Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Starting a great conversation in your office about media interviews

"You started a great conversation in our office about being prepared for the media."

So said one of the researchers I trained in a small group session, for a relatively new research project team wanting to learn about working with the media before the need arose--the epitome of a "don't get caught" approach. Most of our session was a great conversation, but this participant was referring to something else: My suggestion that they continue to meet and talk about working with the media on a regular basis. 

Doesn't sound earth-shattering, and it's not. But it's also rarely done. Why? Media training is often done 1:1, which excludes any number of potential spokespeople, and it tends to be offered to the expert or experts with some demonstrated potential. And comms departments often are "too busy," or think their spokespeople are, to schedule regular meetings. I've seen communications departments do ongoing group discussions for their own teams, to develop media relations skills in those who will work most closely with reporters, but less often with the spokesfolk they want to involve.

But if communications pros will offer a regular, informal gathering for any subject-matter expert who wants to learn more about interacting with the news media, you will see some strong advantages. My own approach to media training runs this way, less top-down, more collaborative, more focused on the questions and concerns of those facing interviews--and I often recommend the "ongoing conversation" meetings as a way for a group to continue the learning after our initial training session. Here are some of the topics you might consider for these sessions:
  • Coverage of your topic and whether and how it works: Why not review and discuss recent coverage of your topic, both to let the experts know you're getting coverage and to explain why your institution is or isn't in the story?
  • Media strategy: It may be clear to the communications pros that you have a media strategy, but that has probably not trickled down to the people you're matching up with reporters. Share your areas of focus, and hear what a good strategy would look like to them, then discuss. I guarantee you'll have plenty to discuss.
  • Anticipate questions: Whether you focus on one potentially thorny, easy, or expected question per session, or just ask the spokesfolk about the questions they're worried about answering, this could form the most useful practice over time. Discussing the different ways to answer (and that they should answer) these questions will do more than most activities to make them feel prepared.
  • Meet the reporter: If you've got good relationships with the reporters who cover you, ask them to join for one of these sessions--one reporter at a time, please--to talk about what they look for, what's useful to their reporting, and what's not. Yes, many of them will say yes to such an offer. Try it.
  • Anticipate your announcements: Working well ahead, you can use these regular sessions to talk about anticipated announcements, how they will be handled, and what role your spokespeople will play. It's another smart way to lift the curtain on how the comms team operates, and share the contacts and considerations you are making in planning an announcement. Just hearing that you plan ahead, I find, encourages this behavior in others.
I'd also include an open-ended portion of the meeting for any questions or concerns, since your stance, comms pros, should be one of listening as much as leading this conversation. Want a media training session that gets your ongoing conversation started? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com. 

(Creative Commons licensed photo by the Institute of Network Culture)

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