A news reporter has called you for an answer or comment on something relating to you personally, your business or your organization. Do you panic? Do you have a program, project or community concern to communicate? Speaking with the news media can be your most efficient and cost-effective way to reach an audience.
Being a prepared and effective media spokesman is a tremendous professional asset. How do you achieve that? Do you really need to spend thousands of dollars on media training workshops or individual coaching? I don’t think so. I believe that there are 10 basic rules you must follow to successfully deal with the news media. Let’s discuss a few of the key principles.
Many people fear dealing with the news media, but doing so may be essential to the success of your business or organization. You don’t need to be afraid of negative or challenging questions. With some basic knowledge you can respond effectively. The more you know about dealing with reporters, the less trepidation you’ll have about doing so.
Preparation is one key to successfully conveying your position. There really are ways you can be prepared for that unexpected media call. If you’re selling a story, preparation is essential. You need to know the facts and have data or anecdotal information to back them up. With basic preparation, you can frequently anticipate questions before they are asked.
Be articulate and concise in your responses to media questions. Remember that reporters are always looking for “sound bites”, short, snappy quotes which will draw attention to their story. The story is what it’s all about. Successful reporters get their stories in print or on the air. Conflict is often the basis of a story but there are ways to deal with it. And the more you can further a good story and in so doing help the reporter, the better your relationship with that reporter will be on an ongoing basis.
Remember that honesty is essential in dealing with the news media. As today’s top stories illustrate, lies will almost always come to light. Caught lying, you destroy your credibility with reporters and that will likely hurt you in the future. If you continue to deny lying, you prolong the story and your situation in the media will quickly deteriorate You are not obliged to tell everything you know but lying about a specific question or allegation will always come back to bite you. And remember that telling half-truths or deliberately misleading a reporter is the same as lying.
There are technical competencies which will improve your effectiveness in broadcast interviews. And there is a simple way to avoid having your interview edited in a way the puts your remarks out of your context. Being edited in a damaging way is often a concern for those dealing with television and radio. Broadcast interviews are where 30-second “sound bites” are frequently used and there are things you can do to keep them snappy and more useable without being taken out of context.
Remember that using concise, snappy sound bites will always work to your advantage. Have you noticed we tend to see the same people—financial analysts, consultants, retired generals or former politicians--being asked for comments over and over again? This is not just because they have knowledge and experience in their field—there are thousands of people who have that. You see the same individuals repeatedly because they provide good sound bites. If you do the same, reporters will return to you for comments on your views or analysis of situations and issues. This enhances your reputation as an expert which helps your business, organization or cause.
Effective communication with the news media is essential to the success of businesses and organizations. Controlling your message and avoiding blunders makes you a great asset to your organization. You need not fear media attention and you can make it work to your advantage if you know what to do. All it takes is basic knowledge and some practice.
Mary Waldmann's expertise as a speech writer and media expert spans over 30 years including among other roles Public Affairs Director for the US Department of Commerce during the Reagan Administration. She is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Winning with Today's Media and Six-Word Lessons for Compelling Speeches.