Media Do’s and Don’ts
DO understand your public relations objectives and communications priorities for any given interview situation. A skillful interview subject should be able to briefly answer the reporter’s question and then bridge the interview toward discussion of your own priorities. (e.g. Objective: “We want the media to view us as the market leader in the business of…”)
DO know the “party line” regarding controversial questions. All people in your organization who are likely to be contacted by a reporter must give essentially the same answer—not the same words, but the same information. Disagreement will give the reporter just the controversy he’s probably seeking.
DO remember that an interview is a ritual, not a conversation. You are talking through the reporter to your organization’s critical “publics.” Your comments and attitudes, not the reporter’s, may show up on the air or in print.
DO assign one person to escort a reporter at all times he or she is on the premises of your organization or with your customers/clients. Never just turn a reporter loose to wander around a building.
DO ask in advance for topics (NOT specific questions) to be covered in an interview; set your objectives in advance and prepare by doing your homework.
DO plan in advance who will be the spokesperson for the organization in the eventuality of a crisis; that person, and only that person, should provide interviews.
DO establish a reputation of accessibility with reporters so that they will check with you before publishing bad news about your organization.
DO remember a reporter asks questions because it’s his job, but you are not obligated to answer all of them. We’ll teach you how!
DO remember you’re the expert, not the reporter. Most of the time, a reporter will accept your answer if it’s given with the conviction of an authority.
DO answer each question as directly as possible. If you’re not sure, say so, and offer to call back with an answer.
DO tell the positive side of the story.
DO be honest. Conversely, don’t give a reporter the run-around.
DO speak often in “Headlines.” Answer questions with short sentences, again as directly as possible. In your mind, frame your answer as if it might become the headline or lead quotation for the story.
DO challenge questionable facts, assumptions, or dubious sources of information.
DO get back to a reporter as soon as possible if a message has been left for you.
DO project sufficient empathy in situations involving injury, death or other extreme hardship.
DO remember that it is a common practice for reporters to record all conversations conducted over a telephone.
DON’T overreact to a reporter’s questions by becoming angry or by demeaning the questions. Anyone who submits to an interview is fair game, in his area of expertise.
DON’T answer a question out of your area of expertise, even if you know the correct answer. Refer the reporter to a staff member or associate who has the proper title/authority, whenever possible. But ensure that your associate is forewarned and prepared.
DON’T try to stop a story.
DON’T speculate. If you don’t know something, admit it.
DON’T tell a reporter more than she wants or needs to know.
DON’T discuss specific information that would tend to give aid to the competition.
DON’T repeat negative questions in a response. If you do they may be attributed to you.
DON’T argue with a reporter, even when provoked.
DON’T blame anyone for anything.
DON’T disparage the competition. Answer questions about competitors with facts, and don’t color the facts with judgmental comments.
DON’T say “NO COMMENT.” In the world of reporters, those are fighting words.
DON’T allow the reporter to compare you or your organization to anyone/anything else. It is an old trick to create controversy through comparisons. Challenge every effort to put words in your mouth.
DON’T ask the reporter when the story will appear. If the information given in an interview is perishable, let the reporter know.
DON’T drop your guard when the interview is over. It’s never over until the reporter leaves the building or hangs up the phone.
DON’T give additional publicity to bad news (AFTER AN ESSENTIALLY TRUE, BUT NEGATIVE STORY HAS APPEARED IN THE MEDIA) by attempting to rebut it. (When the mass media slings mud, some always sticks.)
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