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Media Training

By Mia Pearson, High Road Communications |

What is it about a phone call from a journalist that evokes more anxiety than taking a front seat on the world's highest roller coaster? After all, it's only a conversation. Lack of experience can be one reason, but more commonly, it's the fear of saying the "wrong" thing. Being prepared can help you handle the situation calmly. The key is to understand what journalists are seeking and to deliver that information clearly and promptly.

Every writer bases a story on the simple facts: who, what, when, where, why and how. Keeping this in mind when you determine your messages will greatly assist a journalist in obtaining relevant information for the readers. As well, when you first hear from a reporter, don't hesitate to ask questions about the publication or the story angle. Take a look at a copy of the publication before the interview so you understand what it is all about. This information will help you stay focused during the interview.

Although it may seem like a great opportunity, interviews are not the best time to sing the praises of your business, unless the story is about your business. A better approach is to answer the journalist's questions and, when it is relevant, discuss the benefits your product or company brings to its customers, indicate how you are different from the competition and provide insight into the latest trends and issues.

Backing up these statements with statistics and solid examples will validate your comments, and give the reporter useful material for a newsworthy story. Often, writers are working under tight deadlines with limited resources. Offering research results or third-party contacts simplifies the process, making it more likely that your story will be printed.

Keep in mind that not every story going to print will be a "feel-good" feature. As difficult as it may be, it's important to comment on the negative issues when the need arises. For one, it's your opportunity to clarify the facts and, it also decreases the likelihood of an unfavorable contact being asked to make a statement. Difficult news can be a real test to your interview skills. Prepare yourself by determining ahead of time what the reporter might be asking. If you can't make a statement, find out if someone else can.

Being sensitive to a reporter's deadline is crucial. Whether someone phones from a trade publication, which tends to have a longer lead time, or a daily with an immediate deadline, the most important thing to do is to call back -- even if you don't have an answer to the question. Leaving a reporter hanging can reflect negatively on your company and it may give the impression that you are avoiding the issue.

And now my final point. Don't ever ask a reporter to view the story before it goes to print. People are inclined to believe that when a reporter denies their request to view an article, it is a sure indication the article will take on a negative slant. The fact is, reporters are simply exerting their right to free journalistic expression. Rest assured that if you've followed these steps, the story will more than likely reflect your statements.

Developing positive relations with a journalist is no different than building a customer relationship -- know what they're looking for, know how to deliver it, and follow through. An interview can be as exhilarating as a thirty-foot drop on a roller coaster, especially when you see the article in print.

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