Ever-expanding digital platforms, 24-hour news cycles and citizen journalism are the norm for media today. This means, despite the best laid plans, there are more ways for your business to find itself in the middle of a reputation scare than ever before. The good news is, a well-trained company spokesperson can diffuse a negative situation.
Our team recently listened to a webinar with Mark Bernheimer, a former CNN national correspondent, professional media trainer of thousands, and “famous” in the PR world for his Media’s Masters & Disasters blog.
In one of Bernheimer’s posts, he shares his perspective on why media stories often skew dramatic: It’s an oversimplification to say that reporters love the negative. It’s more accurate to say that the media demonstrate a ‘bias toward drama.’ And drama, alas, is usually bad. Crises capture the lion’s share of the media’s dwindling resources.
Mark provides several great tips for company spokespeople, which we’ve boiled down to the four most important things you should know that will help protect your brand during a media interview:
- Today’s “newsroom” looks a lot different than it used to. Shrinking resources in the newsroom means less time and less specialization, journalists may not be as tenured, and they have a daily onslaught of stories to cover. Don’t take it personally if they’re short on social graces; it’s often because they’re on deadline. If you can’t or don’t want to assist them in getting information, they will find someone who will…and it might be a competitor of yours. By better understanding a journalist’s world, you’ll be more empathetic to realize their only goal is simple: to tell a good story.
- Remember that YOU are the expert in your business. Most reporters, even those with specific “beat” assignments, don’t know as much about your organization or industry as you do. Use every interview opportunity as a way to educate the journalist about your business. Avoid speaking in company jargon or technical industry terms. Instead, use explanations that would be clear enough for a 5th grader to understand. Remember, a reporter is never obligated to include your business in their story. It is up to you to provide them with useful information.
- Be mindful of your tone. In the event a media interview turns negative, remain calm. State your key points so you can share your organization’s side of the story and respond to accusations with facts. Understand what’s being asked — restate obscure or lengthy questions so you can provide factual information for the story. And, correct any misstatements of fact. Offering to fact check a story is different than requesting to see, or “approve,” a story in advance; making yourself available to check key facts is typically regarded as helpful. Be mindful of body language and facial expressions. For example, crossing your hands across your chest suggests you are not being forthcoming. Nodding your head can be construed as agreeing with what a reporter is asking.
- Practice. Practice. Practice! Conducting media interviews and effectively delivering your messages are learned behaviors: The more you do it, the better you’ll get.