How many times have you heard, “The media are out to get me” or “There is no such thing as a good interview” from a client or executive? Or maybe something like, “I didn’t say that” or “they took what I said out of context” from a CEO who is unhappy with a quote he/she sees in a story.
For the most part, the media are not out to get us. It hurts their credibility to get something wrong, which translates into declining numbers and loss of advertising.
I look at it this way – – the media are not going to force the black cowboy hat on you, but if you grab it and put it on your head, the media will help fit it.
The CEO, C-Suite executive, manager or appointed spokesperson who doesn’t properly prepare for an interview is doing a disservice to themselves and the company they represent. As PR professionals, we are doing a disservice to our company and ourselves if we allow this to happen.
If your spokesperson is not amenable to some form of spokesperson training (which you don’t have to call “spokesperson training”) and/or isn’t willing to have a “get prepared” or “review what is going to be discussed” meeting 20 minutes before the interview, rethink why you are talking to the media and what you are wanting to accomplish.
For the 20 minute prep, it is as simple as:
- Reviewing why we are doing the interview. Illustrate how it is going to benefit us, who we are wanting to reach and what we are shooting for as far the desired effect. This is important for both proactive interviews and reactionary interviews (media contacted you about a subject and you determined an interview was more appropriate then a statement – – choosing interview or statement is the topic of my next blog).
The idea here is to make sure we are on the same page as our spokesperson and we manage his/her expectations.
- Having your three to five key messages agreed upon, ready and in front o’ your spokesperson. Ideally, we will have worked with the spokesperson on the messages so he/she feels true ownership.
More is not better when it comes to key messages – – muddles what you are trying to get across. Staying on message is going to help prevent being “taken out of context” or saying something “you didn’t say.”
Each message needs to be to be compelling, meaning it affects the heart, head or wallet of your real audience. Follow each key message with examples supporting/proving the accuracy of your message.
Use your spokesperson’s personal experience, experiences of others, facts/statistics, and analogies. These examples shouldn’t have to be complete sentences; just enough so the spokesperson remembers the example.
- Addressing the questions and bridging to prepared messages. We know what the majority are going to be. List them and make sure your spokesperson can answer them. The key is to be short and sweet and to understand that while we are going to answer every question (maybe not the answer the media wants to hear), we are doing the interview to get our key messages across.
Our answers may very well not be our key messages, but the key messages will relate to the question since the question will be about the agreed upon topic.
I like using a three column approach – – left side for the questions (my preference is not writing out a word-for-word question since a reporter may not say it exactly the same way), right side for our messages and narrow middle column for the answers – – narrow to remind short and sweet.
Answer the question and bridge to your messages that relates to your question. If you don’t have a relevant message, answer and wait for the next question. Don’t go off message.
- Talking about trap questions and questions you don’t have to answer the way the media wants you to answer. Questions like, “what if you don’t succeed” or “was it poor planning or lousy execution” or “why is your competitor saying” are nothing more than great ways to quickly get to our key messages. For example:
– I don’t speak in hypotheticals, but we are going to succeed because…
– Neither, what happened is…
– You’d have to ask them, what I can tell you is…
There are also questions that are asked that may be competitive, personal, in litigation or involve security issues. Explain why we can’t answer those questions.
During the actual interview, I like to be present. In the room, over the phone. My role is to introduce our spokesperson with the reporter by reiterating the topic, listen to the questions asked, provide “nudges” when necessary to our spokesperson (a note, pointing to a relevant message, mentioning in the interview), take notes, provide follow up materials/information and review the interview with our spokesperson.
What works for you? What obstacles have you had to overcome?
4 thoughts on “Four Ways to Make Sure Your Spokesperson Isn’t ‘Taken Out of Context’ by the Media”
Andy – great column. As a former corporate spokesperson, there is no truer truth than you control what comes out of your mouth. And there is no substitute for proper preparation and practice before EVERY interview. Humans are “wing-it” challenged in the words of my media trainer guru, Brian Ellis. So prepare and make sure you have strong messages and know how to use them to deal with any question that comes your way.
– Ken Garcia
Thanks, Ken. Glad you liked it. Hope all is well.
You always did a great job prepping me to speak with the media!
Nice work, Andy. This is succinct with great advice!