The Spokesperson Refresher Course: How to Avoid a Media Blunder

by Affect Team on September 23, 2010

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Each interaction a company has with the media is an investment and an opportunity to strategically position a brand to its stakeholders, prospects, competitors and industry as a whole. However, it is also important for businesses to realize that, at the end of the day, opening up your company’s doors to the media can also be a risk.

We’ve all seen that dreadful interview in which the spokesperson gets his or her company into hot water with just one misguided word or comment. And with the viral nature of online media, media blunders don’t ever truly go away.

Here at Affect we often provide media training for our clients’ spokespeople so that they can prevent such situations from occurring and can maximize the success of media opportunities. I thought I’d share some of our best practices & tips on what a spokesperson can do prior and during the interview to ensure a positive outcome.

Prior to the interview:

  • Determine goals and objectives – One of the main reasons poor interviews occur is because the spokesperson did not take the time to think about the purpose of the interview. Prior to any engagement with members of the media, its important to prep talking points and ask yourself the following questions: Why am I being asked to talk about this topic? What is my desired outcome? What message(s) do I want to get across during this conversation?
  • Do your homework – The worse thing a spokesperson can do is go into an interview without a clear understanding of the media platform, audience and reporter’s history. It’s important to become familiar with the publication and read previous articles by the reporter so that you can get a feel for his/her interview style.
  • Gather stats & figures – Reporters love numbers and offering valuable statistics and research give your statements in an interview more credibility. Even if your company doesn’t have data of its own, be prepared with a recent industry study or third party data that can support your message.

During the interview:

  • Know your role – When working with reporters, it’s important to understand that they look at you as a subject matter expert and a source for them to learn more about a particular topic. Although they may specialize in a certain industry, it is not their job to know what your company does. You are there to teach them so it’s important to remain patient and offer as much clarification as possible.
  • Keep control of the conversation – Even though the reporter is the one asking the questions, its important to keep the interview focused on your goals and objectives. It’s easy to fall off track, and before you know it, the interview will be over and you will miss the opportunity to get your message across.
  • Be credible and honest – One of the biggest traps company spokespeople fall into is making assumptions before they know all of the facts about a situation. Especially when it comes to crisis situations and investigations, it’s natural to want to give the reporter the information they are looking for. However, this can later come back to hurt you and can get your company into a sticky situation. Instead, admit to the reporter that you are still looking into the facts and that you cannot answer the question at this time.
  • Show some enthusiasm (but not too much!) – Especially when it comes to on-camera interviews, its important to appear passionate and excited about the topic you are speaking about. Looking stoic and uninterested will bore the audience. On the other hand, being overly animated will make both the reporter and audience comfortable.
  • Don’t slam competitors – Asking about a company’s competitors is a common question that comes up during media interviews. Its okay to briefly mention who they are, but many spokespeople make the mistake of criticizing or bashing the competitions while on the record. While it makes for a juicy headline, it will only hurt your company’s image. Besides, why give your competitors the free air time?
  • Be careful when using humor – While it’s important for spokespeople to have character and relatable qualities, trying to be funny can easily offend the reporter and audience if it’s taken out of context. What is intended as sarcasm can be easily mistaken for fact (especially in print).

By being prepared and conscious of the task at hand, company spokespeople can prevent the occurrence of a media faux pa and take advantage of the opportunity to promote their brand and products/services.

Have any tips to add to the list? Leave them in the comments section below.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

TJ Walker 09.25.10 at 9:55 am

I would add that it is critically important to have well-crafted sound bites prepared for each message point. too many people fail to package their message points with sound bites and then they get quoted off-message because they accidentally stumble into a sound bite.

Kaylen McNamara 09.27.10 at 9:49 am

Hi TJ – thanks for the comment!

I agree – spokespeople often make the mistake of not preparing or rehearsing the messages that they want to get across. Its important to have a few great quotes ingrained in your memory so that you can be listening for opportunities to say them.

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