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6 tips for handling a call from the local media

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

In a small shop, public relations is just the kind of “other duties as assigned” that often falls to HR. Don’t wait until a reporter calls to develop a basic communications strategy. Six tips can guide you through the sometimes intimidating process of interacting with the media.

A couple of general rules first:

Prepare for media interviews by reviewing what the reporter has published or aired before. Ask the reporter for draft interview questions in advance. (Don’t be surprised if she refuses.)

Most of all, know what you want to say and rehearse it.

Follow these six tips to get the main idea you want to convey into an understandable story:

1. Make your answers short. A 10-second sound bite is better than droning on and being cut off midsentence.

2. Never say “No comment,” which sounds as though you have something to hide. Instead, explain why you can’t answer, promise to get back to the reporter and follow through later.

3. Listen closely to the question, and answer thoughtfully. If the question seems to come from a parallel universe, don’t go on the offensive. Instead, say, “Here’s how I see it,” and clarify.

4. Use this kind of “bridging” to move from the interviewer’s goals to yours.

5. Tell stories, make comparisons and offer simple statistics to back up your points.

6. Keep your body language open and friendly.

Later, measure not just the amount of media coverage but how well it converts into your organization's goals. Sometimes media exposure can be counterproductive, if an executive is seen as not minding the store.

Finally, keep your media ties strong. Just as in real life, you can’t turn relationships on and off at will. Speak regularly with journalists—not only when a crisis hits—to explain developments in your field.

And remember that the media itself is now in crisis. As the delivery of news and commentary change, hang on for the ride.

— Adapted from Strategic Corporate Communications, Paul A. Argenti, McGraw-Hill.

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