Picking up from where we left off last week, here is the rest of my top 10 considerations for dealing with the media.
6) Do the right people know who you are? When a journalist writes about your company, what it does, where it’s going and the likelihood of it actually getting there, he or she needs sources. Sure, you may be tickled by the prospects for your brave new enterprise, but yours may not be the most objective opinion. The journalist may be looking for the third-party perspective of analysts who can provide a frank assessment of your prospects. So it pays to put yourself on the radar of the analysts who follow your industry. Other sources of interest to a journalist could be your investors and even competitors. And, again, don’t overlook the value of testimonials from happy customers.
7) Be prepared: When you engage the media, questions can come from all directions. Expect the unexpected. That doesn’t mean you should view the journalist with suspicion and expect to be ambushed with inappropriate questions. Perhaps the journalist is looking to follow up on old news, such as whether the company is still on track to reach profitability by a certain date, or if those hiring plans you mentioned a year ago worked out, what your future growth plans are, etc. When arranging an interview time, confirm what the journalist would like to discuss.
If you still find yourself caught flat-footed by a question, never be afraid to say, “I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
8) Keep it simple, stupid: That doesn’t mean talk to the journalist like he or she is an idiot. If they want something dumbed down, they’ll ask and you should accommodate. Better to take the time and demonstrate patience with questions that require something be explained in terms a 10-year-old would understand than risk a miscommunication. In the age of viral social media, retractions and correction notices do little to yank back errors that may be damaging to your company, or at least confusing for busy readers who want their information delivered in clear and obvious terms.
9) Good stories have drama, conflict and resolution: Journalists looking to tell a good story hate to hear that everything is perfect and peachy keen. That doesn’t mean they’re looking for trouble where there isn’t any, they just know the skies can’t be sunny and clear all the time. Don’t be afraid to be frank about challenges your business has faced. Instead, take it as an opportunity to talk about how you’ve persevered and overcome and the lessons you’ve learned. What you’ve learned in the School of Hard Knocks can help paint you as a seasoned and capable executive. It also makes for compelling reading that can imbed you in readers’ minds far better than a write up about your latest product’s bells and whistles.
10) Don’t hide: Sometimes, what you don’t want the world to know gets out at the most inconvenient times. Perhaps it’s bad news, or just news you’re not ready to share. It’s often better to set the record straight than ignore a journalist with a scoop that’s been obtained through avenues beyond your control. The journalist may have already scraped up enough information to run with a story before they even pick up the phone to call you. Don’t throw away the chance to tell your side of the story and clear up any possible misinformation. Dodging the media is often perceived as a sign that you have something to hide, which only adds fuel to the fire.
On the other hand, don’t feel pressured to give that interview before you’re certain about what it is you want to say. Take the call, garner exactly what it is the journalist is looking for, and arrange for the interview to take place at a more suitable time. But appreciate the fact that the journalist likely has a deadline and an editor breathing down his or her neck.
Journalists, by and large, are looking for compelling content that provides something of value to their readers. This is particular true of trade and industry pubs that are struggling to make do in the face of budget and staff reductions. The easier you can make their jobs, the greater the value you can provide to them, the more receptive they will be. The media can be a powerful means through which to promote your value proposition to potential partners, investors and customers, but it takes considerable time and effort to engage with them and build fruitful relationships.