By Ann T. Willets, President & CEO, Utopia Communications, Inc.
Most business executives think their relations with the press will be as testy as a White House news conference or a one-on-one interview with FOX’s Bill O’Reilly or NBC’s Chris Matthews. In reality, nothing should be further from the truth. With years of experience, Utopia Communications focuses on teaching our clients that understanding how the media work, taking control of the relationship and building trust are the basis for developing media competence.
Media competence really derives from media confidence. In a typical media training session, what’s often sold upfront are drill-like sessions amidst high-tech bells and whistles and some hand wringing help with the nuts and bolts of talking in sound bites.
While all of that is fine, in truth, what sparks real confidence in most CEO’s and corporate spokesperson’s we’ve trained is teaching them how the media work, and how to build a relationship with media before any interview or reporting begins.
Most folks in business and public relations have no idea how the post-Internet newsroom works. Moreover, they rarely understand what kind of marketplace pressures bear down on today’s assignment editors, reporters, publishers and television producers. We remind clients that reporters are often turning to them for confidence and expertise.
Sadly, many executives and their public relations counsel cringe when the media calls, understandably concerned about being misquoted, misrepresented or portrayed in a negative light. Their suspicions are normal and correct, but in most cases a proactive strategy gives them more control over the process.
We often start by suggesting that senior executives think of reporters as junior staffers who need information. This is a scenario business leaders can relate to. A brief pre-interview, off- the-record conversation in this context is the key to establishing and steering the relationship.
A client is taught to control the ground rules of the interview at all times. We also teach them that accessibility and expertise allow them to develop trust from the first point of contact. This mutually beneficial and credible relationship ensures targeted message delivery and ultimately benefits the client, the reporter and the end-user.
A client also needs to ask the reporter questions about their knowledge of the subject and what the expectations of the story are before the formal interview starts so they know where it’s headed in terms of context. Once reporters are comfortable with their interview they often tell you what they need, what the story angle is supposed to be, and what they don’t know.
A key training tactic is to get clients to think and anticipate like the press. We are also emphatic in teaching clients that their role is to assist the press if they plan to use them as a business conduit. This is a very different kind of relationship than what they’re used to as “kings and queens” in their castle. Like a boss who learns that his relationships at home are different than those in the office, we emphasize that meetings with reporters are collegial in tone and never confrontational. Often, we emphasize that news media are not staff that defer up.
By understanding the true nature of the relationship and what the media needs, our clients develop the confidence that makes them successful. Being confident and comfortable with the relationship is as important as the technical knowledge of appearing on camera.
Once the media are happy with you, they will help you succeed and they’ll keep coming back to you.
If you’re interested in learning more about Utopia’s media preparation training, please visit http://www.utopiacommunications.biz/seminars/