Boardroom attitudes to the press and media vary hugely but they usually fall into three categories.
Many business owners and directors choose to avoid dealing with the press and media. Unaccustomed to answering questions from journalists, they fear the unknown and worry about the damage that can be done to companies and brands by negative coverage.
Directors may also find themselves thrust into the spotlight, often at short notice and not at a time of their own choosing. They ”muddle through” to use a phrase I have heard frequently. Unprepared for questions from journalists, they are often dissatisfied with the resulting coverage.
There are also company directors who are very comfortable in the media spotlight. They will seek out opportunities to talk about their company, brand and products and the sector they are involved in. They are usually rewarded with positive coverage and increased profile, which can lead to increased sales.
What is the difference between them? There is no doubt that media training plays a hugely significant role in helping directors develop into confident and capable performers. Training helps to demystify what journalists are looking for and equips people with the skills to deal with the trickiest of questions.
When you are dealing with the media it is essential to retain control. If you receive a call from a journalist it is important that you ask questions to establish the facts. The five Ws are a good starting point:
Who? Who reads the publication or watches or listens to the programme? Who will be asking the questions? Who else is taking part?
What? What are you expected to talk about? What do you know about the subject? ? What type of article or report – feature, news, radio television, online – is it?
Why? If the enquiry is not specific to your company, why have they approached you? Why now?
Where? Where will the interview take place? Will it be over the telephone, face to face, in a studio or on location?
When? When is the interview scheduled? Will it be live or pre-recorded? When will the item be printed or broadcast or appear online?
You should only agree to take part in an interview when you are satisfied with the answers.
Tell your own story
Companies will often decide to go on the front foot when they have a positive story to tell. Nowadays, the traditional press release has limited reach. Think about embedding videos to help tell your story. Most newspapers and many trade publications have an online presence where they will add video clips and will often use them on their social media platforms too, offering a massive reach.
Remember that good journalists are likely to want more information than is included in the press release. Business journalists will need facts and figures – sales and profit – before they will usea story.
Prepare – Practice – Perform
The old adage – Fail to prepare, prepare to fail – remains very relevant for media interviews. Company owners will usually seek guidance from professional advisers e.g. lawyers and accountants before embarking on a course of action. A session with media advisers is equally important before any engagement with journalists.
Media advisers will be able to assess the opportunity and threat in each interview and advise accordingly. Preparation should include an analysis of ALL questions that could be asked, positive and negative. If you only prepare to tell a positive story you will not be ready for the harder questions.
Once you have worked out what you want to say, practice your key messages. For broadcast interviews, make sure you can say all the words clearly, under pressure. If not, change the words.
While broadcast interviews should always be conversational, do not be lulled into thinking it is a conversation. This is a performance and should be treated as such. Remember what many experts say about the audience listening and watching your performance. Audiences receive 7% of the message from the words; 38% from the voice tone and 55% from the body language. Most of what we hear is what we see.
Choosing a spokesperson
For television and radio interviews, it is very important that a company chooses the right person to project the company’s image. Sometimes, the most senior member of staff might not be the most appropriate person to take part. If your company undertakes media training, part of the feedback from the course leaders should include a recommendation on the best performers in front of camera and under pressure.
Have a key message
It is vital to work out your key messages before any interview. It is also important to work out how to get back to these key messages if the interviewer drifts off into other areas. If you are appearing on a pre-recorded television package you will usually be given 15 seconds to get your message across. This equates to fewer than fifty words.
Use Social Media
Companies of all sizes are increasingly using social media to build their brand, tell their story and communicate with customers. It is critically important that the right tone and appropriate platforms are used to target your customers. Carry out a social media audit to find out where your customers are and to identify which platforms your competitors are using and how effectively
At every opportunity consider using video, which is the most powerful way of reaching out to audiences.
Remember that a journalist is neither your friend nor your enemy. They are doing a job, often against very tight deadlines. If you are properly prepared for an interview or broadcast opportunity it can be a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience and can bring enormous benefits to your company.
John Morrison, a former BBC News correspondent, is the managing director of Morrison Media, a full service communications and digital marketing agency and a leading provider of media training for businesses of all sizes. http://www.morrison-media.co.uk
John leads Media Training for the Boardroom courses for IoD Scotland and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org