Handling the Media

by Jennifer Stenhouse

In a nutshell

1. How does the media work?

It helps to understand how the media works before you engage with it.

  • It’s a business whose main currency is a good story.
  • Viewers/reader/listeners are effectively consumers.
  • Not all news or media outlets will want the same story.
  • A good story always involves people.

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2. What should I do before an interview?

If a journalist asks for an interview, what should you do?

  • Breathe deeply and slowly from the abdomen to avoid panic.
  • Do not give an immediate interview – always take time to prepare.
  • Ask appropriate questions – you have the right to know what it’s all about.
  • Consider who would be the best person in the circumstances to give the interview.
  • Arrange a time to return the call – and do it!
  • Think twice about turning down the opportunity of giving an interview.
  • ‘No comment’ is rarely a useful option

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3. Into the lion’s den – what do you want?

Why would you even want to go there? It’s free advertising; it can add to your credibility and increase your profile, and it can give you a chance to put the record straight.

Always set your intent before any interview to give yourself – and your communication – clarity.

Define your outcomes – what do you want your interview to achieve?

Look on taking part in an interview as free advertising.

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4. The message

The average length of a TV news sound bite is 15 seconds – radio can be much shorter. Your message should therefore be the distillation of what you want to communicate.

  • Always have a prepared message of 15 words or fewer to help you form clear answers to questions.
  • Brainstorm the message well ahead of time and remember to use positive and active language for best effect.
  • Stick to one concept per message – this is about making things simple.
  • Say what you want to say and then stop talking.

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5. Language and audience

Consider your audience – who they are, what they know, their interests and preconceptions.

  • Use language that’s appropriate to the audience. If the audience is a general cross section, keep it general as well as simple.
  • Avoid jargon, unless you can say, hand on heart, that everyone in your audience will understand the reference.
  • Numbers can be hard for some people to grasp, so use simile or metaphor where possible and avoid percentages.
  • Paint pictures with your words to illustrate your story.

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6. The interview – preparation checklist

Make sure you’re as fully prepared as possible and that you know, as far as possible, what to expect.

  • Make sure you are not being broadcast live if a journalist rings you for comments.
  • Go through the preparation checklist to make sure you have answers to all the relevant questions.
  • Ask the journalist for details about the programme, other interviewees and so on.

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7. Types of interview

There are different types of radio and TV interview, each of which has its own pros and cons.

  • If you are recorded live, the message can’t be filtered or adapted.
  • In a recorded interview, you will have the chance to make corrections.
  • When taking part in a group discussion, pay close attention when other participants are speaking.
  • Phone-ins give you plenty of time to get your message across, but avoid getting dragged into long discussions about an individual’s personal problems.
  • If you are being interviewed down the line, in a separate studio, look at the camera.

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8. Interview tips

TV and radio have many similarities, but there are differences worth noting.

  • Always keep a positive attitude – it will work in your favour.
  • Make sure your message says what you want.
  • Maintain eye contact in both radio and TV interviews.
  • Whether the interview is on the radio or the TV, leave notes outside the studio.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when doing an interview and make sure nothing lurks in the background that could diminish your authority. (If the location is your office, make sure it’s tidy.)

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9. Deal with the nerves

It’s natural to be nervous if interviews are not part of your routine, but you can switch out of your (nervous) state by changing your physiology.

  • Appropriate breathing is very important – it will help you not only to feel relaxed but also to remember what you need to say.
  • You can influence your state with visualisation, remembering a time when you felt positive and sure of yourself.
  • Turn negative interview memories or pictures into positive ones.

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10. What to wear

A high proportion of communication is non-verbal, so it matters what you wear:

  • Smart tailored suits, if it’s appropriate
  • Dark colours for authority
  • No fussy or glittery details or busy patterns
  • Make up on TV to take the shine off your face.

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11. A word on journalists

Journalists are humans too: they work under a lot of pressure and do the best they can.

  • Be as helpful and pleasant as you can – it will pay dividends.
  • It’s important to build rapport with a journalist while maintaining a healthy distance.
  • Remember that a journalist is never off duty.
  • Avoid speaking ‘off the record’.

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12. Pitfalls to avoid

You can avoid getting into territory you don’t want to enter by maintaining clarity and using the bridging technique to get you on to what you want to say.

  • Always resist repeating any negative that’s put to you in a question – in fact resist repeating the question. Period.
  • If a question is based on an untrue premise, rebut it.
  • If a journalist tries to bait you, just rise above it.

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13. Press release

The job of a press release is to sell a story, so make it interesting!

  • Make it clear and informative, with contact details so that journalists can follow it up.
  • Structure it like a news story: the most important fact in the first paragraph and then continue in descending order.
  • A press release might not be appropriate – you might consider a phone call or offer to write an article yourself.

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14. Press conference

Press conferences require careful planning to be successful, and even the best press conference might not bring the results you expect.

  • Try to give three weeks’ notice.
  • Make sure all the logistics are in order.
  • Prepare for all likely/possible questions.
  • World events can easily eclipse your efforts.

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15. Media campaign key tips

Be proactive, positive and prepared.

  • Agree on a good, effective, short message.
  • Cultivate journalists as ‘friends’, but always remain on your guard with them.
  • Remember the impact one good photograph can make.

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16. A-Z of quick tips and media jargon

Everything you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask! This summarises all the tips, does and don’t, including what to wear, what to say and what not to say, how to guard against common pitfalls and how to get the best out of an interview opportunity.

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