Can you imagine a successful company without effective communication? Can you imagine a true business leader without excellent communication skills? Of course not. These skills are even more important for CEO’s, entrepreneurs and company employees, who represent their businesses in external relations – especially the ones, who are responsible for dealing with the media.
Lack of communication skills may generate missed business opportunities, delay projects, create confusion and misunderstandings. Sometimes there are difficulties in getting our message across without any distortion in 1-to-1 model. When communicating with the media we have to be extra cautious – it is easy to imagine how much harm can be done to our company’s reputation with improper statement that reaches big audience in no time. New media provide access to news anytime, anywhere and on any mobile device.
What happens when you receive a phone call from a journalist asking for a short notice statement on your company’s behalf? Should you agree? What to do to gain confidence and deliver your key messages in positive and dynamic way? Please find below some useful tips that will help you to feel and appear comfortable, sound confident, give good quotes, survive the Q&As session, achieve communication objectives and enhance your company’s reputation.
A rule of thumb
First of all, make sure that you are authorised to speak on your company’s behalf. Then ask the journalist for the basic information, i.e. the topic of his interest, its context, number of interviewees and place of the interview. If you do not know the journalist, it might be a good idea for a quick review of his publications with some help from Google search and your PR agency. Now – basing on this short analysis – you can judge, if your interaction with a journalist may bring benefits or pose a threat to your company’s reputation – sometimes silence is golden.
Once you have decided to speak with press, use this opportunity to get your messages across – your interview does not have to be a plain Q&As session. There are some useful techniques to answer the journalist’s question and then move on to your key messages.
The most effective is a ‘three-message’ technique. It should be supported with specific examples and data. Make sure that you sound naturally – not as if it was a poem learnt by heart… Also a relevant anecdote as a back-up is a good idea – when addressed properly, it will make your message remembered. Rehearse in front of a mirror or your colleague. It is even more important, if you are about to communicate some difficult issues or in a crisis situation.
How to dress for a media appearance?
The way you are dressed should be consistent with the desired image of your company. It might be hard to imagine a creative agency representative wearing a suit… In the majority of other cases, so called ‘classical elegance’ (no stripes as they will blink on the screen) with no extravagance (no garish colours and signet-rings…) is the perfect choice. Men should pay a special attention to properly-tied tie, calf-covering socks and clean shoes…
Stick to your messages, use full sentences and do not refer to your previous statements. Keep calm and never loose your temper, even when the journalist becomes hostile. Avoid corporate and technical jargon as the journalist and the viewers/listeners/readers do not necessarily know your business. Close the interview with your key messages. Do not be afraid to say ‘I do not know’ – it is always better than making up a false reality. Pay attention to a non-verbal communication. If you are about to perform in front of a camera, avoid violent gesticulation, waggling, fiddling with a pen or a microphone. Stay focused – during radio and TV interviews authorization of your quotes is not possible.
What is also very important?
Remembering that there are no ‘off the record’ statements and the interview ends only when you put down the receiver, leave a TV studio or say ‘goodbye’ to the journalist. It is a common practice, especially during crisis situations, that journalists try to find out additional information after a company representative finished his/her ‘official’ interview. Additionally, if you are ‘caught’ all of a sudden by a journalist (for ex. in the street, in the staircase), who wants your statement on a certain issue, the best solution is to decline politely, take his number and call him/have someone call him later, after a thorough preparation.
The above ‘quick tips’ are just a reminder of key points to consider before and during a media interview. They work best after you have participated in a professional media training for the press, radio and TV appearances. In fact, professional appearance in front of a camera, on the radio or during an interview for print press is not possible without a media training. Only then practice makes perfect!