Do you want to influence the story? Then you need to talk to reporters.
Can you “write” the reporter’s story?
When to tell a story.
Changing the direction of the interview.
Yes, your boss talks to the media.
Success With the Media
I wrote, “Success With the Media, Everything You Need to Survive Reporters and Your Organization” (available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon at https://amzn.com/151948965X) because I believe that organizations need to look inward to get better media results.
I use contents from the book for this article.
Some believe that we should not talk to reporters. I maintain that not talking leaves you without influence; you are committing yourself to a negative story. The trick is to know how to talk to the media.
This is the seventh in a series of articles on, “The Art of the Interview.”
Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Thirty-five years of supervising award-winning media relations, radio and television; over fifty national and regional awards. Post-Master’s Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.
Writing the Reporter’s Story
We return to the theme that many reporters lack specific knowledge about your organization or the incident or report in question. Reporters (like everyone else) are subject to information overload.
There is a point where some will give up trying to understand what they are reporting on. If you have established a relationship of trust with the reporter and the news organization, then some reporters will allow you to “explain” the situation to them.
You get to clarify the report, background, and context. In essence, you get to write the story.
This is an opportunity for you to ensure that your message is accurately conveyed to the public. While you are under no obligation to provide answers to unasked questions, you are ethically obligated to respond to specific questions truthfully and accurately.
For an opportunity to define a story or issue, you are responsible for being fair and accurate, telling both sides even if it plays against the organization you represent. Nevertheless, within that balanced, truthful, and accurate response is an opportunity for you to get your organization’s message across.
While media managers will be horrified by the prospect of a bureaucrat defining a story for a reporter, it happens all the time. I find that even experienced reporters who have come to trust you over time will depend on you to characterize the issues.
Please, if you get the opportunity to do this, do it fairly, accurately, and honestly. Give both sides. Develop an unimpeachable reputation for fairness. It will pay dividends in the long run.
Tell a Story
I was called downtown early on a Sunday morning to handle a near escape from a maximum-security institution (the corrections spokesperson was unavailable). The criminal was a person with a long history of violence. A correctional officer apprehended him as he jumped from a wall and hit the sidewalk.
Here was a criminal who worked for months making tiny bits of progress in order to escape. He put himself in great danger as he pulled himself out of his cell, which was several stories above ground level. He then pulled himself through layers of “razor ribbon” to get to the roof and began his dangerous descent.
I had to decide on the issues to focus on as the media arrived. I could simply stick to the basics of the incident (who-what-when-where, etc.) or I could tell a story. I decided to do the latter.
With all the drama I could muster, I explained the account of the near escape, the chase, and the heroic capture of a dangerous criminal by a correctional officer. I told the story accurately and ethically, but I added a different perspective. The media decided to cover the story the way that I explained it.
Sometimes you must decide for yourself that a glass is half full before someone else decides that it’s not. Sometimes it pays to employ a little bravado and tell a story.
Discussing a variety of topics in an interview can lead to some interesting results. The subject may be tough as nails, but you may hit upon something unexpected that resonates with the reporter.
You could be discussing the decreasing price of widgets, and the reporter seems very interested in the fact that you ship a million widgets a day to cities throughout the world. Then, go with the flow.
Extend the conversation. Offer him the opportunity to go to your distribution center. Make your chief of transportation available.
You never know which way an interview will go. Always be willing to move in a direction that benefits your organization and the reporter.
Your Boss Talks to the Media
Early in my career I was warned by veteran spokespeople that some in the upper echelon would talk to reporters without telling you. Executives within the organization will use the media to disagree with agency heads or CEOs. They will use reporters to communicate to the rest of the organization when they believe that this is the only way that they will be heard.
The ability to influence the media means power to those who feel outside of the decision-making process. This happens at all levels. Remember this when you’re viciously badmouthing a journalist to a high-ranking person. I once complained about a nasty encounter with a reporter to a group of executives. Two weeks later, the reporter gave me my statements almost word-for-word. I told him that he deserved the remarks, and I had a right to be angry. He just smiled.
With regard to top executives, I was told by a member of the media of an administrator within my department who spoke to a favored reporter, and the same reporter would contact his spokesperson for an official statement. The agency head never advised his press representative that he was talking to the reporter. I told the spokesperson what was happening. She was very hurt and saw her boss in a different light thereafter. I know of nothing else that could possibly place a spokesperson in greater jeopardy.
It’s my opinion that the executive who seems to exhibit the strongest anti-media feelings is usually the one talking to reporters. Additionally, I’ve done follow-up with reporters after a major story and learned that many executive staff for an agency in my department spoke to them off the record. This was conveyed by a variety of reporters. Sometimes it’s not a matter of who is talking, but who’s not.
Success With the Media
For more information on good organizational and media relations, see “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization,” available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon at https://amzn.com/151948965X. Your reviews are appreciated.
See my website at http://leonardsipes.com.
Contact me at [email protected].