The opportunities and risks of engaging with news media

13 October 2015

Suzanne McNamara from Cadence Communications shares her top tips for engaging with news media in this guest post.

Engaging with the news media brings many opportunities – and risks.  Here are seven top tips we teach in media training to ensure the exercise achieves the results that you want:

1)   Start with the end in mind:  Be very clear about what you want to achieve from engaging with the news media.  Is it to position your organisation in a leadership role?  Is it to set the record straight on something?  Is it to raise target market awareness about your product or service? Or is there some other purpose?  Being clear about the answer to this question will help you to provide information that supports this goal.

2)   Stay calm: Remember that the journalist is interviewing you because you are the expert.  Being the expert therefore gives you a high degree of control over the situation because you have the information that the journalist wants.

3)   Communicate clearly, consistently and cohesively:  Having carefully crafted key messages will provide you with a valuable and strategic tool for focusing the interview on ‘need to have’, rather than ‘nice to have’ information. 

4)   Buy time: You don’t have to respond immediately to a phone request for information. Always ask if you are being quoted or recorded and take time to consider your response, even if the initial question sounds straightforward. If you need time to prepare, check the deadline and say you will phone back – then make sure you do.

5)   Avoid saying “no comment”: Refusing to comment makes it look like you have something to hide. Tell the journalist the reason you can’t comment.  For example: “It’s not my area of expertise so I need to check this and get back to you” (make sure you do); or “It’s before the courts so it isn’t appropriate for me to comment on this”, etc.

6)   Don’t make any off-the-record comments:  Going ‘off the record’ is tempting, especially when you get to know the journalist and feel relaxed after the formal part of the interview is over.  Remember; anything you say can be headline material!

7)   See things through a journalist’s eyes: If you’ve invited a journalist into your work place, make sure there is no confidential information on any work space they may see during the visit. Think about the impression you want to give and if necessary, give the office a quick tidy up. Also think ahead for the best position to take a photo, then direct the photographer and journalist into this position. Remember – you’re in control of the situation!

Media training will create a context to the above points and provide practice in front of the camera. Cadence has an interactive module for either one-on-one or group training situations. Call us to receive a free initial consultation about media training.

Suzanne McNamara 

Cadence Communications

Cadence Communications is sponsoring the Communicating Sustainability category of the 2015 NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards.