How to get the most from public relations when engaging with the media

Dealing with the news media is a double-edged sword; hostile interview situations understandably fill many people with fear, yet positive media coverage and PR are powerful tools for strengthening reputations and brands. 

Despite the rise and rise of social media, traditional news media remains a key influencer, which is why strong media relations skills should continue to be an important part of any spokesperson’s public relations tool kit.

Even when the going gets tough remember that engaging with the media provides a valuable PR opportunity to get your viewpoint across so where possible avoid the temptation to respond with “no comment”.  Getting it right can be easier said than done, so here are some insights from Cadence Communications’ media training courses.

1)    Ask questions before the interview begins and find out as much as you can from the journalist, such as: What angle are they taking with the story? Who else are they talking to? Will the story run that day or is it being held over for a later date? You can find out a lot from the initial phone call and it all helps with your preparation.

2)    Don’t feel obliged to respond on the spot. The journalist has rung out of the blue so don’t get a rush of blood to the head and start talking without really thinking it through.  Say that you can’t talk at the moment; find out when their deadline is and make sure you call them back by this time.

3)    Prepare your key messages – and stick to them. This will help you to focus the interview on what you want to convey, rather than getting side-tracked.

4)    Think about the worst possible questions the journalist could ask and prepare your answers.  If you can’t use at least one of your key messages to manage the answer effectively, then the key messages need more work.

5)    Be strategic about photo opportunities. An image will ensure your story has a better chance of being noticed – but make sure it’s for all the right reasons! Think ahead about where to take the journalist when they arrive and don’t take them into a messy office, cluttered workshop or raggedy outdoor space.  Also be sure to keep any confidential papers or other sensitive materials out of sight!

6)    Be prepared! Get a colleague to help you run through some mock interviews to ensure that your preparations have covered the necessary ground.

Following these steps will help to give you and your organisation the best chance of being happy with the public relations outcome of the media interview.