Communicating with the media if you are in business

Communicating With The Media If You Are In Business

First Published: 01/07/10
Last Update: 07/09/12
Author: Doug Weller
Words: 1,423

Today we are going to talk about the media and media training. I’ve been involved with the media industry for more than 30 years. I’ve worked in all areas of the media – print, radio, television and public relations, both in Australia and overseas. But let’s not talk about me, let’s talk about you.

You may not realise it, but you are consumers of news. If you didn’t consume media products, read, listen or watch media publications or programs, those media products would not exist. As much as people complain about the media, they constantly consume media products – everyday. The media is a business: print, radio, television and online. It is a very competitive business. It can be beneficial or disruptive, but never forget, it is a business.

Do we in the media deliver what people want, or what we think they want? It is a never-ending argument. Make no mistake, the media is a business and yes, it is interested in the ‘wow’ factor. That is what sells. Let’s get straight on to speaking about the journalists. If you want to know the main things driving journalists, it is ambition and deadlines. There is nothing wrong with ambition.

Regarding deadlines, let me make this clear, there is no point in a journalist producing a story if he or she can’t meet the deadline. You don’t know what a deadline is until you’ve been a journo and faced a media deadline. Let me explain it this way. The ABC TV News will go to air across Eastern Australia tonight at 7pm. It won’t go to air at three minutes past, or five minutes past. The newsreader will not come on and say “Good evening and welcome to ABC TV News. Can I tell you we have had one mother of a day! We’ve had people off sick, equipment breakdowns, it’s been murder but just amuse yourselves for the next five minutes, we should be ready by then”.

Do you go to the newsagent for them to say “Sorry, we couldn’t get it together so there won’t be a newspaper today, but there will be two newspapers tomorrow?” The media industry is an incredibly competitive industry. That is why we do media training, so people know how to communicate with the media industry – know what drives journalists. You need to know what to do when faced with a difficult situation or a crisis when you’ve got this incredibly powerful thing, the media, about to confront you – there are these journalists coming to you to get information.

Sometimes you will want to deliver the story to them and sometimes you won’t. People often say to me “I hate the media and I hate those journalists, they’re an absolute disgrace and I won’t communicate with them!” But what if you have a crisis? What if four people in your organisation are badly injured today and the media is gathering downstairs. What will you do? You’ve got a disaster, perhaps people are killed, what would you do?

The research tells us you’ve got between 8 and 15 minutes to get organised and start delivering information to the media. It is too late then to conduct media training. The media training needs to be conducted before such an awful event.

You can’t do media training on the run. Media training is a very focused process. You also need to have a communication strategy in place, and the presentation skills and communication skills to help you speak to the media and the public in such a crisis. Are you or your media spokesperson able to handle the situation?

A lot of people ‘freak out’ when they see a journalist. Don’t ‘freak out’. You need to think about how we, the journalists, operate as human beings under pressure. You’ve had this dreadful thing happen. It is emotionally disturbing, people are very upset. All of a sudden, the media is downstairs.

How do people who have not participated in media training react? Lock the gates. Lock the doors. Get security. This happens over and over in a crisis. Yet, with competent public speaking skills and a sound communication strategy, your organisation can activate an effective crisis plan to help deal with the media.

What happens when people are dealing with the media is that they forget about the most important thing, the public – the consumers of news. The Mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, during and after September 11, came to his media conferences with all the city chiefs behind him, and he went through a very simple process that changed crisis communication strategies across the world. He said “this is what we know, this is what we don’t know, this is what we are doing, this is what we want you to do” – he took the community with him.

We teach our trainees in media training that there are certain things you can control when dealing with the media, whether it’s a good news story or a crisis. These things are crucial to you being able to get your media message across. This is where your public speaking and communication skills are vital. If things get aggressive, don’t bite! What we are talking about here is being completely and totally in control of the situation by having good communication skills to assist your media communications and public speaking process. As soon as you lose control with any media you can’t get it back.

You need to think about what message the consumers of news are getting when they watch, hear, or read about out of control media interviews. This is the process we discuss in our media training programs. By the way, you need to be very careful with media training. There are old style media training programs and there are new style media training programs.

The media is constantly changing so media training programs and courses also need to change with the times. I am pleased to say Corporate Media Services media training programs are constantly updated to ensure we are giving our media training participants the latest in media and media trends.

The media industry is very, very competitive. Journalism is about pushing and meeting deadlines and yes, looking for the ‘wow’ factor, looking for a good story. Journalists will come to you and you must ensure you know how you get something out of this thing called “the media”. What will you deliver physically and verbally? How well honed are your presentation skills and communication skills? Remember, if you don’t take control of a crisis situation, what will the fall-out be from a poorly thought-out communication strategy?

Perhaps you will only need to speak to the media about good issues – let’s hope so. Even then, you need to ensure you communicate your media message effectively.

Finally, how many languages do you speak? When someone is being interviewed and they are speaking a language that is too complicated for people to understand, the audience switches off. All the audience has to do is use their remote control if it is television they are watching and go ‘click’.

So as an interviewee, you need to think about your audience and think about your objective. Who is the audience and what is the objective, because if you miss these, you can forget about it. Your communication skills need to target your audience and influence their understanding of events. It is no good having a great public relations department and excellent media strategy if you can’t communicate your message in a media interview. Before you go into any media interview situation, you need to do your preparation.

So remember, many of the journalists you will come into contact with live in a very pressured world. Try to work with journalists but make sure you know what you are going to say. Practise your communication skills and presentation skills and quickly work out your key points. Be confident and natural and remain calm at all times. In the end, it is what you want to get out of the media process that matters. Never forget this – out of the billions of media interviews that have been conducted around the world, not one single person has ever got into strife because of the question, it has always been because of the response. It is how you respond both physically and verbally in any given media situation and how you handle your public speaking, presentation skills and communication skills, that will have the biggest impact on the outcome.

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