Seeing the Taj Mahal in Prague or what makes a great source for an economic journalist

05/09/2011
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The story begins in early spring 2006. I had just started to work for the economic magazine Czech Business Weekly (CBW), and I had been given the assignment to write a restaurant review.

It needs to be an up-market restaurant. You also need to invite a good source there and get some news from her,” my editor told me.

All good. After choosing my location, I went to select my “source.” Inviting a top manager for lunch was enough to give butterflies in the stomach of a fledgling reporter, so I decided to go for one executive search manager who seemed quite open at answering my e-mails.

His name was Andrea Colantoni, an Italian with Swedish roots living in Prague. An interesting guy, I said to myself. Andrea arrived in time and we had an excellent chat. Undeterred by my lack of experience, he took me through the backstage of the Prague executive search world. He took time to explain to me the difference between recruitment and headhunting and told me who was who in the local business. I was thrilled – I didn’t have any breaking news, but at least I knew where to start. My editor would be happy, I thought. When I went to pick up the bill, the waiter told me the restaurant would be closed in a few days. While my restaurant review turned into an obituary, I had just gained (it turned out) one of the most important allies in my future coverage of the Czech HR sector for CBW.

A trusted source

As time went by, Andrea was always around to pick up a call or answer an e-mail. He was informing me on the latest trends, opening my eyes on where to look for stories, warning me on potential dangers, and spicing up my stories with juicy quotes. What more could a reporter expect from a good source?
Andrea gained his right to be quoted over and over again in CBW because of his time invested in building our relationship and courage to speak openly about tricky things. That’s why I wasn’t surprised one bit when I saw him five years later on Czech public television — speaking in Czech, I might add — about trends on the local labor market.
Television is a stage where not all companies are allowed, so to speak. I was proud that the company where I work was considered an expert in its field, and that Czech TV felt we could contribute. Then of course, there was an ego element to it. Television is a challenging medium, and I was both curious and flattered to see what it would be like,” he said to me later in an e-mail.
Andrea Colantoni is now the general manager for the Czech Republic and Slovakia of Hudson Global Resources, a global recruitment and talent management advisory. Leading a publicly listed company, Andrea is aware of the traps of “saying too much.” This is why taking a trip in the backstage of his live media performance brings valuable lessons for any manager concerned about the image of his company and of himself.

‘No margin for error’

I asked Andrea whether he wasn’t concerned about speak on live TV in a foreign language. “Very,” he said. “Although my spoken Czech is fairly good, there is no margin for error when you are live. I feel very comfortable speaking Czech in a meeting, but TV is unforgiving, so I was nervous,” he admitted.
How to counterbalance the language issue? Preparation seems to have been the key for success. “Once I knew the subject of the interview and the direction of the questions, I read up on the subject and wrote down a few pointers for myself. I browsed the latest media coverage on the subject, and I refined our own official standpoint in the matter to have it clearly in my head. I also made notes relating to the subject so that I would have the main points at hand,” Andrea said.
“I was concerned to not make it sound too rehearsed, so I tried hard to avoid memorizing my answers. I was afraid that if I get too nervous, and she [the moderator] says something I do not expect, I would be totally lost. My solution to this was to be as conversant in the subject as possible and focus on her instead of what I wanted to say.”

‘Oh, we have plenty of time’

For those who haven’t been in a TV studio yet, get ready for an exotic trip. “It’s like when you travel to India to see the Taj Mahal — an awesome monument that looks majestic, but when you come closer you realize it’s rather small,” Andrea said.
Another impression is that broadcast people have a different perception of time. “For them a minute is a lot of time, whereas for us mortals this is not much time at all. They brought me a chair into the studio while the TV anchor was starting the introductions. Very tight with time; otherwise the newsroom was pretty relaxed,” he said.
As the clock was ticking, he went through the regular preparation prior to stepping into the studio.
I was told to arrive 25 minutes prior to the broadcast. I was greeted by the director of the program, who took me down to the make-up room. I spent about two minutes on the make-up chair and then I waited in a room where they have refreshments and a TV. Approximately five minutes before the show started, the anchor showed up and greeted me as well. She gave me a quick run-down on the questions and who goes first and so on. We talked about what she will ask, and when it will start. When there was two minutes to go I said to her: ‘Shouldn’t we be heading into the studio now?’ and she looked at the watch and said ‘Oh, we have plenty of time.’”

Stay focused, short and to the point 

If Andrea is to say what he learnt from his media exposure, it would be that preparation is very important. “Perhaps not so much what you will say, but to make you more secure and relaxed. Knowing the subject boosts confidence,” he says. Another essential thing is to focus on the right thing. “At one stage she asked a very long question, and I realized that either due to language or to inexperience with the situation, I got lost for a second trying to regroup. Therefore, next time I will focus more on the reporter and less on what I want to say,” he said.
Clarity is also essential. “It is important to stick to the question asked and not to digress. A shorter, clearer answer is more interesting – and more manageable! – than a long, convoluted answer. Find a good rhythm and do not get too detailed – especially live. In live television, three minutes is a long time, so use it effectively,” Andrea advises.
How you speak is equally important to what you say so go for short, clear and confident [messages]. And don’t watch yourself afterwards – it’s terrible,” he concludes.

What makes a great source?

Andrea’s story is one that speaks to all managers striving to achieve premium reputations. Managers like him achieve media visibility thanks to:
• availability – he is constantly open and willing to help if he can
• openness – he speaks about trendy topics that make more than half of a reporter’s daily bread
• preparation – he plans his messages carefully and tries to develop a conversation with a reporter rather than a push-through approach
• fun – he puts funny comparisons in his speech that reporters love quoting. He can also be self-critical without losing the focus: to represent his company successfully regardless of the environment or the language.

A bullet-proof reputation may require time and courage, but it’s worth the effort. People like Andrea Colantoni speak for it – and, fortunately, they are not alone on the global stage. The more like him in Prague, the better.

THIS TEXT HAS FIRST BEEN PUBLISHED ON SEPTEMBER 5, 2011, ON THE BLOG MEDIAPOWER BY CZECHPOSITION.COM http://www.ceskapozice.cz/en/blog/cristina-muntean/seeing-taj-mahal-prague

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