Ready, Train, Fire: Preparing to Face Traditional & Citizen Journalists

Media relations is a prime component of public relations, but it largely encompasses proactively engaging journalists to get coverage. When the tables are turned and communicators (or their clients) are in the media spotlight answering questions rather than pushing messaging, a Pandora’s box of different challenges and opportunities opens up.

“Getting your message to the right media is a bigger challenge than ever,” says Ken Capps, VP of public affairs for Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). “There are tighter, more frequent deadlines, diminishing resources and more pressure to break news. While [this means there are also] more opportunities for placement, it’s harder to get reporters’ attention.”

Thus, the importance of media training for executives/clients who interface with the media—both digital and traditional—is of monumental importance, as the fast-paced environment doesn’t leave time for redos and take twos. Media relations used to be a matter of sending out a press release with information and then following up; now, the media is looking for dynamic stories and perspectives, so coverage is more likely to come if they pick up the phone and call you.

What’s more, journalists are becoming increasingly finicky, thanks to the demands created by a constantly evolving media landscape, prompting many of them to bully vulnerable interview subjects into saying what they (and their audience) want to hear.

Here are some tips communications professionals can use to get their messages across to the media:

â–¶ Make media relations and training an ongoing effort. Building and maintaining positive relationships with your target journalists doesn’t just help increase your shot at getting your stories picked up; it also makes the journalist more likely to call you for a comment, or to be a little gentler if you happen to be in the hot seat because of a crisis.

When a request for an interview does come in, think about what you as a thought leader can contribute to the reporter’s story.
“Offer perspective,” says Karen Friedman, president of Karen Friedman Enterprises. “[Before an interview,] ask yourself, ‘What can I say that only I can say? What does this mean? Why should [anyone] care?’” Answering these questions is the preliminary stage for shaping the messages that you want to deliver.

That said, don’t just sit by the phone and wait for a journalist to call. Make yourself known to the media that has access to and influence over your target audiences. Then, Capps says, “Establish what type of coverage is important: quantitative (sheer volume of mentions) or qualitative (depth and quality of mentions).”

Doing this ahead of time will make measurement efforts (discussed later in this article) easier to execute.

â–¶ Know when to say no. And that doesn’t mean saying “no comment.” On the contrary, you should train executives ahead of time to know what types of questions they are not required to address. According to Andy Gilman, president of CommCore Consulting Group, these include questions that:

•    Ask for proprietary information

•    Are hypothetical

•    Surround litigation

•    Ask about something outside your area of expertise

•    Seek confidential and/or personal information

â–¶ Be quotable. Securing media interviews is only half the battle in getting positive coverage; the other half requires you to say something worth quoting. Anticipating questions that will likely be asked allows you to craft answers that are compelling; strategies for fielding unexpected questions include offering analogies and examples, giving anecdotes and comparing and contrasting to give your answer depth.

â–¶ Don’t stop once the camera/tape stops rolling. Media training has two components—preparation on the front end and follow-up on the back end. Once the story is out, be it on TV, in print or online, it’s time to measure the results. Were the key points you wanted to convey included in the story? Were they told accurately? Did the story reach influential audiences?

Capps recommends evaluating outputs (number of interviews over a specific period of time), outcomes (number of placements, tone of coverage) and outlooks (what the coverage suggests is ahead, changing or developing), as well as the following four components:

•    Reach: Total number of stories

•    Tone: Overall impression for audience

•    Content Quality: Resonance of key messages/quotes

•    Share of Voice: Dialogue dominance

Contacts: Ken Capps,; Karen Friedman,; Andy Gilman,