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Handling the media.

This checklist is designed as an aid for anyone who is required to handle the media--whether it be press, radio or television. The media can be valuable for planting ideas, spreading awareness, selling a product or reputation and gaining competitive advantage, as well as a means of handling a crisis. Successful media contact requires clarity and control. This in turn requires careful planning, preparation and calmness.

Current technology allows an image or remark to be broadcast to millions in minutes; the media can prove a powerful and valuable ally or a devastating force, destroying years of work and trust. Most people come into contact with the media at some time; it is worth remembering Andy Warhol's adage that everyone, at some time, has fifteen minutes of fame. Handling the media, whether proactively or as a reaction to a situation or event, can turn a situation around and create a lasting impression. The media also provide legitimacy for a particular message, and if first impressions count then so do impressions passed on by the media.

Definition

The media include any method of broadcasting information, with focus on the press, TV and radio.

Advantages of handling the media effectively Effective media handling can provide:

* improved sales of a product or service

* greater awareness of a brand

* an enhanced perception of an individual or organisation

* communication of a situation, strategy or plan

* damage limitation in the event of a crisis

* valuable long-term business relationships.

Disadvantages of handling the media ineffectively

Handling the media ineffectively can result in:

* a collapse in confidence

* an end to a profitable business

* a damaged and tarnished reputation, and reduced influence and respect

* confusion, rumour and an incorrect or unfair perception

* missed opportunities.

Action checklist

1. Plan your objectives

Never be rushed in to giving an interview. Decide what you want to achieve and then list no more than five points that you want to get across.

2. Keep it simple and stay in control

Don't assume that the journalist or your audience have the same knowledge and information that you do. Keep the message clear and remember your objectives. It is also important to avoid using jargon or acronyms, and not to patronise.

3. Anticipate likely or difficult questions

As part of your preparation, make sure that you have answers ready for any difficult questions. Don't be afraid of politely challenging questions or assumptions, and make sure that you return to your points and objectives.

4. Be comfortable and relaxed

Prepare yourself before the interview by arriving at the venue early so that you aren't rushed and can familiarise yourself with the surroundings. Talk to the interviewer and check that you are relaxed, prepared and in the right frame of mind. It is also worth checking your appearance as this will certainly influence the interviewer. Breathe deeply, slow down and focus on some relaxed opening sentences and your first main point to get you into the swing of things.

5. Understand the journalist and establish a rapport

It is important to know what the journalist is looking for from the interview so that you can match their requirements with your own. Understand the journalist's motivation and remember that they have a job to do. Although they are unlikely to want to trip you up, they may well do so inadvertently through lack of care, time or preparation. Remember to focus on your main points and use them as the substance to address the questions.

6. Project the right image--and don't be hostile

Be friendly, lively and enthusiastic, but don't put on an act. Convey your personality and your message in your voice. It is important to remain calm and not to become hostile; the reporter really is simply trying to elicit information and not to cross-examine you.

7. Don't tell secrets!

Beware of informal conversations and 'off the record' information. Assume that any information you give to a reporter will be quoted.

8. Cultivate your contacts

Consider generating your own stories and establishing ongoing relationships with the media. The media are frequently undervalued, mistrusted or only used in a crisis: a proactive approach to the media can be of enormous value in establishing understanding and goodwill.

Handling the press interview

1. Newspaper and magazine interviews carry special risks as you rely on the reporter's version of events. Ensure that you understand each other, the facts are correct and that the reporter understands the story.

2. Find out:

* the reporter's 'angle' and check that you agree

* the target audience for the interview

* whether your rivals will be quoted.

3. Provide good quotes--the written equivalent of the sound bite.

4. Remember that the press likes to present interesting rather than balanced accounts, and telling examples or stories rather than general stories.

5. Ask to see the article before it is printed, and offer to take a call from them later if they want to double-check any point.

6. Journalists are people too. Be nice to them and consider what they want and they will (usually!) be nice to you. Be hostile, defensive or obstructive and you are unlikely to get an empathetic write-up.

Handling the radio interview

1. Preparation

* Make sure you're on when someone's listening. The best times are 7--9 am, 1- 2 pm and

4.30--5.30 pm.

*If the reporter is coming to you, choose somewhere quiet, unless the background noise adds interest.

2. The interview

* Be intimate. You're talking to one listener. Choose someone you know and picture them.

* Avoid abstractions. Use vivid, human examples to paint pictures in the listener's mind.

* Remember the sound bite. Think up three or four sentences that are particularly quotable and include them, but do avoid repetition of words or phrases which risk causing irritation--unless that is your motive!

* If you use notes, make them bullet points and don't read from them--audiences can tell.

* Don't thump the table, crinkle papers, or clink jewellery.

3. Remote studios and phone-ins

* Assume the microphone is live until told otherwise.

* Listen hard and take notes if you wish; write down callers' names.

* Answer when it is your turn.

* Interrupt when necessary and with confidence, or not at all.

* Be civil to callers and interviewers, even rude ones, and flatter them--"That's a fair point, but the real issue here is ..."

Handling the TV interview

1. In the studio

* Dress appropriately: plain colours, no fussy patterns, avoid jewellery.

* Get used to the environment: arrive early and meet the interviewer.

* Ask about the line of questioning: what's the first question?

* If you're offered make-up, take it.

2. On location

* If you are hosting the crew, find out beforehand what special arrangements they need for the shoot.

* Talk to the reporter(s) as soon as they arrive. Check that you see the situation the same way, and find out whether they need background information.

* Have your own ideas about where you would like to be filmed: consider any distractions and make sure that the background is suitable.

3. During the interview

* Sit comfortably, and be friendly and natural.

* Be serious--smiling can be misunderstood.

* Use positive body language.

* Don't fidget--relax!

Dos and don'ts for handling the media

Do

* Plan your objectives--decide what you want to achieve.

* Find out as much as possible. Who is the audience? What is the media looking for, and what will be the areas of questioning?

* Think about the setting and how you would feel most comfortable.

* Be clear and use friendly, everyday language. Imagine you're talking to an interested stranger at a party.

* Challenge biased questions or incorrect information.

* Relax and be yourself.

Don't

* Patronise or use jargon, and don't smoke.

* Be hostile, abrasive or flustered.

* Be rushed into giving an interview or an answer.

* Assume the interviewer and audience know about you or your subject.

* Ignore the question.

* Be a slave to the question: answer briefly, then say what you want to say.

* Ignore problems. If you feel unhappy, ask to do it again if it's not live.

Useful reading

Effective media relations : how to get results 3rd ed M Bland and D Wragg Kogan Page, 2005

Evaluating public relations : a best practice guide to public relations, Tom Watson and Paul Noble London, Kogan Page,2005

Media relations measurement : determining the value of PR to your companys success Ralf Leinemann and Elena Baikaltseva Aldershot, Gower, 2004

Winning reputations : how to be your own spin doctor, Chris Genasi Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2002

John Clares guide to media handling, John Clare Aldershot, Gower, 2001

Thought starters

* Which media interviews have you seen, heard or read which have impressed you?

* Do you know what the interviewer wants from the interview, and do you understand what is motivating them?

* What are your goals and what outcome are you looking for?

* Are you making the most of the opportunity?
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Title Annotation:Checklist 115
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Marketing Strategy
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:1461
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