9 tips on how to handle the media
30 SEPTEMBER 2014 6:44 AM
Follow these nine good rules of thumb to maximize your encounters with the media.
When we hear that someone is “always on message,” that's typically a sign the speaker is adept at using the media to advance his or her agenda. Being effective with the press starts with this simple but sometimes difficult-to-master concept. What other good rules of thumb can you employ to maximize your encounters with the media?
1. Take the time to develop your messages
Every executive and organization should have a basic “message track,” that is, four to five key points you want to make in most any interview situation. These can be tweaked based on the news outlet or audience, but they form the foundation for what you want to say. It's worth spending time brainstorming with the key people in your organization to develop these messages. In addition to the basic and general track, look at specific add-on messages geared toward particular audiences such as consumers, owners, shareholders and employees.
2. Work on appropriate transitions from question to message
Being “on message” doesn't mean avoiding answering a question and going directly to your message. This can appear evasive. People skilled in talking with the media have the ability to answer the question (however briefly or generally) and transition to one of their messages.
Let's say one of your messages is to talk up a new meeting facility at your property, but the question doesn't obviously lend itself to that subject. Example: “Isn't it true the weak economy severely impacted your group business; how much?”
“We clearly did see an impact (answer), but as economic conditions have improved and businesses started traveling again (transition), we've seen an uptick in our group business, and that segment is reacting favorably to the new meeting facilities we opened earlier this year, which include … (message).”
3. Be honest
Note in the above example that the question is answered before the transition to the message. Credibility with the media is all-important. It's an obvious point but one worth making, especially when confronted with an uncomfortable question.
An evasion or, worse, an outright falsehood can destroy media relationships and your own personal credibility. Part of this is conceding when you don't have an answer; and face it, ego can get in the way. If you don't have the specific answer, say so, but quickly offer to find out and follow up with a reporter (either yourself or someone else in your organization).
4. Know your audience
Who are you trying to reach or influence? Are you talking with an industry trade publication, consumer newspaper, business/financial publication?
Do a little research into the publication and its audience, and go into the interview prepared to impart messages that will resonate with that audience. Talking up return on investment for potential owners is a great point for trade publications but not necessarily for, say, employees.
5. Avoid jargon
Every industry has its own peculiar verbiage, and using it makes us feel smart. Sure, discuss “RevPAR,” “IBT,” “bookings in the year for the year” and other such phrases when talking to the industry. If your audience is the consumer, avoid it.
6. You don't need to fill the silence
Whether it's a print, online or broadcast outlet, reporters like to leave some silence after your answer in the perverse hope that you'll feel obligated to talk further (and perhaps say something controversial). When you've said your piece, that's it; let the reporter fill the gap. If you must say something more, go back to your messages and repeat one or two.
7. Use examples and illustrations
A picture's worth a thousand words, right? Citing the number of hotels in your development pipeline is fine, but it's much more powerful to say, “That means a new Company XYZ hotel will be opening somewhere every 24 hours.”
8. Be careful with ‘off the record’
Unless you have a particularly good relationship with a reporter, it's best to avoid going off the record. If there's something you're restricted from saying, don't say it. Also, there will be occasions when you simply cannot discuss something. The abrupt “no comment” is OK, but it's generally helpful to couch it in terms of “I can't tell you because...” The “because” can be “that's proprietary information,” “we don't discuss pending litigation,” etc.
9. Anticipate questions and rehearse
Don't wing it. You probably can anticipate 90% of the questions a particular news outlet is likely to ask (for the other 10%, your message track is a good safety net). Role play with an associate, and work on your answers and transitions. You rehearse speeches and presentations; do the same with media encounters.
In the end, like anything else, advancing your agenda via the news media takes work and a mentality that interviews can be used to your advantage.
Marc Grossman is a senior communications executive who served as senior VP, corporate affairs, for Hilton Hotels Corporation, where he was responsible for all global corporate communications, investor/financial relations, public affairs, brand/marketing public relations, crisis communications and internal communications. He also held senior positions with three leading international communications firms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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