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Build strategic messages into media interviews

01 Jun, 2020 Media relations, Messaging

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

 

Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash.

Media interviews provide a great opportunity to communicate strategic corporate messages. It’s not easy to do this 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 managers for media interviews can take advantage of the opportunities by developing some core 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 ‘grabs’ can be as tight as 10 seconds and even less).

Develop answers to core questions

The core questions are:

  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.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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