This post originally appeared on Newswire.ca
In a previous post, we talked about the tactic of pivoting, or bridging, back to your story in the face of adverse questioning from a skeptical audience, moderator or journalist. The prospect of fielding questions from a reporter can be intimidating but, if handled correctly, engaging in a media interview can prove to be beneficial to all parties.
It begins by de-mystifying the media.
The Process of Engagement
Tom Poldre, who has headed up the media training practices for both Hill & Knowlton and Burson-Marsteller throughout the Asia-Pacific region, takes the mystery out of interviews for his clients by equating it to something they already know and do well. “Journalism is business, so why not treat every media encounter as a business meeting?” advises Poldre. “Just like you would prepare for any business meeting, understand the objectives, personalities and agenda of the journalist; prepare your agenda – your organization’s story or key messages – and then manage the meeting so that your communications objectives are ultimately met.”
Understand and Prepare
A company representative would never walk into a negotiation without first doing homework about who is sitting across from them. Similarly, for a media interview, you’ll need to find out all you can about the type of publication or media outlet; their readership/viewership; the individual journalists’ style and approach; what they want out of the interview; the topic of the interview (i.e. the meeting agenda, or topics, which must be agreed upon in advance), and the terms of the interview.
Armed with this information and a review of your business objectives, it’s time to prepare YOUR agenda, your organization’s story and your key messages (relating to your communication objectives). You’ll also need to be equipped with the facts, figures and insights the journalist needs to write the story. Poldre calls it a “negotiation of information” since you want your key messages to air or make it to print, while the news outlet needs substantive content. “Colourful, concise key messages, coupled with solid facts, figures and information creates a win-win situation,” says Poldre. “We know that most journalists appreciate it when people come prepared for interviews.”
Manage the Meeting, Stick to the Agenda
Finally, as in any business meeting, Poldre advises it’s vitally important to manage the interview so that your agenda is clearly, confidently fulfilled. This is a meeting among equal players, but if all you do is answer questions, then you’re not reaching your business objectives. You’ll also need to avoid veering off-topic and spending too much time on subject matter that isn’t relevant. Since you arrived well prepared, you will have anticipated any sensitive areas which you can quite legitimately claim to be “off-topic” and can minimize the consequences of any unexpected questions in a media interview.