Tips for working with reporters:
- Be a consumer of the media. Have a good idea of what might interest the media generally, or reporters you are targeting specifically. Different reporters and outlets have different needs, and will often require a dinstinct angle, spokesperson, or news hook for a successful pitch. In addition, reporters like to know that those pitching them are familiar with their work and interests, and will appreciate a tailored approach.
- The goal is persuasion, not just publicity. Although earning publicity is an obvious and crucial goal in any communications plan, it should not be at the expense of communicating the right message. Reporters may be eager to cover aspects of your issue that clash with the narrative you are trying to pro- mote. Evaluate requests carefully to determine whether you will at least have an opportunity to frame the story in a way that highlights the solutions you are seeking. While you may sometimes talk to reporters largely to develop relationships for the future, be sure to “do no harm” to your short- and long-term goals. Remember that your ultimate audience is not the reporter, but those that his or her reporting will reach.
- Staying on message is not easy and requires practice. Have the basic points that you want to convey in front of you during the interview (remember Value, Problem, Solution, and Action), and keep them as simple as possible. Everyone in your organization who speaks with the media should have at least basic media training where feasible. That’s a must, especially for interviews that could turn hostile.
- Know that nothing is off-the-record. In interviews, stick to your main points and don’t let report- ers sidetrack you. This includes any time you communicate with them before and after the actual interview as well—they can use anything you tell them. Unless you have a very close and trusted relationship with a reporter, stay on the record.
- Pivot. You can move from the question a reporter asks to the question you want to answer by pivoting. Give a short, non-interesting to answer to the initial question and quickly move to “What’s really impor- tant about this issue is,” or “I’m really here to talk about how we can grow opportunity in this community.”