A pit that sits in the bottom of your stomach.
The thumping beat of your heart pounding in your chest.
Beads of perspiration forming above your brow.
Is that what you experienced before your last media interview?
Don’t sweat it. Being nervous is understandable.
The media is one of the most powerful ways to communicate with the community. Most of the interviews you’ll do with members of the press will reach thousands of people.
So use it wisely – and to your advantage.
After working on both sides of the newsdesk, here are ten lessons I’ve learned about working with the media.
At the center of each lesson: Be a resource to reporters and keep your message relevant to the audience.
1 – Be responsive and available.
Return a reporter’s call ASAP and within no more than one business day. Being responsive also means being easy to find, so have the contact number for your information officer listed prominently.
2 – Provide visuals.
Photo captions are one of the most frequently read parts of an article. Video is one of the most compelling methods of communication. Be sure to offer something visual for the reporter to capture via photo or video. Action shots are always best.
3 – Provide additional contacts.
Your view will be important for the story, but you’ll also want to have some additional people in mind who can give other perspectives.
When possible, try to find people an audience can relate to. For instance, if you’re working on a new program, find community members who will benefit from the program and ask them to be available to answer reporters’ questions.
4 – Your information must be relevant.
This is one of the most important items on the list. Make sure the story you want the media to help you tell is truly relevant to the audience. Make sure it’s genuinely useful to them. Reporters and audiences don’t pay attention to sources who don’t provide information that resonates with them.
5 – Know deadlines. Respect deadlines.
If you receive an inquiry from a reporter, ask about the deadline. Respecting the deadline is one of the easiest ways to build good relationships with reporters. Always remember that the relationships you build with them today are likely to pay off in the future.
6 – Don’t play favorites.
All reporters love exclusive stories … when they’re the ones who get to report them. But they hate to be left out. Be cautious of giving exclusive interviews. By excluding your other press contacts, you could be jeopardizing your relationships with them.
7 – Always provide Media Kits.
Make a reporter’s job easier by providing a folder with all the tools they might need to tell your story. Potential items to include: Press release, CD or DVD with video or still images, tip sheets, backgrounders, biographies, and a CD with electronic versions of all the documents in the folder.
By making it easier for a reporter to tell your story, you can increase the likelihood that they will report facts accurately. When they have to work for it or find it on their own, there is often too much room for interpretation.
8 – Watch out for jargon.
When communicating with a reporter in a press release, interview, etc., be sure to use plain language. If the reporter or the audience has to work too hard to figure out what you’re saying, they’re more likely to ignore your message completely.
9 – Use AP style.
When writing press releases, be sure to use AP style. Don’t know AP style? Purchase a stylebook. It’s published by the Associated Press and it’s the most common writing style used by members of the media.
By writing your press releases in AP style, you show the reporters that you understand their profession and want to be a resource for them.
You also increase the chances that your story will be printed accurately because the reporter can simply copy and paste the words from your press release when appropriate.
10 – Say “thank you.”
This is the second most important item on this list. We all enjoy praise. If a reporter does a nice job with your story, be sure to send a note or email to show your appreciation.
By using these tips, you will strengthen your relationships with reporters so they can help you tell your story. The media is a powerful resource to you, so be sure to be a reliable resource to them.
Photo: Megan HealeyMegan Healey of ABC 27 (WHTM Harrisburg) interviews Duane Hagelgans, Public Information Officer for the South Central Task Force South Central Task Forceand Asst Professor at Millersville University’s Center for Disaster Research and Education