Ever notice how the media tends to interview the same experts time and time again? Have you wondered if those executives have better communications staff, take advantage of personal media contacts, or are maybe just plain lucky to get that much free publicity for their interests?
Whatever else those executives have going for them, you can be sure they’ve learned one thing: what the media wants.
An executive who is accessible, quotable and knowledgeable is every reporter’s dream. When reporters find a source like that, from any field, they’re sure to add that executive’s name to their Rolodex and keep him or her there.
Some senior executives so loathe public appearances, they will leave all interaction with the media and indeed the general public, to a paid company spokesperson. Whether that spokesperson is a “hired gun” from a public relations firm, or an internal staff member, the message that person delivers can never be as powerful as the one coming from a senior executive of the company itself. That executive is the one with power to affect change and who can speak with the most authority on any given issue. While the media will air or quote what a spokesperson has to say if they have no other choice, a company spokesperson is never as desirable a “get” for a reporter as a corporate executive on the front lines.
Lack of access and public accountability by senior executives can be a distinct disadvantage especially at times of crisis.
Because there is more to gain for a senior executive who speaks to the public through reporters, there’s more to lose as well. There are scores of examples of the ill-timed remark or emotional outburst devastating personal and corporate reputations in a moment. But for those executives who understand their role in shaping a corporate image, and who can communicate ideas effectively to a reporter, the rewards are great. That’s why media training ought to be a requirement for any senior executive responsible for their company’s reputation and image.
So how do executives cut through the noise and win positive coverage in a much-coveted place in the media spotlight? Here are some tips that media savvy executives already know:
Accessibility counts (a lot): If you’re going to work with the media, you’re going to have to accept that reporters live by the deadline. That means the interview they absolutely must have is the one they need now. If you’re going to accept the interview, accept it immediately. Then you can buy yourself as much time as you can to prepare.
Interview the interviewer: Any legitimate reporter will have no problem answering a few questions before the interview that will help you prepare for it. Ask the reporter what he or she wants you to contribute, who else has been or will be interviewed, and when the reporter’s deadline is.
Know what you want to say: This is called messaging and it’s a vital part of the process of speaking to any reporter. You are not speaking with a reporter just to answer their questions. (Even the reporter doesn’t believe that!) This is your opportunity to deliver a message of your own. Take it!
Less is more: Speaking to reporters requires getting down to the bottom line as quickly, and as quotably, as you can. Deliver the supportive data, facts and backup information after you’re sure you’ve delivered your bottom-line message. Try to make your message as accessible as you can to the greatest number of people (no jargon!)
Practice, practice, and practice: It takes a while to get comfortable with it all, developing messages, reducing your messages to a few well-spoken statements, and staying on message through questions. The more you do it, the better you will get. Start out with as many small, local and friendly outlets and forums as you can. No matter which reporters you speak to, follow the same process.
Enjoy yourself: No, seriously! It’s possible. When you’re confident, it’ll show. Give reporters what they want-access, good quotes and reliable information-and you’ll be accessing opportunities for yourself and your company to tell the world about your story.
Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter and p.r. executive who now leads her own Washington D.C. area firm, training public and private executives in the art of communications..