More than ever before, executives are being called on to represent their organizations in backgrounders, briefings and interviews with reporters from the print, broadcast and online media. These discussions offer an excellent opportunity to tell a positive story about the organization and its products and services.
Every discussion is different depending on the length, format, reporter’s style and whether he or she is working for a print publication, radio/TV station or online media outlet. A reporter with a monthly magazine generally will have the time to explore a subject more thoroughly than an on-air TV reporter who, more often than not, is simply seeking a juicy “sound bite.” With the advent of the Internet, the news cycle is now 24/7 and an executive may be called at any time of the day or night for a quote.
In every case, executives increase their chances of being included in a story by using techniques regarding form and content that can be learned and practiced and avoiding these common mistakes:
- Replying “No Comment.” No comment translates to “guilty as charged.” The reply is used most frequently when the responder has bad news. You are under no obligation to give out information that would be damaging to you or your company. However, a response like “I can’t discuss the matter at this time, because of SEC regulations” accomplishes the same thing.
- Not Being Prepared. You need to have your facts and figures at your fingertips prior to the interview.
- Repeating a Negative. Your response: “Yes, earnings are down, but we made a capital investment of $50 in the quarter to expand our production capacity to meet consumer demand.” What is written: “Yes, earnings are down.” Some notable quotes: President Richard Nixon: “ I want the American people to know their President is not a crook.” Jessica Hahn: “I am not a bimbo.” Bank regulator: “We were not asleep at the switch.”
- Being Late to an Interview. Reporters are on tight schedules. If you are late (either by phone, in person, or online), besides irritating the reporter, you reduce your chances of getting in all your key messages. Being late to a live television interview is fatal to the relationship.
- Restricting Your Answer to the Question. You don’t have to narrowly respond to a question with a “yes” or “no.” Use the opportunity to “bridge” from the question to offer information that will broaden the reporter’s understanding and knowledge of your company and its offerings.
- Ignoring the Question. You must acknowledge the question, but you can say, “It’s not a simple yes or no, but let me tell you about how our company is addressing this is important public policy issue.”
- Not Returning Phone Calls or Emails. This is a cardinal sin, especially if a reporter is on deadline. Return all phone calls and emails (and text messages) as soon as possible, even if you know you’ll be asked questions you’d rather avoid. Otherwise, you’ll find reporters not returning your phone calls or emails.
- Using Jargon. Not every reporter is knowledgeable about your industry and its acronyms. Use language in terms that are understandable to a layman.
- Lying. Never lie to the press. They can always find out the truth from another source or by searching the Internet.
- Dribbling Out Bad News. The cardinal rule is to get all the bad information out at once. Do not dribble out morsels one at a time as this is guaranteed to keep the bad news in front of the public until all the bad news is out — and it will come out.