One of the core activities of most public relations programs is working with reporters to gain fair, accurate, and ideally favorable coverage of your client’s interests.
Having worked with reporters and editors for most of my career – and having been on the receiving end of media pitches myself – here are five keys to great media relations.
1. Respect the reporter.
Reporters are just doing their job, which is partly to inform us, and partly to entertain us and attract more eyeballs than the competition. In many situations, both you and they will be under stress during any interview, which raises the potential for blood pressure to rise and misunderstandings to occur.
Do your best to remain calm, professional, and respectful of their needs. If a reporter’s knowledge is limited, be patient and do your best to educate them. If the reporter has an obnoxious attitude, don’t respond in kind; “kill them with kindness.”
Prior to the interview, do your homework. Research the reporter and the outlet. Ask for or anticipate the likely angles and questions, so you can be well prepared to answer. Make it easy for them to dig deeper into your perspective: Provide fact sheets, website URLs, photos, videos, and additional expert sources, if possible.
2. Get on message and stay on message.
There is no excuse for failing to have clear messages with supporting facts; and no excuse for meandering, rambling, or going off on tangents.
Think about what you would want the headline of the story to be; make that your key message and support it with facts and anecdotes. Write down your main points, get them vetted with your superiors, and rehearse them. Keep it simple and crystal clear.
If the interview goes down the wrong track, or the reporter is harping on a tough question, steer back to your main message with a bridging statement such as, “No, that’s not the case because [state some facts],” or “I don’t know about that, but what I do know is …”
3. Play it straight.
Your credibility is your ultimate asset; if you fumble it, it’s hard to recover.
Never lie. Never speculate. Never make predictions. Don’t assert something you’re not sure of. If you don’t know, say so. You can always offer to gather the requested information and get back to them.
4. Stay on guard.
Avoid or prohibit “off-the-record” conversations; your default position should be “on the record.” Avoid the temptation to spill some juicy gossip. Even if you know the reporter well, they are not your friend when they’re doing their job; they will put a higher priority on the public’s “right to know” than protecting you.
Everything you say and do creates an impression, so stay professional and “on message” at all times.
Be aware of open mics and cameras that may be running beyond the formal interview.
5. Be yourself at your very best.
Above, I’ve addressed what you say; but how you say it is equally or even more important. According
to one classic study, a listener’s perception is driven about 55% by how you look, 38% by how you sound, and only 7% by what you say.
Think of your task as being like a job interview or sales presentation:
Dress professionally. If you’re a man, keep a jacket and tie on hand; for women, a scarf, jacket, or dressier accessories. Be sure your grooming is flawless.
Present strong, confident body language; i.e., sit up straight, look the reporter in the eye, and speak calmly and clearly.
If you are well-prepared, your confidence will overshadow any nervousness.
There is no need to “act” like someone else, although emulating the TV news professionals you admire will sharpen you up; but ultimately, you must simply be yourself at your best.
Follow these tips when dealing with the media, and you will both reduce the risks involved and enhance your long-term success.