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Communication Strategies, Tips, Pointers and Traps

Each month for the next year, PRAL’s Bob Johannessen, will offer tips to help members improve their media relation skills. From deciding whether or not to schedule an interview to building trust with the journalists who cover your industry, this column will answer members’ questions with time-tested strategies to help you make the most of each media opportunity.

I was called unexpectedly by a reporter about a story, and I know I will get some tough questions. What is your advice in order for me to have a successful interview? What should be my objective? 

In all of your encounters with reporters, your only objective is to use the opportunity to share your message with your audience. Don’t go into the interview thinking you have to answer every question you are asked. Instead, use the questions you get to frame the message you want to convey.

Of course, your objective is opposite of the reporter’s objective … she wants to tell a compelling story while you want to position your company in a positive light. In many cases – most cases – by the time you get the call, the reporter has already formed an opinion about the story. The reporter could come to you with a positive story idea and simply be looking for you to add context and background. Or, they may have heard something negative about your organization and want you to do some explaining.

In either case, the interview is serious business. Each time you go on the record with a reporter, you can help your organization or you can damage its credibility and your reputation.  It is not the reporter’s job to care about the stakes as they relate to you and your company. That’s your responsibility. Instead, they are looking for soundbites, quotes and visuals that will create an impactful story. The TV reporter wants to have his story lead the broadcast and the newspaper journalist wants her story on the front page. 

Yes, the interview is serious business, but it is also an opportunity for you to tell your story and get your message out. To be successful, you must:

  • Have a clear and concise message, one that you can state without giving the reporter the chance to edit it to something you did not intend. Keep your message short, something you can say in just a few seconds.
  • Anticipate the questions (and the follow-up questions) in advance, and have your responses memorized. Practice in advance. 
  • If you get a tough question – “why haven’t you responded to this complaint?” – acknowledge the question and then transition to your key message. Example: We are aware of the concerns. However, your viewers should know that we have announced a new process that will make it easier …”
  • Don’t let yourself get bullied into giving an answer that is off message.
  • Consider giving the reporter a brief fact sheet after the interview that summarizes your messages and addresses key questions.

 

 

Your ability to deliver your message and get it into the story will mean that you have had a successful experience.

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