Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Top Three Mistakes People Make When Dealing with the Media (And How to Avoid Them) by Jonathan Bernstein

Every media interview, whether on-camera, by phone or even by email, is a unique opportunity to communicate your key messages to your stakeholders. Such important occasions should not be taken lightly, and yet completely preventable mistakes are often made by spokespersons. Here are three of the biggest mistakes – and how to avoid them.

1. Failure to Prepare

Even the most naturally skilled interview subject has a dramatically higher chance of being unhappy with the results of media contact if he/she fails to prepare for that possibility. Preparation includes:

 Media training using realistic scenarios ranging from the mundane to crisis-level situations.

 Crafting and memorizing key messages for topics on which you’re likely to be quizzed in advance of any interview.

 Doing some research on any media interviewer before an interview is given so as to understand the type of reporting that journalist typically does (e.g., friendly or hostile, pro-business or anti-business, balanced reporting or clearly slanted).

 Practicing to refine skills in between actual media interviews. Long periods of time can pass between interviews for many spokespersons. One or two days media training does not turn someone into an expert spokesperson – practice and experience can do that, if the spokesperson has the necessary basic talent.

2. Underestimating Non-Traditional Media

Today, ‘media’ doesn’t just mean traditional media (newspapers, radio, TV), but also “social media” that takes many different forms, including blogs, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and FriendFeed. All of them featuring information – sometimes about you and/or your organization – on a 24/7 news cycle.

Additionally, the lines between print and broadcast media have completely blurred. First, all of them have websites, but on the LA Times website, for example, you’ll find video. On Fox News’ website, you’ll find print. All media sites archive their stories, sometimes for many years, so a single piece of bad news can haunt you for a long, long time. The ‘blogosphere’ can act as a repeater, and distorter, of traditional media coverage, and there’s been more than one traditional media outlet that used a blog as a source.

It’s a mistake to underestimate the impact of someone whose blog is popular, who has hundreds or thousands of friends in their Facebook or Twitter network, and/or who regularly expresses their opinions via YouTube or other social media sites. They can hurt – or help – you just as much as any newspaper or broadcast outlet.

It is critical that all organizations have someone on staff, or on contract, who understands how to both monitor non-traditional media and use it for communicating both routine and crisis-level messages.

3. Treating the Media Like the Enemy

If you want to make a major mistake, tell a reporter that you think he/she has done such a bad job of reporting on you that you'll never talk to him/her again. Or badmouth him/her in a public forum. Send nasty emails. Then sit back and have a good time while:

 The reporter gets angry and directs that energy into REALLY going after your organization.

 The reporter laughs at what he/she sees as validation that you're really up to no good in some way.

Most reporters are not out to get you and, even for those who are, its rarely personal; they are ego-driven and their goal is the same as any employee’s – professional advancement.

Jonathan Bernstein is author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training and president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy based in Southern California.

To learn more about the Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training by Jonathan Bernstein Tour, please click here.

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