Tried, True and Tested
1. Follow District Media Policy: The Corporate Communications Office is here to assist you with media opportunities. With particularly contentious or controversial issues, you must forward a reporter contact to Corporate Communications and not accept or conduct an interview unless approved to do so.
2. Take Control of the Interview: The reporter cannot do an interview without you. If you are asked by Corporate Communications to contact a reporter, take a few minutes to decide what the public should know from its government on this issue. Jot down, or consider, likely questions, appropriate answers and some key points you'd like to make (talking points). Corporate Communications staff will help you whenever needed. If the subject is not within your area of expertise, decline the interview and direct the reporter to Corporate Communications.
If you answer the phone yourself, ask the reporter the subject of the inquiry and what they would like to know. Ask for their deadline and then offer to call back within a specific time. This will give you some time to think of questions, answers and talking points. You shouldn't start answering questions until you have a plan of what you are going to say.
3. Start with the Basics: Remember this may be the reporter's first exposure to your subject. Feel free to ask them how much they know about the subject. Explain everything. This is your chance to make a big difference in the outcome of the story.
Reporter's questions may seem very elementary to you, but they have a job to do and are trying to get it right. Help them. If they knew everything on the subject, they would not have to talk to you. Be polite regardless. Don't be flippant with your responses. It is better to explain why things are happening in detail. Do not use government jargon or acronyms. They will confuse everyone.
4. Deliver Your Message Points; Be Concise: Your job is to ensure that your message gets to the public. Use full sentences, but don't talk too much. Offer your points/information first, briefly and directly. The interview may be long, but typically, your quotes will be brief. For a usable on-camera interview, you have only about 10-20 seconds per question to make your point. Think in sound bites. Don't offer information unless it is positive and provides an added benefit.
5. Stay In Your Lane: Don't speak about something you don't know about or speak for someone else. If you don't know about the subject, say so. Say, "I don't know, but I can find someone who does or find the answer and get back to you." Telling a reporter, "I don't know" should not be confused with saying, "No comment" (see no. 7 below).
Never, ever speak on behalf of other districts, divisions, agencies, or sponsor groups. They have their own story to tell and you are not the person to tell it.
Stay in your lane and speak about what you do and what you know.
6. United We Stand: If you refer a reporter on the telephone to another team member or sponsor, stay on the line. One of the greatest mistakes in media relations is to have another spokesperson confuse the story or say something contrary to what you've already said. If possible, call the referral and both of you get on the phone at the beginning of the story. This prevents misunderstandings.
7. "No Comment" is Not an Option: NEVER say “no comment.” It is often interpreted as, “That’s true, but I just don’t want to admit it or talk about it." Say why you are not in a position to respond. If you feel the least bit uncomfortable, you can state that it is not your area of expertise and refer the call to the Corporate Communications Office. Don’t create a vacuum. Journalists have to report and, if you don’t give them information, someone else will.
8. Prepare with Advance Materials: If you know you will be talking with the media, make time to get your fact sheets, packets, background brochures and message points developed. Anything you can give a reporter already prepared puts you that much more ahead. The media appreciates handouts with basic information and statistics to help them get their facts correct and avoid taking lots of notes.
Preparation also means formulating your message points (talking points) and thinking of possible questions and answers, both the hard and easy questions. If you think about the possible questions ahead of time, you can predict 90 percent of the questions that may be asked. Think about what the reporter's viewpoint of the issue may be. Determine the reporter's objective for the story and think about how your message points relate to that perception. Advanced preparation will help you tackle the occasional tough question.
9. Reporters are Human. Be real to them. Ask them how long they've been at their job, where they're from; learn about them. Show them you appreciate that they have a tough job. Also, it doesn't hurt to offer to help carry their equipment as oftentimes it is one reporter with a camera, tripod, microphone, note papers, etc. It will relax both of you. Use their name in the interview. Just don't overdo it.
Reporters are generally able to tell when you are uncomfortable and fear their inquiring questions. They may be just as happy as you are when the interview is over. They have children to pick up and other personal challenges just like you. Because they are always on a deadline and may be rushed, the opportunity for error is increased.
10. Give Them What They Want: Determine what information is important and provide that information. Remember, you are not just helping the reporter understand, you are trying, first and foremost, to help the public understand.