Posts Tagged ‘media relations tips’
A local reporter is scheduled to visit your office in a few days to conduct an interview with you.
It’s a critical interview for your company, one that will impact your growth, your reputation, and your bottom line. You prepare for it carefully, huddling with your leadership team and preparing highly memorable media messages that will gain the audience’s attention—and trust. You may even conduct a mock interviewing session to gain comfort when answering challenging questions.
When the interview date arrives, you feel well-prepared. But you forgot one critical fact, one that threatens to undermine all of your efforts. Having a well-trained management team isn’t enough.
Journalists know that many executives and managers have received media training, so they occasionally circumvent the official chain of command in order to speak with a less trained (and more candid) junior staffer. With just a few careless words, those subordinates can undermine all of your media training and carefully plotted communications strategy.
As an example, check out the jaw-dropping words uttered by a young professional in this video:
When reporters visit your office, any interaction they have with employees, interns, and receptionists are considered “on the record.” Unless you reach an agreement otherwise, reporters can use their comments—and they will, especially if the quotes your employees utter are more colorful than anything a well-trained manager said. Therefore, it’s up to you to make sure your staff knows what to do and say when they’re in the presence of reporters.
This article will arm you with six specific things to do next time you’re expecting a visit from a journalist.
1. Assign an Escort
Assign an escort whenever journalists visit your office. That will help prevent reporters from “accidentally getting lost” on the way to the restroom, wandering the hallways, and striking up a conversation with the wrong person.
If the reporter is visiting your office to interview your Chief Executive Officer, for example, you can assign the CEO’s assistant as the escort. But if that assistant hasn’t received media training and isn’t familiar with your company’s main talking points, you might consider assigning an experienced media representative from your communications department instead.
2. Forge an Agreement With The Reporter
To help prevent the problem of “wandering reporters,” some organizations negotiate the terms of the interview prior to the reporter’s visit. You might consider restricting their access to personnel by asking them to agree to speak only with the previously agreed upon subject(s) of the interview.
You can also negotiate what reporters are allowed to film prior to visiting your company. For example, you might ask them not to shoot employees’ computer screens or papers on their desks.
Although many reporters are happy to comply with such terms, some may bristle at your request and disclose those agreements (or requests for those agreements) to their audience.
3. Notify Your Staff
One week before the reporter visits—and again on the day of the visit—send an email to staff alerting them to the impending visit and reminding them of your media policy.
Your media policy might allow only authorized spokespersons to speak to the press, especially when dealing with a hostile reporter or a particularly challenging subject. In those cases, instruct unauthorized employees who are approached by reporters to say that they’re not the best person to answer their questions and offer to connect them with a member of the communications department.
Although that approach may be best in some circumstances, keep in mind that reporters may note in their stories that your employees seemed “nervous” and refused to speak with them. Plus, as a practical matter, it may be difficult to prevent journalists from speaking to someone they encounter in a hallway or common area, especially if the interaction is being filmed (your on-camera intrusion would be noteworthy and could become part of the story).
4. Brief Staff with Key Messages
In some circumstances, it’s better to allow your staff to answer basic questions about their work and your organization. That’s especially true if the reporter doesn’t typically write hostile stories and the focus of the interview with your company is about an uncontroversial topic.
If you plan on allowing your employees to speak with a reporter who approaches them in a hallway or during a tour of the office, you should prepare basic media guidelines for your staff, and provide them with your key messages so they know what the “company line” is.
It’s also a good idea to remind employees to “stay in their lanes.” It’s okay for engineers to discuss the technical details of your company’s new software, for example, but they should refuse questions that are “outside their lanes,” such as those about global marketing strategy.
5. Remind Them to Avoid The “Seven-Second Stray”
Some reporters put their subjects at ease with a warm smile, friendly demeanor, and conversational style. So if you’re going to allow staff to speak with reporters, remind them to avoid the “seven-second stray.”
The “seven-second stray” occurs when a spokesperson who is “on message” for nine minutes and 53 seconds of a ten-minute interview delivers an “off-message” quote that lasts just a few seconds. Journalists recognize those unplanned moments as newsworthy, and often use them in their news stories. So if your employee shares a wacky anecdote, disparages a competitor, or criticizes a management decision, you can bet it will make its way into the segment.
6. Ask Them to Tidy Up
Instruct your staff to remove any confidential or sensitive papers from their desktops and to avoid displaying sensitive documents on their computer screens. Ask them to remove overtly political messages from their work areas (e.g. posters and bumper stickers) that, in some cases, can endanger an organization’s tax-exempt status. You might even ask them to do a little housekeeping to leave a neat appearance.
In order to add “color” to their stories, good reporters pay attention to interesting details within eyesight or earshot. As an example, I know of one executive who decorated his office rather lavishly, largely at taxpayer expense. When a scandal erupted at his organization, reporters were quick to note the expensive rug and antique chair in his office. So before a journalist visits your office, walk through the entire office space, try to see the workspace through the eyes of a skeptical journalist, and make any necessary adjustments.
This article was originally published in the American Management Association’s monthly e-newsletter, Leader’s Edge. Brad Phillips is the author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Tags: media relations tips, Public Relations
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This is an excerpt fromThe Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in soft cover and all major e-book formats.
In lesson 2, I mentioned that you shouldn’t conduct an interview the moment reporters call. Instead, I advised that you should offer to return their calls promptly, and for you to take at least a few minutes to prepare for the interview before you speak.
But before you hang up from that initial phone call, take a few minutes to “interview” the reporter. Many journalists are willing to share the basics about the stories they’re working on, and any insight they offer will help you better prepare.
Below are eight questions you might consider asking reporters. I typically don’t ask all of these for every interview, since journalists don’t appreciate being grilled. But they’ll probably offer some of this information on their own anyway, so just fill in any gaps by asking the most relevant of these questions:
- 1. Who are you? No, you shouldn’t ask that question verbatim, but collect the basics—their name, the name of the news organization for which they work, and whether they cover a particular topic.
- 2. Can you tell me about the story you’re working on? Keep this question open-ended and remain quiet while the reporter speaks (the more they say, the more you’ll learn). Feel free to ask follow-up questions and to clarify any points you don’t fully understand.
- 3. Are you approaching this story from any particular perspective? Some reporters will bristle if you ask, “What’s your angle?” This question aims to elicit the same information in a more subtle manner.
- 4. Who else are you interviewing? Reporters often play it close to the vest on this one, but it’s worth asking. You’ll be able to get a sense of the story’s tone by learning whether the other sources in the story are friendly or antagonistic toward your cause.
- 5. What’s the format? For print interviews, this question will help you determine whether reporters just need a quick quote from you or whether they’re writing an in-depth piece that will focus extensively on your work. For broadcast interviews, you’ll be able to learn whether the interview will be live, live-to-tape, or edited. For television, you might also ask if the format will be a remote, on-set, or sound-bites interview.
- 6. What do you need from me? Ask the reporter how much time the interview will last and where the reporter wants to conduct the interview. Also, ask if you can provide any press releases, graphics, photos, videos, or other supplementary documents. You can often expand your presence in a news story—and influence the narrative—if the reporter chooses to use your supporting materials.
- 7. Who will be doing the interview? For many radio and television interviews, you will be contacted initially by an off-air producer rather than by an on-air personality. Ask for the name of the person conducting the interview.
- 8. When are you publishing or airing the story? Review the story as soon as it comes out. If it’s a positive story, share it with your online and off-line networks. If it’s a negative story, consider issuing a response or contacting the reporter or editor to discuss the coverage.
One final note: Before an interview, tell reporters how you prefer to be identified. Include your title and company name, and spell your full name. Nothing is worse than seeing your name or company’s name mangled in front of millions of viewers!
Click here for more information about The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Tags: media relations tips, working with reporters
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A reader named Sean Hughes ran into a familiar problem recently when dealing with a local reporter. He writes:
“We have a local metro reporter who loves to edit on-camera interviews to his (or his editors’) liking, typically avoiding our key messages in favor of sensationalist reactions from incited passers-by. To help fairly manage our participation in public discussion, is it okay to record the interview alongside the camera man, post the vid to our own site/blog, and link back to it in the comments section if the story gets skewed? This may not help in the media-trust department, but…I also think that the simple gesture during the interview may prompt a second-guess by the story crafter before they take a hard angle. Any experience with, or thoughts on, this potentially sensitive tactic?”
You’re handling this situation exactly right, Sean. I generally don’t advise subjects of news pieces to shoot raw video of their on-camera interviews for the reason you cite—it can lead to a reduction of trust between reporter and source. But in cases in which that trust has already been fractured, you have little to lose by putting the reporter on notice that their careless or motivated editing will be available to—and scrutinized by—the general public.
I’d offer a few additional thoughts:
First, try working the journalistic food chain before getting too aggressive. Try speaking to the reporter, then to the editor, then to the news director. Request to meet at their office. Share your concerns. As you might suspect, that doesn’t work a lot of the time—but it does occasionally, so it’s worth the effort.
Second, if you do decide to tape the interview, tell the reporters in advance. By doing so, it lets them know early in their story preparation that they should toe the line carefully. Plus, it prevents you from being accused of an “unprofessional” reverse media ambush.
Third, releasing the video on your own networks/blogs/websites is a great idea—but also contemplate a few additional possibilities. Consider sending it to your full mailing list with video embedded in the email. And if any traditional or online news organizations in your city criticize other competitive local media outlets, consider pitching them on a piece comparing the butchered story to your raw tape. (In Washington, D.C., for example, The Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly, regularly critiques The Washington Post.)
Good luck, Sean. Thanks for writing!
Do you have a media or presentation training question you’d like answered on the blog? Please email your question to Contact-at-MrMediaTraining.com.
Tags: media relations tips, media training tips, reader e-mails, working with reporters
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There’s an unfortunate reality of doing interviews. Sometimes, reporters just don’t know the story.
Take, for example, this interview. After running celebrity Mo Farah — a two-time Olympic gold medalist — won the New Orleans Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon, setting a course record, WDSU anchor LaTonya Norton interviewed him as if he was new to competitive running, asking him, “Haven’t you run before?”
What can you learn from this exchange? Clearly, Norton had no idea that Farah is a running world-record holder, even though a simple Google search would have clued her in. It would have been easy for Farah to embarrass the anchor and expose her lack of knowledge about the sport and him. However, Farah handled the disastrous interview gracefully and thus came out looking better for it.
Here’s what you should remember when dealing with reporters who just don’t get it:
- 1. Remember that patience with reporters in non-confrontational situations will always make you look better. Even though he’s a star in the running world, Mr. Farah resisted the urge to embarrass Ms. Norton. It was the kind thing to do. The race was on a weekend, and local news outlets are notoriously light-staffed on weekends. That doesn’t make the reporter’s ignorance of Mr. Farah acceptable, but it might partially explain it. At the end of the day, Farah appeared gracious and classy.
- 2. If you do find yourself in a challenging interview and the reporter doesn’t know the story, don’t be afraid to politely correct his or her wrong premises. Phrases like “That’s not necessarily the case” or “Actually, what we’re seeing is” will help you correct the reporter’s wrong assertions without making you look condescending or rude.
- 3. Unknowledgeable reporters can be your friends. Sure, it can be really frustrating to do an interview with a reporter who doesn’t know the story. However, that reporter is a blank slate and thus an opportunity. You can spend your time talking about only your most important messages without having to compete with his or her already existing points of view.
A grateful h/t to my terrific running coach, Chris Sloane, for sharing this interview.
Want more media tips? Follow me on Twitter @PMRChristina.
Tags: media relations tips, media training tips, Mo Farah, working with reporters
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Recently, I’ve seen numerous reports about the aggressive booking practices employed by the major television news networks. The biggest complaints? That the networks were canceling guests at the last minute and banning them from appearing on competing networks.
As an example, one formerly regular guest on CNBC complained to Politico, “If they see you on a competing channel they won’t invite you back for a week or so… They’ll call and ask if you’ve been on another network. If you say, ‘Yes,’ then they won’t invite you. If you say, ‘No,’ they’ll book you and ask you to hold a time. But then they might cancel the booking at the last minute. I don’t know of any other channel that does this.”
Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. You shouldn’t be either.
CNBC is not the only network with competitive booking practices. The network morning shows are especially notorious for their competitive nature, with bookers going to great lengths to get exclusive interviews with top guests. Cable shows aren’t much different. When I worked in cable, it was standard practice to ask a guest not to appear on a competing network before coming on a show. News is a cutthroat business and no network, cable or otherwise, wants to be seen as recycling guests.
Another accusation, that CNBC has cancelled guests at the last minute, is also not exclusive to the financial network. I understand that it’s inconvenient to be cancelled, and trust me; most bookers don’t delight in making that call. Still, news, by definition, is unpredictable. Broadcasting plans sometimes have to change on a moment’s notice because of breaking stories. More often than not, that’s unfortunately when guests get cancelled at the last minute.
So what, as a potential television guest, should you take from these stories?
- 1. Don’t “book around”: For most shows, if you book an appearance, don’t make plans for another appearance on a competing network before your scheduled hit time. If another opportunity comes up and you feel you must try to accommodate it, call the booker to discuss the situation. Understand that you may be cancelled, but that outcome is better than ruining your relationship with the booker who sees you on another network before you’re scheduled to appear on his or her show. (Note: This rule does not apply to promotional tours, like book or movie releases.)
- 2. Be flexible: You may get cancelled at the last minute, or your hit time may be moved. Try not to get frustrated. Accept it as a reality of the news business. Bookers will appreciate your understanding and be more likely to call you again.
- 3. Recognize how “big of a deal” you are: In the Will Ferrell movie “Anchorman,” Ron Burgundy famously says, “I don’t know how to put this, but, I’m kind of a big deal.” You’ll often see some guests, like administration officials, making the rounds on the network or cable news shows. Bookers accept this because the possibility of not having a major newsmaker on their show outweighs sharing him or her with another network. That said, most of us aren’t that high profile–so the rules above apply.
Want more media tips? Follow me on Twitter @PMRChristina.
Tags: booker relations, media relations tips, media training tips, working with reporters
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Note: My firm signs a confidentiality agreement with all of its clients. This client generously granted permission for me to write this story despite that agreement.
My firm recently conducted a media training session with the senior executives of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). Among our trainees was the LPGA’s impressive Commissioner, Michael Whan.
In preparation for our session, I read dozens of news stories about the LPGA. One of those stories—an article by Jason Sobel that ran on ESPN.com in 2010—immediately caught my eye, because it teaches all media spokespersons a critical lesson.
Here’s how Sobel’s article began:
“There are a few things about new LPGA commissioner Michael Whan that struck me as noteworthy upon the first time I interviewed him:
- He makes the call. Literally. There is no office assistant or lackey who phones for Mr. Whan, then puts you on hold while the commish gets around to talking. He punches the buttons all by himself, which is momentous for its opposition to others in such positions.
- It’s never “Mr. Whan.” In fact, it’s not even “Michael.” He instead introduces himself simply as “Mike.” Again, that may not sound like much, but it’s a personal touch others reserve only for the most informal moments.
- He says thank you. Not at the end of conversations, which is pretty standard. No, he actually sends an e-mail thanking the interviewer later that day. I can count on one hand the number of times that’s happened over the years.”
Whan impressed the interviewer before the “official” interview even began simply by placing the call directly. That “small” thing gave Sobel a positive impression of the Commissioner from the very start, influencing not only the tone of the article, but becoming the article’s lead.
CEOs and executives should learn from Whan’s example. While they’re at it, they should also keep in mind that speaker phones can also rub reporters the wrong way, since they can suggest that the executive is far too important to actually pick up the phone (plus, the poorer audio places a barrier between interviewer and interviewee).
Whan’s humility—introducing himself as “Mike” instead of “Michael”—also made a strong impression on the reporter. Mike is as friendly and accessible in person—and despite his humility, there’s no doubting that he’s the big boss. But it does leave a strong impression of a man who is customer-, fan-, and audience-focused rather than self-focused.
Finally, there was his thank you. In addition to being extraordinarily polite, sending a post-interview “thank you” note offers spokespersons a final opportunity to restate their most important messages. Plus, if they forgot to say something during the interview, the post-interview email can be a wonderful opportunity to make that final point.
These points may all seem obvious, but as Mr. Sobel pointed out, they’re also rarely used. His article serves as a wonderful reminder that sometimes, media relations is about the “little” things that far too many people neglect.
PR folks: What “little” things do you do to improve your relationships with reporters?
Reporters: What “little” things do you appreciate from PR folks?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: Jason Sobel, LPGA, media relations tips, media training tips, Michael Whan, working with reporters
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In my decade as a media trainer, I’ve observed many changes in my profession.
When I started, a “facebook” referred to an annual book that profiled each member of Congress, a “twitter” referred to a bird (if anything at all), and a “pinterest” might have been a pun developed by a clever pin manufacturer.
In terms of working with reporters, I’ve seen two similarly big shifts over the past decade.
First, when I first started, asking a reporter to see their questions in advance of an interview was usually seen as unprofessional. That’s no longer the case; many reporters are now willing to share their questions in advance (I covered that topic here).
Second, asking reporters to see their completed stories before they ran was plain taboo, something only inexperienced hacks did. But as journalism culture continues to evolve, so too do the best practices for media relations.
So is it okay in today’s media culture to ask reporters to see their stories before they run?
Most PR professionals—particularly the experienced ones who have been in the business for many years—would likely answer that question with an emphatic “No!” And I generally agree with them, but not completely.
Here’s what I’ve seen lately. While promoting my new book, I did about 20 interviews. Two reporters and one blogger both volunteered to send me their stories before they ran so I could fact check them and request changes. I would describe the news organizations as industry journals—not major mainstream news organizations. But even the majors have done it – one Washington Post reporter was caught last year sending drafts of his stories to sources and allowing them to make edits.
I think we’re at the beginning of another shift in media relations, one which will lead to eventually being able to ask (some) reporters to preview their stories in advance. For now, I’d still advise my clients not to request stories in advance, unless they’re dealing with nontraditional smaller news organizations, bloggers who don’t adhere to traditional news standards, and perhaps some industry journals.
But keep your eye on this one. From what I’ve seen, the answer to this question may be different ten years from now.
Please leave any additional thoughts about this question in the comments section below.
Tags: media relations tips, Public Relations, working with reporters
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I received an email from Australia-based reader Tim Horan about an op-ed piece he submitted to the Sydney Morning Herald, one of his nation’s most-read newspapers.
Tim works for the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia, an advocacy group that represents the interests of shooters (the group supports much stricter gun safety laws than the National Rifle Association.)
“Obviously every newspaper around the world retains editorial control and can make changes. Usually this is done where something is incorrect, (due to) poor writing skills, or just due to lack of space. Yesterday, the large national organization I work for sent an op-ed to one of Australia’s largest newspapers. They came back to us and said they would only run it if they could make some changes. 182 entirely new words (original article was just over 600)! Entire new paragraphs, new quotes, new statistics … I was stunned! This was, after all, an opinion piece!”
Tim says the changes were dramatic:
“These changes included adding entirely new paragraphs of text, making several tired puns (such as ‘shoot from the hip’) and, possibly worse of all, changing the word ‘firearm’ to ‘weapons’.”
I’ve never experienced anything like that; nor have I heard of such dramatic intervention by a newspaper editorials editor. A more typical experience was one I had years ago with the Los Angeles Times, which had agreed to take an op-ed from the group I worked with at the time. The paper’s editor called me to discuss the piece—they had a few words they wanted to tweak and wanted to clarify a few facts. Our phone call enhanced my view of them—they asked reasonable questions, requested few changes, and wanted to make sure we got it right.
I thought there was a chance that Tim’s editorial was poorly written, necessitating the newspaper to insist upon a major overhaul. But it’s not. It looks like every other op-ed you’d see published in a major, big city newspaper. You can see the unedited op-ed here.
In the end, Tim “made the decision that we couldn’t agree to the changes, so we withdrew the article.” Sounds like a smart decision to me.
I asked the Sydney Morning Herald editor who worked on this piece for comment last Monday. She didn’t respond.
What do you think? Have you ever experienced this type of editorial interference? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below.
Tags: media relations tips, Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, Sydney Morning Herald, Tim Horan, working with reporters
Posted in Media Analysis | 6 Comments »