If you’re looking for an improved public profile and you’re effective at what you do, then at some point you or your close colleagues will find themselves in front of the media.
This is, of course, what you’ve been after all along. But now you have their attention it is important to review the detail of your messages while proceeding with the utmost caution – after all, there is still some debate raging about all publicity being good publicity.
Working in communications, there is no way round this. Prominent figures such as senior company executives, public officials and politicians cannot avoid facing the media at one time or another in today’s 24-hour ‘information age.’ Whether you operate at local community level or in national affairs, at some time a microphone or camera will be thrust in front of you and you will be required to make a statement that will be read, heard or seen by thousands of people.
Before agreeing to a media interview, two important questions to ask yourself are: “do I need to do it,” and, “what’s in it for me?”
Dependent upon the situation, and before agreeing to take part, listen carefully to the request. Don’t be flattered or pressured into an interview. Find out as much as you can. Most importantly, you need to consider what the interview will achieve for your organisation.
Companies and individuals successful in dealing with the media usually have a policy of fast-tracking media inquiries and responding to media requests immediately. So steps you should consider to help progress media contact include:
Brief reception to fast-track media calls. All callers should be identified and calls or messages from journalists should be passed immediately to a nominated person for quick response
Return all media calls immediately – even if it is to say that you need more time to obtain information. If you don’t call back quickly, journalists under the pressure of deadlines will look for alternative sources. Letting them know that you are chasing up some facts and will have them within a specified time – preferably before their deadline – will identify you as a reliable source and keeps lines of communication open
Nominate appropriate spokespersons, preferably more than one. Invariably a principal spokesperson will be unavailable on some occasions through business commitments, holidays, overseas travel, and so on
Provide after-hours contact numbers if possible. The media do not work nine-to-five Monday to Friday. Most media operate around the clock including on weekends and public holidays. The content of Monday morning newspapers has to be researched and compiled on Sundays. You and your organisation will be at an advantage if you provide media with after-hours contact numbers
Train your media spokespersons in communication skills and the techniques of media interviews. You need to find coaching and advice from a proper media trainer.
The first thing that you have to remember is that the media are not monsters. The functions of the media in modern democracies such as those in the US, Europe, Canada and Australia are best described under what is termed the social responsibility theory of the media. The functions under this model are about:
Servicing the political system by providing information, discussion and debate on public affairs;
Enlightening the public so as to make it capable of self-government;
Safeguarding the rights of the individual by serving as a watchdog against government;
Servicing the economic system, primarily by bringing together the buyers and sellers of goods and services through the medium of advertising;
Maintaining its own financial self-sufficiency so as to be free from the pressures of special interests.
The ‘devil’s advocate’ role pursued by the media is one of the reasons that negative makes news more than positive stories. Journalists argue that the public is targeted with advertising, propaganda and public relations campaigns through a range of channels. They see it as their job to provide a balance. That means focusing on the bad news – the failure more than success; the breakdown rather than smooth operation; the accident rather than safety; the crime rather than virtue; the evil rather than good.