Previous Article Next Article Yourorganisation has just made huge job cuts and the media wants to talk to HR. Butare you ready to face the press? Heather Beresford provides some top tips When a national newspaper journalist rings your direct line and asks you tojustify the latest job losses; or a TV crew fills the reception, asking whatyou have to say to angry staff whose call centre is closing; will you know howto handle interviews to help minimise negative publicity? The questions are terrifying if you haven’t got an answer. But when crisisstrikes, the worst thing you can say to a hungry news journalist is ‘nocomment’ – it just makes your organisation look guilty. On the other hand,fluffing a media interview by saying too much or contradicting the company linecan be just as damaging. Handling skilful journalists is a concern for anyone in a media-facing role,but HR people in particular are being forced to learn fast. Journalists arekeen to sidestep polished comments from a press office to interview the HRperson directly, who can provide knowledge, detail and emotion. But the mediais also interested in controversial and emotive HR stories, such as job lossesor employment tribunals. Growing concern In response to the growing concern among HR people, the Chartered Instituteof Personnel and Development has included, for the first time, a session on‘Managing the Media’ in its conference programme this year, with RichardDonkin, editor of Jobs and Education at the Financial Times as the keynotespeaker. Similarly, ‘Breaking News – Mastering the Art of the Media Interview’ wasone of the most popular seminars at the HR Forum in May. Most sessions onboardthe Aurora were full and the company running the sessions, Optimum Coaching,was inundated with delegates asking for one-to-one sessions and group trainingfor colleagues back in the office. “At some time, most of us will be expected to represent our company inthe media. And yet we are given very little training about how to do thiseffectively,” says Blaire Palmer, managing director of Optimum Coaching. “Journalists’ reputation for catching people out is well known,”says Palmer. “If experienced politicians can say the wrong thing and findthemselves justifying their comments on the front page, why not HR people? “Delegates experience gruelling press interviews on our courses, whichcan be nerve-wracking, but it means they make mistakes in a safe environmentand are well prepared for skilled, tough questioning when it happens forreal.” She adds: “Preparing for contact with the media and handling aninterview skilfully minimises negative publicity by putting stories in contextand promoting an organisation in a positive light.” Richard Plenty, a specialist in people and organisation consulting, has justset up his own business, Plenty Partnership, and booked a one-to-one sessionwith Optimum Coaching to help him deal with press interviews and live debates. “I wasn’t sure where journalists would be coming from and wasn’tconfident about doing live interviews,” he says. “I didn’t want tomake a fool of myself or forget my point under interrogation – there’s nothingworse than a rambling, boring answer. So the coaching focused on puttingimportant points across concisely and authoritatively. “I feel well prepared now and accepted an invitation to take part in adebate hosted by the Association of Business Psychologists – something I mighthave turned down before I did the training.” Optimum Coaching helps delegates achieve positive coverage by doing fourthings: preparing key messages, looking for a hidden twist, understanding thecharacteristics of different outlets, (such as print, radio, TV and websites)and keeping calm throughout an interview. Prepare key messages Before an interview, prepare the crucial information you want to work intoyour answers. These might include positive reasons for closing a business siteor details of the extensive support you are providing to help staff find newwork. “Most organisations have press officers who will brief you on thecompany line and help you research the subject in full,” says Palmer.”With their help, you can prepare up to three key points or soundbites andanticipate the worst possible questions.” Look for a hidden twist It’s easy to get caught out by seemingly harmless stories if you don’t findout what sort of publication or show you are being approached by, and whatpoint the piece is trying to make. “Research is paramount,” says Palmer. “You might be asked toappear on a radio chat show for a friendly discussion about counsellingservices. But do you know if the programme is fundamentally in favour of suchservices, or is the producer trying to prove they are a waste of time and thatcompanies like yours are wasting stakeholders’ money? Imagine everything yousay used out of context and edit your comments accordingly.” Understanding styles You may be expected to do interviews with many different media outlets (suchas print, radio, TV and websites), so it is helpful to understand the interviewstyles of different outlets and learn the terminology. What is a ‘donut’? Whenis an interview ‘as live’? When is a story hard news and when is it a feature? Keep cool You can come across as calm and authoritative by breathing deeply, relaxingyour shoulders and speaking clearly and slowly, in short sentences. Concise,knowledgeable comments are more likely to be included in a report thanrambling, inconclusive answers, so say your key messages and stop talking. Keepyour answers simple; journalists are looking for black and white. They mighttry to wind you up with silly questions, but don’t rise to the bait. All this advice can sound daunting to the novice, but handling the mediaisn’t always about out-thinking hungry news journalists who are determined tomake your company look heartless. Journalists write positive copy too. “It’s not all about minimising negative coverage,” says Palmer.”If you choose interviews carefully and make knowledgeable, concise andinteresting points, you can capitalise on a situation, maximising positivecoverage for you, your organisation and your industry.” Weblink www.optimum-coaching.comMedia interviews: Know your jargonRadioClip for news: A short spoken quote that will be used in thenews. No longer than 20-30 secondsDisco: A slang name for discussion. Often used at Radio 4Donut: A live radio interview where the reporter interviews youface-to-face, usually from a relevant location, before handing back to thestudio Down the line: Sometimes means down the telephone line, butmore commonly means from a ‘remote’ studio with you in one town and theinterviewer in another. To the listener, it sounds as though you are in thesame roomFeature: A longer piece for radio, TV or print. The style isusually chattier and more circumspect so you can be more conversational, butsoundbites are still crucialHard news: Such as job losses or deathsHook/peg: Most stories have a topical link Agencies: Independent Radio News (IRN) is one of the many newsagencies providing interviews and copy for radio, so your interview couldappear on a range of different radio stations. Reuters and PA do the same thingfor the pressOff-the-record: Most journalists will respect this request, butdon’t risk it unless you know them well and have built up a relationship oftrustRadio and television‘As live’: The interview will be recorded, but played into theprogramme as if it were live. You will be encouraged to banter with thepresenter, just like a discussionSoundbite: A short, concise statementPrintPlacing quotes: Beware of this technique. A journalist mightsay: “So would you say that men don’t need counselling?” If you sayyes, they are entitled to write ‘Mr X said “Men don’t needcounselling”’ Handling the mediaOn 23 Sep 2003 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed.