Month: October 2013

How the Three-Column Approach is the Best Way to Getting Your Messages Across AND Answering the Reporter’s Question

megasharkbridge

When we last left our Strategy of Answering Questions blog, we were talking about – among other things – the ways to answer questions including not necessarily the way the media would like us to do so.

So, let’s get a little interactive. Grab a piece of paper. I’ll wait….

Draw three columns, making the middle column much narrower than the right and left columns. Label the right column Messages.

Now, think about a particular topic. This is the topic that was pitched to the media or – if reactionary – the topic the media is asking to talk about. Let’s say, the launch of a new product or service. Write down those points we want to get across. Think about it like you have a three-minute commercial to fill with facts. At this point, we aren’t sculpting true messages or worrying about anything other than those things associated with the launch.

I think it’s fair to say the points could look something like this:

  • Last several years developing, testing and refining new technology
  • Enables consumers to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently
  • Target audience are men and women 35-54 years old; educated; high disposable income
  • Vastly improves existing technology

Pretty good list. Could have more bullets, but you get the idea. Label the column on the left side Questions and think about all the types of questions that may be asked.

Don’t look at the messages. Just think about the types of questions and jot those down.  Could look something like:

  • Late to market
  • Too expensive
  • Not going to succeed
  • Already outdated
  • Not needed

Again, you get the idea. Also, please note that I specifically did not write the questions in sentence format. Reality is a reporter isn’t going to repeat your questions verbatim. There are multiple ways a question can be asked and this prepares you to get comfortable with answering any type of questions – – even the tough ones.

Now if you take a look at both the left and right columns, you’ll see that the column on the right relates to the column on the left. Your message points may not specifically address the question, but they certainly relates to them.

But what about the middle column? Glad you asked.

The short, narrow middle column are for your Answers. The column is short and narrow to remind you to keep your answers short. You absolutely want to answer questions because you don’t want to sound like a politician, but you are taking part in an interview because you have messages you want to get across. Messages on a topic that you’ve already agreed upon.

So, a question is asked, concisely answered and “bridged” to your message points. Bridging is the technique that allows you to get from a question to your positive message. The secret to successful bridging is answering the question.  Whenever you’re asked a question give a short, honest answer, then bridge to the positive message you’ve prepared in advance. If you don’t have a positive message prepared in advance on the question’s subject, give a short honest answer and stop.

Next up – how exactly do you answer those really tough questions? Like, “Was it poor planning or poor execution that made you late to market?” or “What if the new technology fails?” Fear not. The toughest question is nothing more than a great opportunity to get your messages across.

Strategy of Answering Questions – Three Spokesperson Rights and Three Ways to Answer a Question (All Involve Answering Honestly)

BARBARA WALTERS, JUSTIN BIEBER

In the first post of this series on the Strategy of Answering Questions, I provided an overview on how and why the strategy and tactics used in “spokesperson training” for a media interview can be applied to any business meeting, presentation or conversation. I also made it clear the PR professionals’ job isn’t over after the interview is booked and the training occurs.

In this post, we will talk about the rights you have when you agree to an interview and the three ways to answer a question.

Our spokesperson has three rights we – as PR professionals – need to be aware of:

The Right to Be Prepared – A spokesperson should never enter into an interview without a clear understanding of what the interview is about.

The good PR professional is going to provide a briefing sheet. This is a given. But, know your spokesperson. The purpose of the briefing sheet is not to prove your existence or worth. More may not be better. You don’t want your spokesperson to overanalyze a reporter or try to be too clever by referencing some obscure fact you found about the reporter.

It should include basic information on the outlet and why it is important (our target/real audience reads it, etc.). Same for the reporter. If there are relevant stories, you may want to include.

Part of making sure your spokesperson is properly prepared is letting him/her know that it is okay to conduct an interview with notes in front of them. Whether over the phone, in-person or – in many instances – on television. Work with the spokesperson in determining what they prefer – – note cards, etc.

The Right to be Comfortable – It is important to be comfortable for two reasons.  First, when you are physically comfortable, you will be more confident. Second, you should be thinking about your message, and physical comfort will allow you to do that.

The good PR professional will not only make sure the spokesperson is comfortable, but aware of the task at-hand. For example, if conducting an interview over the phone, make sure the interview is on a landline or on a cell where there will be consistent, good coverage. No speaker. No driving. No distractions.

The Right to Be Treated Fairly – Common courtesy is not always common in an interview. Part of our role is to make sure our spokesperson understands who he/she is talking to – – a reporter/anchor is allowed to ask tough questions but should “call it down the middle” while a columnist/commentator is getting paid to offer up an opinion.

If a media outlet has the reputation of being off-color or irreverent, go in with your eyes open. If the topic you are discussing is explosive, the interview may be.

When it comes to answering a question, there are three ways:

Direct, Immediate Response – Whenever possible, this is the best way to answer a question. You definitely want to convey your willingness to answer tough questions.

Sometimes people ask non-questions like:  “Tell us about your company,” or “Describe your strategy with this new move.” These “questions” are simply an invitation to start talking.  The interviewer is “handing you the microphone” and asking you to communicate.  Take this opportunity to define your company or cause.

After Thought – There are some questions that require you to think before you answer.  Since you don’t want to stare at anyone in stunned silence, these are techniques that will give you time to think:

  • Ask the questioner to repeat or rephrase the question.  The question will always be easier the second time.  Even if the question is repeated verbatim, it buys you some time to think about your answer.
  • Repeat or rephrase the question yourself.  “If I understand you correctly, what you’re asking is” or “The key point you are raising in your question is” or “What is important for the audience to know is…”
  • You can also think aloud to buy some time.  “That dates back to the a few years ago” or “Let me just provide a perspective to that…”

Try not to overuse these techniques. Save them for those situations when they are really needed.

Not at All – There are questions you don’t have to answer…well, sort of. You do have to give a direct response explaining why you are not going to answer the question.  These responses include:

  • “That’s personal.”  Questions about your salary, voting record, hobbies, personal opinions.
  • “We consider that competitive information,” “Our competitors would love to know that.”  Questions about corporate strategy, profit margins, expansion plans, new products or services are proprietary.
  • “I really can’t talk about it while it’s in litigation.”  There are legal reasons for not answering questions.
  • “Negotiations are in progress.”  You don’t have to reveal the progress of ongoing negotiations or private discussions.
  • “It wouldn’t be smart to give a blueprint to our security.”  You don’t have to answer questions about these precautions.
  • “I don’t know the answer to that question.” The best reason of all not to answer a question is that you truly don’t know the answer. Abraham Lincoln said it best – – “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

One of two things will happen:  A question is asked and since you have agreed to the topic, and you’ve prepared ahead of time, you will concisely answer that question and “bridge” to your message points. Or, a question is asked and you don’t know the answer. Tell them that and wait for the next question.

You may have heard people complain that a reporter took their words out of context.  Odds are, the reporter didn’t do that. Odds are that person went off his message or tried to answer a question he wasn’t prepared to answer. The same could be said if someone “misinterprets” something you said. Never try to guess the right answer to a question.

Now that you know how to answer and what you can and cannot answer, the next post will talk about the process you should go through when preparing your messages and the technique of bridging, or transitioning from your answer to your message.

Prepping Your Spokesperson is More than Just How to do an Interview

tony-stark-threatens-mandarin-in-iron-man-3

Few weeks back I talked about the Four Ways to Make Sure Your Spokesperson Isn’t ‘Taken Out of Context’ by the Media. It was a much-abridged version of media training; something that is near and dear to me and a topic I was asked by several people to expand upon.

Before I do anything, I must credit the late, great Ken Fairchild who I was lucky enough to spend time with, learning this craft. Many consider Ken the “Godfather of Spokesperson Training” for he started this “take” on media training in the 1970s. Ken was a good man and is dearly missed.

Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I dislike calling these training sessions’ media or spokesperson training. The fact is, while these sessions are designed to prepare an individual to handle the toughest of interviews from 60 Minutes, 20/20 and the like, what is being taught is a strategy of answering questions that can be applied to conducting new business meetings, presentations to clients or vendors, or any conversation where you are wanting to get your message across. Works with everyone except my wife.

Another little secret. If our spokesperson goes through training and we stop our work after we secure the interview and review key messages, we are just as much to blame if an interview goes wrong.

Without the proper training, most people when confronted with a media interview surrender their right to be an equal participant in a two-party conversation. An interviewee often behaves like a witness under a subpoena and not an active participant with a message to convey to a larger audience.

Remember, a media interview is more than just an agreement to answer a reporter’s questions. You participate in an interview because you have a message you want your real audience to receive (that said, and I cannot stress this enough – – you must answer the question).

Prior to the start of the interview, the PR professional should restate to the interviewer the purpose of the interview and what the spokesperson is going to bring to the table. If the spokesperson is by him/herself, he/she needs to do this.

Sometimes things get lost in translation between producer who was pitched and anchor/host who is doing the story. Doing this level sets, addresses any confusion and provides you or the spokesperson to possibly “test-drive” a key message you want to get across. This should be done with all interviews, not just broadcast. It reinforces what you are wanting to talk about.

As an interviewee, you have certain rights. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss what those rights are, and how you can leverage them to make sure you not only answer the questions, but do so and get your messages across.