Deep Dive Breakout 2

Thursday, August 4, 2016

2:00pm – 3:00pm

Mike Panetta (Beekeeper Group), Vlasta Hakes (Grifols), Brian Sansoni (American Cleaning Institute) and Leslie Kimball (Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility) 

Do you speak to the media or work closely with your media relations team? Learn from those who have gone on the record about the pitfalls and rewards of this role. Discover how to become a trusted resource to journalists while also staying on message when a crisis hits.

Have feedback on this session? We’d love to hear it! Submit it here.


Advocacy messages and communication messages should be aligned so that reporters are hearing the same thing, and writing the same stories, as your talking points that advocates are delivering up on the Hill, online or elsewhere. Media training is critical for all key members of your team, including CEOs and executives, government affairs staff, technical or regulatory expert staff, consumer outreach staff, etc. Media trainings can be conducted on an annual basis to keep people prepared and as up-to-date as possible.

Any time you speak to a journalist or the media, make sure you do your homework first. Develop a SOCO (Single Outstanding Communications Objective) by thinking through these questions:

  • What do you want to see in the lead paragraph of the story?
  • What is the ONE message your audience should take away from the story, interview, or article?
  • What are three compelling facts or stats that you want the audience to remember or that can help the reporter give their story heft? Vary this number depending on length of the interview or story.

Learning Objectives:

Basic principles: off the record, background, what does a ‘beat’ refer to?

Have clear guidelines in your organization about who is allowed to go on the record.

“Off the record” varies – make sure you understand their rules. Typically it’s understood to mean the information will not be used by the reporter unless they can independently confirm it with someone else who will talk on the record.

Usually, “on background” information given to the journalist will not appear directly in the story, but can be used by the journalist to enhance their understanding of the issue or to guide them toward other leads or sources. Some journalists will use “background” quotes unattributed, e.g. “Someone close to the industry…” because it makes their story sound buzzier and more interesting.

“On the record” means quotes for direct attribution – and a reporter will always assume you’re on the record if you don’t specify, in advance, otherwise. Reporters are also likely going to steer you back toward “on the record” if you’ve asked to go off the record or talk on background.

If you’re going ON the record, make sure your message is concise and clear and uncomplicated. James Carville said, “If you want people to know three things about you, have three parts to your message. If you want people to know nothing about you, then have nine.”

Phone interviews and TV interviews have different rules and ways to succeed. Always follow up a phone interview with detailed answers by email – reporters can sometimes miss things when taking notes, so providing your messaging in writing helps them pull a verbatim quote from their story. Phone interviews can be harder, because you don’t have visual body language cues to go off, and they’re generally less interpersonal. TV interviews are more personal but require more preparation, including knowing (and dressing for) the audience; consider helping to guide the journalist by offering your talking points in advance, or providing B-roll to help the story look more professional.

A beat is the issue that a reporter covers – anything from politics or government to niche issues like environmental regulations or household goods. A reporter’s beat can be focused on a particular issue, an industry sector, an organization, an institution, etc. Beat reporters can be expected to be more knowledgeable about their beat than the average person.

Preparation is key. Research the reporter, the media source they work for, and the audience that reads, watches, or listens to them. Prior to the interview, get the journalist’s questions, or at least an idea of the line of questioning, if possible, so you can prepare your answers and anticipate follow-up questions – and so you can get those answers pre-approved internally. Some organizations may not want to go on the record, or respond at all, to a story that they know will be negative; even if you’re not providing a quote for attribution, you can still steer them toward your messaging. Finally, don’t forget to practice!

Working with modern journalists.

Connect with and pay attention to their social media accounts (Twitter, LinkedIn, their professional Facebook, or even Instagram).

Always know your audience! Often, a journalist’s story is already written and they’re only calling to get you to give a quote that confirms their story and their ideas.

Research the reporter:

  • What stories have they written recently? What was the tone of those stories?
  • What’s their opinion of you, your company, your industry?

Research the media source:

  • What sort of media is it? Mainstream vs. online; small vs. large
  • Who is their target audience?
  • Who is advertising on their website?
  • What other stories do they publish?

Research your audience:

  • What are the viewers or readers interested in?
  • What are the demographics, including socioeconomic status, of the audience?

Be wary about agreeing to interviews on Skype or over the internet on video – it’s difficult to look good using a poor-quality camera like on an iPad or iPhone, and an interviewee will tend to forget to keep making eye contact with the camera. Try to get on the phone or do an in-person interview whenever possible. If for TV, provide B-roll to act as a visual over your phone interview audio.

What do you do when journalists get it wrong?

It depends on the outlet and the story. Sometimes, you’ll want to let a story die and just ignore it. If it’s a bigger outlet, consider asking advocates to write a letter to the editor of that outlet; the outlet won’t publish YOUR attempt at a correction unless they were factually wrong, but they may hear out your community.

If it’s a factual error, call up the reporter and ask for an update or a correction – easier to do in an online story than in print. If the reporter doesn’t believe they made a factual error, consider posting your point of view, and how the reporter got it wrong, on the online comments. If a factual error is particularly egregious, ask to speak to the reporter’s editor.

How do you build relationships?

Reporters appreciate quick, accurate responses. Even if you can’t get back to them immediately in detail, ask for their deadline and tell them you’ll be back in touch. Try to go the extra mile, even if they’re calling you after 5 on a Friday.

Ask reporters what they need: Online reporters might include a photo, video, or infographic that you provide because they can improve their story. Reporters like to link to your website or embed your video – combine a link to your website with an email capture to further build your community!

Consider inviting a reporter to tour your facility or see your organization, meet your members or employees, etc.

How to become a trusted resource?

Never lie! There may be some things you don’t want to or can’t tell a reporter, but you can’t recover from a lie. “No comment” or “I don’t have an answer to that, but I can direct you to …” is MUCH better than going out on a limb, guessing, assuming, or otherwise not being confident in your ability to accurately answer.