An unprepared or an untrained media spokesperson is a ticking time bomb for your brand. A spokesperson is the voice and personification of your brand. It is extremely important that they are informed, trained, prepared and knowledgeable.
Media contacts, which extends to the person listed on your news release or website, need to understand their role and be ready for what the responsibility brings.
Here are some tips to ensure your spokesperson is the best possible representation of your company.
If you are listed as the media contact on a news release, then being prepared begins by being aware that the news release has gone out, and what it’s about! Media contacts are often in place simply to field inquiries to other experts. Others are expected to answer media inquiries on behalf of the company.
If you are routing inquiries, you need to be equipped with access to your spokesperson’s calendar, a means for tracking incoming calls and conversations, and a media brief template that you can complete and share with spokespeople for each interview booked. This is a brief but detailed document that highlights key points about an upcoming interview, including date, time, location or call information, reporter name, photo and social handles, links to past articles written on similar issues, potential angles they may pursue and key messages that the spokesperson needs to share.
Experts speaking on behalf of your organization, from project leads to scientists to senior executives, need to be properly prepared for the media. These people may be exceptional in their roles, but interviews with journalists can be terrifying for the unprepared. Work with them in advance to ensure they can speak knowledgably and naturally to reporters. Media training doesn’t mean being wooden and over scripted, but the very opposite. Basic media training includes gaining a comfort level with the process: knowing how an interview generally plays out, what to expect, how to handle an awkward pause, what to do with your hands while talking, and how to ensure responses are natural and quotable.
Occasionally it happens that a media contact on a news release becomes part of a template that is simply carried over from previous releases issued by the company or agency. Take a moment to ensure the media contact listed on your news release is correct and available to take calls.
This sounds painfully obvious but it is a very common mistake. Think about it: PR teams are usually very busy on announcement days. They are playing a number of important roles related to the news release – event coordinator, conference call host, crisis lead – and are often not checking their phones. For that matter, ensure that a desk line is not provided when the contact is likely to be offsite. Cell numbers conveniently make it possible for a journalist to text if they need to as well.
Anita Bathe, a reporter for News1130, has this to say regarding a media contact’s availability:
Expert spokespeople are in demand throughout your organization. Be sure to book time in their schedules prior to announcement day to ensure they’re not on planes or booked in other meetings when reporters are likely to want interviews. Believe it or not, your CEO or head of product development may not see a media interview at the same level of priority that you do, so take appropriate time in advance to ensure their participation.
Author of ‘The Media Training Bible” Brad Philips believes little is more important than ensuring your spokesperson actually knows what they want to communicate during an interview with a reporter. Simply jotting down the three key messages that are most important to the story is a great way to do this. Use your media brief template.
Without repeating the same words over and over again, encourage your spokesperson to reinforce your message by ensuring the idea of at least one of your key messages is conveyed in every answer you give.
The experts over at PR News cannot stress this enough and illustrate it in a great example. While you may think you are giving a superior and intellectual answer, you are more than likely just confusing your listener. If they don’t understand your message, they cannot relay it accurately. Think about making your story easy for someone else to retell. Cut the legal and industry jargon and instead speak in clear and simple language.
Journalists are experts at lie detecting. They will probably do some research on this story that includes talking to other people. If your facts don’t add up or seem stretched, they’ll find out.
If your company is in the midst of a crisis or scandal, a sure way to exacerbate the issue is for your spokesperson to blatantly lie or knowingly mislead a reporter or journalist. This is often the work of a panicky spokesperson. Ensure the media brief contains messages that will help your spokesperson field unpleasant inquiries with language that demonstrates your company’s willingness to share information when more is known, for example.
It is important not to ramble and so when you have made your point, simply stop talking. Trying to over answer a question can be as unfavourable as not having answered it at all. According to an article by Marketing Profs, saying “no comment” is the worst. They recommend simply answering with “I am not the right person to provide that kind of information.”