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A reporter calls your company, aiming to write an article about your newest product or service. While you want to get the most favorable publicity possible, dealing with the media can be daunting. But with a little preparation and the following advice from PR experts, you can sail through any interview and revel in the resulting media attention.
- Take a deep breath. “The No. 1 piece of advice I give is they should think of it as an opportunity and not something to be intimated by,” says Matt Kucharski, senior vice president of Padilla Spear Beardsley, an integrated communications consulting firm with offices in New York and Minneapolis. “There’s a misconception that a reporter is going to jump out from behind the potted plant and accuse you of something. But the vast majority of interactions with reporters are positive. The reporter wants to write a story and you can be a useful provider of information.”
- Study up. Before the interview takes place, find some examples of the journalist’s past work. Review a few articles or blog posts, listen to a radio newscast, or watch some TV clips to get a feel for how he or she handles similar stories. Then you’ll know what to expect, advises Blois Olson, executive vice president of Tunheim Partners, a Minneapolis firm that specializes in corporate communications, public affairs, branding and social media.
- Get ready. Kucharski calls his process “Three to the Fourth Power.” Before meeting with a journalist, he tells clients to write out three questions you think the reporter will ask; three questions you want the reporter to ask; three questions you hope the reporter won’t ask; and three key points you want to get across. “It forces you to think like the reporter and think about what you want to communicate, and it forces you to be ready for the unexpected,” says Kucharski. “If you prepare these different sets of threes, you’ll be ready for most situations.”
- Avoid big no-nos. If a reporter asks a question you don’t want to answer, the worst thing to say is “no comment.” “I tell people that ‘no comment’ is Latin for dig deeper,” says Kucharski. “Don’t feel like you have to answer every single question. ‘I don’t know; I will find out and get back to you,’ is a perfectly appropriate answer instead.” Along the same lines, don’t step into the off-the-record minefield. It’s frustrating for reporters to get information they can’t use, and it’s often hard for them to tell when the conversation goes back on the record. “If you don’t want to see something in print, then don’t say it,” Kucharski adds.
- Make it easy. Help the reporter tell your company’s story by making their job simpler. That might mean offering graphs, photos or concrete examples that illustrate the points you’re trying to highlight, says Kucharski. In addition, paying attention to deadlines, returning phone calls and e-mails, and being generally responsive to requests go a long way toward building strong relationships with journalists.
- Collaborate during a crisis. Sometimes a reporter is working on a piece involving bad news or a controversy. While it’s always wise to bring in a professional public relations expert to help during tough times, there are still occasions when you need to face the music personally. Communicating in writing can often be the most effective response, says Olson. In addition, “Just try to be open and transparent if there’s an issue or customer complaint. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ goes a long way if you can bring yourself to say it. And then communicate what you would do to change or rectify the situation.”
- Be open. The Internet and other social media tools have made it easy for anyone to hang out their shingle as a journalist. Take everyone seriously, whether the reporter is from a community radio station, an industry magazine, a blogger at JohnDoe.blogspot.com, or Twitter. After all, many reporters peruse such outlets for story ideas and expand these tidbits into full-blown features. “There is no media too small to spend some time with,” says Olson. “Content lives on forever, especially on the Web.”
Above all, remember that media coverage can help your business build a positive reputation while letting others know about your products and services. Olson likens publicity to a bank account. “If you make deposits over time, you build a stronger reputation,” he says. “Then when you have something that’s really creative or new or timely, it is more likely that the media will be interested.”
Suzy Frisch is a freelance writer based in Apple Valley, Minnesota. She’s covered business, politics, law and many other topics for a range of publications, including Twin Cities Business magazine, the Star Tribune and the Chicago Tribune.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.
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