Yesterday, I headed over to Hartford for my morning coffee and bagels and a talk on “Mastering Your Message: The Enduring Art of the Sound Byte” by PR pros Dick Pirozzollo, Barry Nolan, and Mike Salius. (If you haven’t been to any of these monthly events sponsored by the Connecticut Valley Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, it’s time to sign up.)
1. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Coach your spokespeople as a regular part of your job so they are always ready for an interview. Set up a camera and walk through a mock interview together, using a flip chart to remind the speaker of the key points to use. Make sure they can say them in 10-15 seconds, leading with the strongest point. Take 3-5 of the most feared questions and practice answering them.
2. Remember it’s all about real people’s lives. Talk about human beings. Stay away from stats, jargon, and technical terms.
3. Be disciplined with your message. Don’t let a reporter bait you with false choices. When responding, pivot back to your key points.
4. Set the stage. If a reporter is meeting you on your turf, set up a well-lit, quiet space that exudes a warm feel (use potted plants, etc) for the interview, rather than a cold, sterile hallway. Identify (and coach!) in advance any other employees or volunteers that a reporter may need to interview.
5. Control the moment. Stay calm, even in the face of an aggressive reporter or an emergency situation. Spokespeople can’t allow themselves to be provoked into an angry outburst on-camera (it will surely make the top of the evening news).
6. Don’t hesitate to correct erroneous information that a reporter may provide on-air during the interview.
7. Help the reporter— provide them a package of key information to get the story done. You get big points for providing multi-media such as B-roll that could enhance their story.
8. Prepare in advance for communications emergencies. Organizational crises will happen, so be ready for them. Make sure all staff have cell phone numbers where key spokespeople can be reached at any time– weekends included.