Managing the Media
By Lisa Calhoun
The recent General Services Administration party that ended the career of the meeting planner and caused the head of the organization to resign thrust the meetings industry into a bright national spotlight. Meetings rarely get such extreme coverage, but the modern meeting planner has to be comfortable with media management. In the event that your organization is pushed into the spotlight unexpectedly, here are some rules to help you cope.
1. Take time to manage your message. Even if a journalist surprises you in person at your show, take your time to respond, possibly by excusing yourself for a moment. Then, ask yourself if you’re the best person to address the issue. If not, find the person or the resources you need. One of the most powerful ways to diffuse a media inquiry is to assemble a panel from among your executive team, board or attendees and pose the question or issue for reformulation. Get a response from the panel, and relay it to the journalist. You can use language including “we.”
Whether you are working with a panel or by yourself, realize that media will always try to ask pointed, specific questions, often the kinds of questions that don’t have answers. Just because they ask doesn’t mean you have to answer.
2. Reframe questions to fit the answer you want to share. If you’ve set up an interview, go into it with a message and try to stick to it no matter what an interviewer asks. Your lack of a direct answer will not be seen as evasive; it will be seen as typical. How many times on TV do you see the question being dodged and rephrased? If you do this in a calm and open manner, your confidence will come through in your answer, and no one will notice the journalist’s fast and furious question going unaddressed. Don’t say, “I can’t comment on that.” Media professionals love to share that answer. Just repeat your message. That’s all they can quote you on if you simply stick to the message.
3. Think sound bite, not explanation. When you answer a journalist, be brief in your response because it ultimately will be edited down to the shortest possible piece. Even if the explanation is brilliant, it won’t make the final story. Short sentences will.
4. Control the interview. First, watch some interviews and take away tips that can help you. During your interview, tell stories. Gather a few anecdotes or stories that demonstrate your key message before you go on camera or in front of an interviewer. Remember to keep talking. Second, don’t allow the journalist to interrupt you when you’re making a few of your key points. The person who does the most talking often appears to be the biggest authority. Go into an interview with a message, and let nothing get between you and your delivery. Finally, if you’re being interviewed on television, look at the camera. Looking closely at the interviewer allows them to read you closely and interrupt easily. Looking at the camera connects you to the audience and puts you more in charge of your experience.