What makes the difference between a great media speaker and a source all journalists would strive to avoid? Most usually, it’s preparation. A media-aware leader always knows what he’s doing, whom he is going to talk to and what exactly he’s going to tell the journalist and, through the media, to his stakeholders.
Basically, a media-aware leader always does his homework before meeting a journalist. That homework starts with the very first moment when your phone is ringing. You pick it up and guess what? It’s the press.
- Who’s calling? From the very first instant you pick up the phone, you must find out with whom you are speaking. If the journalist is calling you directly, ask for his / her name, the name and the type of the medium (print, radio, TV, online etc.), the sector / section covered and the interest in speaking to you. This will help you enormously in the later stages of your media encounter preparation.
- Gain time. After you make sure you understand what the journalist needs from you, you can tell the journalist you’ll be calling back as soon as possible with an answer. Don’t take more than an hour to call back. Particularly TV journalists need to know immediately whether they can count on your interview or not.
- Inform your media desk. That’s why your PR and spokespeople are there, to advice you in this type of situation. Make sure they know you will be talking to the media and get advice on how to handle the call. Then, follow that advice.
- Call back. If you decide to talk, let the journalist know about it as soon as possible. Journalists face tough deadlines on a daily basis. Every minute you save for them makes you more likely to become their friend.
- Clarify the rules. When you call back, make sure you discuss clear rules about how the interview is going to take place. When? Where? For how long? On what topics precisely? Will there be a video camera / a photo session? You must count that the majority of interviews, direct or via the phone, will be recorded. Make sure you have all these questions answered before you get off the phone.
- Do your homework. Get background on the journalist and the medium. Use the expertise of your PR department / agency to understand whom you’re going to meet. A little courtesy remark about the last article the journalist wrote might set up a positive tone of the encounter that might be reflected later in the final media outcome.
- Prepare your media kit. This is not a sales meeting. Make sure you hand the journalist only those materials that contain relevant background for his subject of interest. Otherwise, be sure your kit will end up in the first trash bin.
- Make sure your image and outfit suits the media encounter. You might have come by bike to the office this morning, but if you have an interview, you better take a shower and put on that suit that you have hanging in your office closet for this type of unexpected situations. Make sure your image corresponds to the message you’d like to transmit to your stakeholders via the journalist.
- Prepare your key core messages. You shouldn’t strive to deliver more than three messages per encounter. If you’re a successful bank, that’s your message and you can tell that in various means. Building your key core messages will be handled in more details in a future post. For the moment, just remember that you must have at least two key core messages you want to transmit to the journalist – and stick to them.
- Get yourself equipped with facts, figures and anecdotes. When the journalist will be leaving your premises, he will most probably like to know when your company was founded and by whom; who owns your company; how many employees you have; the main milestones in your company existence; your current economic figures (sales, turnover, net profit) compared to last year; and your plans for the future. Place facts and figures in a context; otherwise you might be facing a wrong interpretation. Use anecdotes to lighten the tone of the discussion and be visual when you speak. Those juicy parts of your speech will most probably make it to the final article.
- Be ready to speak in sound bites. To express your key messages, get equipped with strongly visual comparisons, metaphors and images that can catch the attention of the journalist. If he’s quoting you with such a sound bite, you are sure that you got your message through in a correct manner.
- Help with the encounter preparation. Have your secretary send the journalist an e-mail with clear directions about how to reach your location, where to park in your neighborhood etc. Stay available if background is required from you prior to the interview. That will only help the journalist prepare himself better – and avoid future misunderstandings.
- Don’t take it personally. If the interview is cancelled for various reasons despite the amount of preparation you put in it, don’t take it personally. Journalists are under constant pressure from their editors, sources, deadlines and the type of media. Try to re-schedule. Tell the journalist that you put a lot of effort into your interview preparation and you’d like to meet him / her anyway. Stay available for the next call. The press will call again, sooner or later.