Simple Guidance for Talking to the Media (Even in Tense Situations)

Regardless of one’s politics, it is fair to say that the current presidential administration has caused a great deal of controversy on many fronts, creating fresh headlines nearly every week. One of the most visible manifestations of this has been the attention paid to the president’s communications team. Fans of late night are no doubt aware of former press secretary Sean Spicer’s combative press conferences, Saturday Night Live’s parodies of those press conferences, and Spicer’s disdain for those parodies. Spicer’s interactions with the news media were one of the most talked about aspects of the young administration.

Then his replacement came on the job — for a total of 10 days. When we heard about Anthony Scaramucci’s lengthy, hostile and vulgarity-laden comments to The New Yorker author Ryan Lizza, we immediately thought he would soon be leaving that job. His inexperience in communications and public relations was immediately clear – it’s extremely naive to not understand that anything you say to someone in the media, at any time, is fair game for publication or coverage.

While we only have a very limited – and very sensational – impression of Scaramucci’s PR acumen, Spicer is a seasoned communications vet. His struggles, in particular, are evidence of how challenging public relations can be. Because these contentious PR interactions are so top of mind these days, we thought we’d do a quick refresher on some basic rules to live by for any PR professional.

The Mic is Always Hot

NEVER say something to the media that you wouldn’t want to be broadcast on the evening news or the front page of your local paper. This was the cardinal rule broken by Scaramucci in his phone call with Lizza.

Don’t Wing It

Never go in “cold” to an interview setting or speak “off the cuff.” Even very time-sensitive topics or breaking situations will allow for some amount of time to catch your breath and reflect on the key points you hope to get across.

“No Comment” Sounds Fishy

Avoid saying “no comment.” You should always attempt to respond in some manner to a reporter’s question. If, for some reason, you literally are unable to share information, say so. For instance: “I’m sorry I can’t give you any information on XYZ because the issue is currently being litigated…because we’re still involved in investigating…because we don’t have information available yet…because it would violate patient/employee/other privacy.”

But … Make Sure You Know What You’re Talking About

On a related note, don’t answer questions that do not “belong” to you. For instance, in healthcare reporters often follow up with a hospital when an accident has occurred and may ask questions about the nature of the accident. That’s not within the scope of services/knowledge of the hospital. Likewise, if you’re asked something that is outside of your area of expertise, simply say so. Don’t try to speculate or share suppositions on a topic or issue that is not yours to own. If you’re caught getting it wrong when speculating, your credibility is going to take a big hit.

Build – and Maintain – Strong Relationships

Work hard to build strong relationships during the “good times” – those relationships will serve you well during tough times and when/if you become involved in something controversial. They call it public

relations for a reason.

Never become defensive or argumentative with the media. They have a job to do. Their job is to ask tough questions and provide a balanced perspective to the best of their abilities. If the media gets something factually wrong, tell them – directly, yet respectfully.

 

Public relations is not an easy job. It’s often fast-paced and dynamic, and depending on the prominence of the individual or organization you represent, you can have millions of eyes and ears eating up every word you say and how you say it. And, the stakes are even higher in these days of “always on” digital communications when anyone with a smartphone can immediately capture and “report” whatever you might do or say. There are plenty of pitfalls but, by following some of these basic rules, you can avoid many of the obvious ones.

 

About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We are adept at evaluating and analyzing communication efforts and working with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content, through both on- and offline media to achieve desired results. Our background in business journalism, marketing, PR/media relatons and online communications makes us well-positioned to serve the needs of 21st century marketers.

We serve clients who are looking for help creating content for a wide array of channels—from social media posts to full-length manuscripts, and everything in between. We focus primarily on service-related B2B topics and work with a number of independent consultants interested in building their thought leadership through online channels. For ongoing content management, our first step is to fully understand your goals, objectives and competitive landscape.

Then we’ll conduct a thorough analysis and assessment of your digital presence, compared to competitors, and recommend a communication strategy to achieve your goals. But, we also regularly take on individual projects – white papers, blog posts, contributed articles, etc. If you’re interested in learning more, let us know!

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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