Participants in our specialist media training courses for architects who have already had some experience with the media often complain that when they read the article that they’ve given a quote for the journalist they spoke to has not got their message and somehow grabbed the wrong end of the stick. It’s annoying and disappointing they tell us. We can sympathise completely. It’s one of the risks of an architect doing a media interview.
People in our specialist media interview training courses tell us that they’ve had the same experience. Is that really what they said when they read their quotes in the article. Was that what the journalist heard? The Comms teams and public relations consultants for the architecture firms that we work closely with and who often observe our courses have told us how they’ve been in similar situations when they’ve been acting as spokespeople.
Although there’s a risk here when an architect does a recorded interview for a radio or TV package – the soundbite – we’re talking principally here about print interviews. This we explain during our media coaching workshops for architectural practices, is the format that actually gives the reporter the most leeway to play with the quote. This might be accidental or intentional but either way it’s a risk and we like to help people to minimise the risks involved in giving media interviews.
Live radio or television might sound terrifying but, in fact, an architect or anyone else doing one, has more control than with an apparently relaxed, friendly press interview.
So, what can architects do to increase the chances of a journalist quoting them accurately and reporting what they said?
1.Ensure that your content is relevant.
If what you say to the journalist isn’t particularly newsworthy or won’t be of interest to the readership then the journalist might well lead you into talking about something else. As a result, you lose control of the interview and you find that a little throwaway comment becomes the focus of the story rather than the key messages that you’ve been developing with your Comms team.
2.Don’t assume a level of knowledge.
We know that architects undergo years of training to become experts in their fields. However, journalists are very much jacks of all trades and masters of none. There are, of course, writers who focus on architecture and design but many cover a wide range of topics. It’s important, therefore, not to assume that the journalist that you’re speaking to is familiar with technical language and concepts. Check with them about their level of knowledge when you start the interview and then keep it simple.
3.Have a clear idea of the one message that you want the journalist to take away with them and use in the article.
This means thinking of the headline that, ideally, you’d like to see. As we say during our media training sessions for architects, there’s often a miscommunication between the interviewee and the journalist because the architect being interviewed has provided too much information. The result is that the writer ends up with such a range of messages and information that they don’t know what to use. The information that they do include in the final piece might not reflect the points the interviewee wanted to get across. We advise that you stick to your key messages and don’t stray into other areas.
4.Flag up your key message.
If you think something is important, point this out to the journalist. It’s best not to use the phrase “key message,” as it’s rather obvious and clumsy but a phrase such as “The important point here is that…” or “What’s most interesting here is…” On the other hand, “What really struck me about this is that…” works well because it sounds natural and human.
5.Send an email afterwards confirming your key message.
Following the interview, it’s often a good idea to send on by email a confirmation of your main points plus spellings of any names or technical phrases and links to any other useful information that you might not have mentioned. You should always do this with the approval of your Comms team or public relations agency. This is a good way to ensure that there’s a focus on that all-important key message. Write it in a simple, conversational style rather than using formal, written language, as this will make it easier for the journalist to quote you.
As we point out in our media training sessions for architects, you can never have complete control over what a journalist writes or broadcasts (you’ll have to book some advertising space for that) but following these five simple rules will help.
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