Do you want to influence the story? Then you need to talk to reporters.
One of the major problems for spokespeople is that they move at the speed of media when everyone else in the organization is moving at the speed of a bureaucracy.
Unfortunately, the fast pace required is the primary reason that approximately 10 to 20 percent of any story is wrong.
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 eleventh 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.
Moving at Media Speed
One of the major problems for spokespeople is that they move at the speed of media when everyone else in the organization is moving at the speed of a bureaucracy. To fully understand the media is to recognize that their entire existence is defined by deadlines.
Can you think of anyone within your organization who accomplishes a variety of tasks every day by a certain time? Can you think of anyone who is willing to do this 365 days each year?
The above paragraph provides much of what we need to know regarding the built-in friction between bureaucracies and the media. The media is mostly made up of type “A” personalities. Newsrooms are filled with demanding managers who insist that stories and the accompanying interviews, photographs, and research all be accomplished in very neat and tidy time frames.
Now we can visualize the struggle that spokespeople go through every day of our working lives. Hard-charging type “A” personalities are picking up the phone and calling you, insisting that you research a very complicated subject and have the answer as well as somebody to interview by no later than three o’clock that afternoon.
While the media moves at a hundred miles an hour, we move much more slowly. Some suggest that we move at the speed of a wounded, drugged snail.
While the media demands speed, the bureaucracy insists on a slow and deliberate course of action. This is why many in the media find it so easy to “pick off” organizations and their slow-moving ways. The mere fact that we have organizations traveling in two different directions and speeds should be enough to explain this dilemma.
Our understanding is that the media provides “the best available version of the news.” It is abundantly obvious that journalists cannot provide every story and meet every deadline with one hundred percent accuracy. But the media, like every other organization, is scrutinized and hounded by the public and their fellow members of the press.
Every day, thousands of citizens and competing journalists take great delight in pointing out informational and grammatical mistakes of the media. Members of the media fully understand that they are in an extremely busy and competitive business.
They see themselves as having no choice but to move with speed. The quicker they can obtain and analyze the story, the greater chance they have of making fewer mistakes or misinterpreting the data. Needless to say, the quicker they get the story, the greater their chance of beating the competition.
How Do You Move with Speed?
How do you move with speed when your organization does not? You must have a supportive bureaucracy and executive staff that will allow you to make decisions while consulting as few as possible. It helps for executives to understand the media process.
It’s advantageous for them to trust you and your instincts. This is why it’s necessary for the spokesperson to know as much about the organization as possible and to be updated frequently. It requires the spokesperson to have expert knowledge and an insatiable curiosity.
You have to anticipate the negatives and be ready for them.
Unfortunately, the fast pace required is the primary reason that approximately 10 to 20 percent of any story is wrong. The furious nature of some complicated stories can result in inevitable honest mistakes.
You and the media will make every effort to get the story right, yet some facts are always wrong. You are obligated to correct mistakes that have a direct bearing on the story. Members of the media are obligated to do the same. Mistakes do happen.
Speaking of mistakes, I once had a very busy media day with two spokespeople absent. I had what I thought was a very simple request from the Washington Post about criminals on our sex offender registry. I made a quick call to our technical experts, obtained the necessary information and conveyed it.
I had some suspicion regarding the accuracy of the answers, but I was very busy and decided not to challenge the expert. The Post reporter called later that day to say that there were inconsistencies with the information I provided. It turned out she was correct. I gave her incorrect data.
She could have blasted me and embarrassed my organization by placing the issue in print. I apologized, told her about the absences, and apologized again. Because I knew the reporter and had some credibility with her, she completely dropped the issue.
I received fairness because I give fairness. Whenever I’m discussing the media, I try to remember her graciousness.
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].