It’s an issue that’s often mentioned by the participants in our media training courses who have already had some experience with the media.
They open a newspaper or magazine or click on a website to read the article that they’ve done an interview for. Unfortunately, the journalist they spoke to has not got their message and somehow grabbed the wrong end of the stick.
You may well have had the same experience. Did you really say that? Was that what the journalist heard? Either way, it wasn’t what you intended them to take away. The Comms teams and public relations consultants that we work closely with and who often observe our courses have told us how they’ve been in similar situations.
We’re talking principally here about print interviews which is the format that actually gives the reporter the most scope to diverge from what the interviewee has said, either accidentally or intentionally. There’s also a risk here with recorded radio and TV interviews from which the reporter or producer will take a clip, perhaps a soundbite. Live radio or television might sound terrifying but, as we point out during our media coaching courses, in fact, you have more control as the contributor than you do with a relaxed, friendly press interview.
So, what can you do to increase the chances of a journalist quoting you accurately and reporting what you said?
1. Be focussed.
As we always say during our media coaching sessions very often there’s a miscommunication between the interviewee and the journalist because the person being interviewed has given away too much information. The journalist looks at their notes and has such a wealth of facts, figures, stories, messages and insights that they’re not sure what to use. What they do take out and put into the article might not coincide with what the interviewee wants them to quote.
So, only tell the journalist what you want them to use. If you find yourself being drawn into a note the subject area or away from your call message then stop and come back to it.
2. Flag up your key message.
What might seem very important to you and should, you might think, be included in your quote above all else might not appear to be so striking and essential to the journalist. This is especially the case if you give away too much information or speak too quickly. Why would they pick this particular comment above all else?
We don’t advise our course participants to use the phrase “key message,” as it’s rather blatant and shows that they’ve been media trained. However, a form of words such as “What’s really important here is that…” or, better still, because it sounds natural and human, something along the lines of “What really struck me about this is that…” You could also say: “This is absolutely essential…”
3. Send an email afterward confirming your key message.
Once you’ve spoken to the journalist it’s often a good idea to email on confirmation of your main points plus spellings of any names and links to any other useful information that you might not have mentioned during the interview. Always do this through your Comms team or public relations agency if you have one. Again, make sure that you have focused on your key message in the email and 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.
4. Ask to check your quotes.
Now, this is quite controversial among journalists and we are regularly asked during our media training sessions whether you have the right to see something that a journalist has written before it is published. We work around the world and certainly, in some cultures, this is quite acceptable but in the UK, most of Europe and the US it is very unusual. Certainly demanding what is known as “copy approval,” will usually only annoy a journalist and have the opposite effect to the one you intended. The problem is that you might not like the angle of all the stance that they have taken and once you both start editing you can enter a ping-pong of emails and phone conversations that today’s hard-pressed journalists don’t have time for.
However, one thing you can do is to ask – and no more than ask – to check your quotes. Offering this as a service is something to which a journalist will probably be more amenable. After all, believe it or not, they do want to get it factually correct. Certainly, if you have been giving them information that has a technical, scientific or legal nature then accuracy is particularly important and many journalists we’ll be opened to allowing you to help them get the story right.
5. Make sure that what you say is interesting and relevant to the article.
It might sound slightly facetious but it’s when the things that an interviewee says and the messages and examples that they use are not particularly newsworthy and won’t be of interest to the audience that the journalist is most likely to go in search of something else. That means of course, that you as the interviewee are more likely to lose control of the interview and find that a little digression or even a throwaway comment becomes the focus of the story rather than your carefully prepared and honed key messages.
Chat to Communicate Media
It’s important, therefore, to make sure that these key messages are sufficiently interesting and relevant so that they’ll grab and hold the journalist’s attention and keep them on your agenda rather than going astray.
As we point out in our media training sessions 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.
Our media training courses are realistic, bespoke to your needs, quick to turn around, and cost-effective.