consider when developing and navigating industry relationships. We’ve only scratched the surface. Let me know what other tips you may have by leaving a comment.
— Jenna A. Bell, Phd, RD, is senior vice president and director of Food & Wellness at Pollock Communications, a food, health, and wellness public relations agency in New York City.