Vice President Dick Cheney isn''t the only one whose disdain for the media leads him to make mistakes for which an entry level PR flunky would be fired. Many top executives have seen for themselves how challenging the media can be to deal with. If they haven''t personally experienced the cold stares of the press corps, they certainly have seen their friends thrust into the frying pan.
In our dealings with CEOs and other corporate leadership, it is typical for them to tell us that a journalist''s job is to uncover sensational details and present them in a way that turns heads and raises eyebrows -- the facts notwithstanding. Many feel that journalists aren''t interested in the truth; they are interested in bullying their subjects and making them look bad.
With this point of view, is it any wonder that corporate leaders often play defense when they find themselves scrutinized by journalists? Instead of proactively seeking to take advantage of the opportunity to get their story across or to express concern and sympathy, they insulate themselves away from the media, leaving journalists no alternative but to dig around and speculate.
It is a stark reminder of essential role that media interview skills training plays for those in the executive suite. The first line of defense when an executive is in the company of a journalist is preparedness. Beforehand, they should have conciously thought about what they want to achieve, what their key messages are and what questions the reporter is likely to ask. That''s the minimum.
Hopefully, they''ve gone beyond that and they have practiced fielding questions and then watched themselves on video.
Embracing media interview skills training for your organization''s executive team as well as its subject matter experts is a key step in ensuring your orgnization is ready for the unexpected. Here are the essentials:
- Do your homework. Research the reporter before each interview, including recent stories he or she has published. This will offer insight into their likely questions and it will help in preparing for the interview.
- Define your key messages. Work with the organziation''s leadership to identify three or four core messages, then boil them down to simple thoughts that you can easily remember. If possible, try to think of personal stories that illustrate these key points. Your objective in any exchange with a journalist is to weave these messages into your responses.
- Brainstorm the questions that you hope no reporter will ever ask. Spending time beforehand considering what a journalist might begin picking at in a worst case scenario can help you grow comfortable quickly bridging to your core points after briefly addressing the question.
- Capitalize on every opportunity. Almost every reporter asks the same question at the end of an interview: "Is there anything else you''d like to add that we didn''t ask?" Take advantage of this opportunity to reiterate key messages and sum up the interview in a positive light.
- Build a relationship. The journalist may not be interested, but always offer to be a resource in the future. This can increase the likelihood of a constructive future interaction with that journalist and his/her media outlet.
Thanks to today''s 24-hour news cycle, a local story can easily become a national story before you know it. There''s no telling when a story will spin out of control.
Never let your organization''s spokesperson walk into the glare of the media spotlight without experience. Media interview skills training is the best time to make mistakes -- rather than when the whole community is watching.