For almost a century, the media has enjoyed the power to influence many millions of people, make or break a business, and expose scandal, corruption or wrong-doing.
For this reason, interacting with the media is a core discipline for organisations and individuals in the public domain. When it works, it is akin to marketing you cannot buy.
But the media landscape has changed considerably over the past decade. The Google Alerts culture brings local stories to an international audience; social media noise frequently drowns out carefully crafted corporate messages and is increasingly a source of news in itself; while the decline in readers, viewers and advertising revenues puts pressure on traditional media models.
This makes dealing with the media more challenging than ever.
A few individuals and companies manage to get it consistently right, delivering a constant flow of media-friendly stories, riding out tough times with aplomb and turning the way they interact with the media into an art form. Others fail spectacularly, gaffing their way into the press and out of a job.
But there is more to media training than trying to avoid a Ratner. Executives and spokespeople who arm themselves with the right blend of technique and confidence are able to use the media to communicate key messages to multiple audiences, defend and enhance reputations and raise the profile of their organisations or its initiatives. In doing so, they can add significant value to their companies or brands.
Bladonmore has been helping businesses communicate with the media for more than 10 years. Our coaching ensures senior executives and spokespeople understand what makes the media tick and learn the best way to communicate an important message. Critically, they find out why addressing the media is different from talking to customers, employees, investors and analysts.
Executives who arm themselves with the right blend of technique and confidence can add significant value to their company or brand
Our work is frequently the difference between getting the coverage you do want and the exposure you don’t.
We’ve produced this short guide to replacing fear with confidence when dealing with the media. We hope you find it helpful.
Understanding a journalist’s objectives is key to successfully conveying your own message. Many people distrust and dislike reporters, but it would be naïve to view them as the enemy. Journalists are often direct and pushy, but that is their job. These are but tactics to provoke responses from seasoned executives.
By understanding what drives, motivates, excites and enthuses them, you will be able to develop a relationship that works for you and for them. Building a good relationship can reap multiple benefits beyond simply seeing your name in print – including opening the door to new clients, investors, employees and contacts.
Understand the different types of story to help you understand what a journalist wants (see ‘Different types of story’).
Be clear about your own objectives. Your messages need to be clear and succinct, and you should aim to convey them in an engaging and entertaining way.
Remember that the interviewer will have their own agenda and will often have no interest in your messages. But if you can offer insight, honesty and interesting quotes, there is a good chance that journalists will let you promote your strategy, product or service.
The real skill is in controlling a conversation led by someone else so that your key messages are communicated and reported.
Social media raises new challenges: it is less about imposing an agenda and more about contributing to the discussion and debate.
A great interview is about more than just turning up, it is about the preparation and practice beforehand.
Prepare your key messages ahead of the interview, putting them into succinct phrases or bullet points. Don’t learn them parrot fashion or you run the risk of sounding hollow, but ensure that you are familiar enough that you can deliver them with authority and conviction.
At the very least, you should be able to complete a checklist like the one below before each interview you undertake.
1. Speak to your communications advisers. Ensure your own objectives fit within the overall communications strategy.
2. Prepare your key messages.
3. Prepare one or two anecdotes or examples that get to the essence of the point and enable you to deliver the message in a natural and engaging fashion. But check your facts and make sure that everything you say is accurate, and can be defended and backed up.
4. Anticipate the negatives and rehearse potential responses.
5. Get the tone right: showing passion and enthusiasm is key to most interviews, but sometimes you will need to be sombre and controlled (e.g. in crisis situations).
6. Use IMEAN (see Know what IMEAN?) to dictate the nature of your response to questions.
7. Flag to control attention.
8. Resist predictions or speculation… and avoid off-the-record comments unless you are happy to see them in print.
9. Dedicate time to review your performance after the interview. But don’t dwell on your mistakes; instead, focus on how you would do it better next time.
10. Refresh your skills: you never know when you might be called on to give an interview at short notice.
Busy lives, packed agendas and sudden events mean you won’t always have time to prepare as much as you would like. If you only have 10 minutes to prepare, use this simple acronym as the basis of your preparation.
What is the essence of your idea? What is your agenda, theme, concept – call it what you will – that is the basis of the interview? You need to have the bigger picture thought through and worked out before you can start focusing on the key elements of the interview.
What is it? Condense it into a sentence. Even better would be to capture it in a single phrase or word. If you cannot articulate this clearly, how will the reporter be able to do so?
Reporters are both storytellers and story-sellers. They need examples or anecdotes to bring their stories alive and sell them to their editors. If you can create a bank of these examples and anecdotes to illustrate the strategy or message, it will occupy a large proportion of the interview.
Be aware of the multiple audiences you are speaking to. It is a given that investors, staff and customers will probably see, read or hear about the interview. Sometimes you want to connect with individual audiences, so think about how you can achieve this.
What are the toughest, most unfair or difficult questions you might face? Prepare for them. You might avoid having to answer them in the next interview but eventually you will have to. You can’t expect to avoid them altogether.
Take some time to relax and focus before each interview.
Remember, before you’ve said anything you are being judged on your appearance and demeanour.
Try to show passion and empathy for your audience.
It may help you look, feel and sound more authoritative.
Take several deep, cleansing breaths before an interview to get your breathing under control. During the interview, take the opportunity to breathe deeply when the reporter is asking questions. It will help you keep calm and focused.
A smile helps you convey warmth and credibility. It tells a reporter you are confident.
Look at the reporter when responding. You can look away for a few seconds to collect your thoughts but make sure your eyes are not “shifting” around you.
When was the last time you tested your messages? These are central to successfully communicating your agenda to the media, and reviewing and refining them on a regular basis is both a sensible and refreshing experience.
When the reporter is discussing your interview in the newsroom, how do you want to be described? Are you insightful, experienced, connected? What would be the perfect headline or the ideal angle for a media piece about your organisation? Simulate a media interview and write the headlines. Then do it again until you get the headlines you want.
When did you last review the roster of individuals who speak to the media on behalf of your business? Do you still have all of the key areas covered? What about that new product or country manager? Review your list of spokespeople once a year, identify any gaps and give your team the coaching or support they need to face the media with confidence.
A good health check for any business is to simulate a major crisis and see how the management team responds. Whether it is a letter bomb going off or a sexual harassment case coming out 24 hours before your results announcement, the act of simulation will enable your management team to train effectively. So when it happens for real…
Sadly, we live in a celebrity-obsessed personality culture. Rightly or wrongly, you are going to be confronted by reporters seeking to understand what drives you as an individual; what you do in your spare time; and what is on your iPod or Kindle. Getting the most out of these personality-style pieces is important and involves preparing to answer all types of questions, good and bad.
A very small number of people are blessed with an innate ability to get the most out of the media. Everyone else who is good at it has got there through a lot of hard work and practice. The best media encounters have been carefully rehearsed and any time spent running through each encounter is a smart investment.
Only through careful rehearsal can you stress-test your messages and be ready for the unexpected.