It’s probably a scenario which will be familiar to many of you.
Your pitch has gained a journalist’s attention and good publicity and widespread coverage are only an interview away. The only problem is the spokesperson has got cold feet and doesn’t want to be interviewed or simply isn’t returning your calls.
It is certainly something that has happened to me. While managing media relations for a police force I often generated interest in a particular witness appeal or new initiative, only to find that when talking to journalists was mentioned, everyone suddenly became far too busy.
It is a scenario which regularly leaves PR professionals with their head in their hands.
So how do you solve the problem of reluctant spokespeople?
Understand the reluctance
The first step has to be to understand the reasons behind the reluctance. For some it will be a confidence issue, while others may feel they cannot free up their time for interviews. Some may even struggle to see the value of engaging with the media.
Another consideration is they may have had a bad experience with a journalist before and have decided they don’t want to risk a repeat performance.
If the thought of facing questions from a journalist just seems too daunting for your spokesperson, consider putting them forward for an interview on the intranet or staff magazine first.
This could act as a gentle introduction to the interview process, well within comfort zones, while still improving their skills and working to ensure they get their messages across.
On the intranet site they could perhaps face some challenging questions from employees through a live chat, which could help boost their confidence in their ability to respond under pressure.
For many spokespeople, particularly those with less experience, print interviews can feel a lot less daunting than taking to the airwaves on radio and television.
The setting is likely to be more familiar and relaxed than a studio environment and in many cases there is the chance to get back to the reporter after the interview with further information and to check facts.
While it is important spokespeople are not complacent about these types of interviews, getting a few articles with trade and local press under the belt is a good way to boost confidence.
The best way to ensure a spokesperson feels comfortable and confident about taking part in a media interview is to make sure they are properly prepared and know what to expect.
Explain how you will work with them not just on messaging but also on identifying likely questions, particularly the negative ones, and how they should respond.
Make sure they know who the journalist is they will be talking to and the publication they work for.
Mock interviews can also work well in advance, particularly with strong and honest feedback about what went well and what needs to be improved.
Some spokespeople – in my experience the more senior ones - may be reluctant to give up their time for media interviews and even question the value of doing them.
You may, for example, have encountered the phrase ‘can’t they just use what is in the press release?’
The key in these cases is to show them both the value to the organisation and their own careers of accepting interview requests.
Show them what rival companies are doing in the media and how it is helping to ensure its messages and story are heard by a wider audience.
Also outline how joining in the conversation with engaging, entertaining interviews, delivered with clarity and confidence, will ensure they are viewed as an expert and thought leader in their field.
It’s not about talking to journalists
It is important reluctant spokespeople understand and remember interviews are ultimately not about talking to a journalist and they are actually about speaking to customers.
Carrying out regular interviews will give your organisation a voice and, in the case of television interviews, a face.
A newspaper article, TV spot or radio interview can generate huge, entirely free publicity with your organisation’s views and opinions seen and heard by millions.
Loosen the noose on your messaging
Sometimes spokespeople feel uncomfortable because messaging uses language they may not be comfortable using.
Empowering and encouraging them to use their own words (within corporate guidelines), anecdotes and examples will not only increase their confidence but also help bring messages to life.
We regularly find some of our clients come back to us after media training courses to help them develop and fine tune messages so that spokespeople have more confidence in what they are being asked to deliver.
The best way to improve the confidence of spokespeople is through realistic media training which exposes them to current working journalists in a safe environment.
This will give them the skills and opportunity to practice controlling messages and honing messages.
If your spokesperson has had training before, it is worth remembering the media world and the techniques and methods used by journalists changes quickly and it is important to keep pace with these developments.
Being a media spokesperson is like any other skill – the more you practice the better and more successful you will be.
Clearly some of the approaches outlined above will take longer than others and high quality media training is the quickest and most effective way of boosting confidence and changing people’s perceptions of talking to the media.
It is also worth remembering that the more spokespeople you have who have had recent media training the less likely you to find yourself in a scenario where you are desperately trying to convince a reluctant spokesperson to carry out an interview.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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