Strategic Messages in Media Interviews: A Guide for Communicators

You can capitalize on a great opportunity to build strategic messages into media interviews. However, it’s not easy to convey strategic or key  messages in a natural way when the interview may have been arranged about something else like a new product. Therefore, communicators who act as a corporate spokesperson or who prepare spokespersons for media interviews need to prepare thoroughly. You can also read more about this in my article, “How to create compelling key messages.”

These strategic messages can be incorporated into all types of media interviews to reinforce key information to a target audience.

The spokesperson should be able to briefly answer core questions (the fewer words the better considering television or web ‘grabs’ can be as tight as 10 seconds and even less).

The most common type of spokesperson is the CEO or equivalent, but often they seem a bit removed from any practical focus of the media interview. The spokesperson role in many cases would appear to be more genuinely relevant if they are from those who worked on the project, such as the project manager, engineer or creative designer. Viewers are more likely to relate to this type of person (‘a person like yourself’) who speaks more in everyday language (as long as you coach them to omit jargon!), and who will project more engaging and authentic content.

The most credible sources of information about an organization or its products and services are considered to be academic experts or company technical experts. They are rated significantly more trustworthy than a CEO or ‘regular employee’ by the average person, so if you can brief such a third party expert on how to include key messages in an interview this will be a valuable undertaking for them. Their credibility is shown in the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer results, below:

Develop answers to core questions

Build strategic messages into media interviews in response to core questions such as:

  1. What does your organization do?
  2. What do you do in the organization? (in simple words)
  3. Where does your organization fit in its industry/sector?
  4. What does your organization do for the community?

Each answer should include two important, plain-language messages that reflect your organization’s communication objectives. These messages can be extremely brief while conveying the information you want to disseminate.

The first question (What does your organization do?) may seem unnecessary, but company names usually don’t tell what the company does. In the last 10-15 years, a bewildering array of new artificial company names has been added. Many of these come from mergers and takeovers when a new name is invented for the new entity, eg “Verizon.” Insurance companies have done this a lot. Or new names are created when a company wants to emphasize a change in direction. For instance, a company I used to work for changed its name from Australian Paper Manufacturers to Amcor, which doesn’t convey anything. The company description can be integrated into the response to almost any question, eg:

Question: “Is your company polluting the river?”
Answer: “As the largest manufacturer of paper products in this city, we have always…”

The second question (What do you do in the organization?) clarifies confusing or bland job titles. For instance, the job of one of my former students was “Senior Acquisition Marketing Executive – Channel Communications.” This mouthful meant nothing to anyone outside the telco where she works. And imagine putting that to subtitles! Her explanation: “to communicate to all internal staff and sales channels about any product changes, launches, updates and awareness of other brand activities such as brand partnerships.” A tighter version of her description could be built into media interview responses: “My job is to communicate about all new products and product changes so that….”

Prepare and practice the desired messages ahead of time

As part of your media strategy, you should define the issues confronting the organization and then develop the desired messages that you wish to communicate to key target groups.

Use positive language and tell the truth! Don’t get drawn into using negative or defensive words that repeat the damning words from interviewer’s accusations, eg “We don’t pollute the river.” Instead use positive language such as “We have always completely complied with government clean up requirements.”

The best technique is to practice the messages until they are automatic and flow naturally into an interview. The trick is not to wait for an opening, but to take the initiative and build in your message to the response given to any question. Rehearse and rehearse until inserting the message/s sounds natural. Writing the points out can help to start off, but the spokesperson obviously needs to reach the point when they can rattle them off easily.

Monitor each spokesperson’s performance and play recordings back to them so they can’t wriggle away from accountability for their words. Don’t let senior managers bluff you by saying they don’t need to do this or they can ‘wing it’ on the day. Make them practice. Arrange meetings with them to practice. You can be the interviewer. And make these meetings reasonably regular because people get rusty if they don’t have enough practice.

The core messages are similar in effect to the 30-second ‘elevator speech’ that people are advised at various times to practice so they can briefly and comfortably describe their role and their organization’s role. You can read further about developing key messages in my article “How to create a strong message strategy in campaigns.”

Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash.

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