Media Training 7: Never get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel

By Gerard Braud 

I find it unbelievable that in the 21st century we still find executives who don’t want to take on a reporter or news outlet that has wrongly damaged their reputation. 

The traditional way of responding to a media outlet that makes a factual error is to ask the management for a retraction. But sometimes the issue is not always factual but a difference in your point of view. If a newspaper does a hatchet job on you, the correct way to respond is to always write a letter to the editor. The letter should be short and to the point, with about 200-400 words. In some cases, you may want to ask 3rd party supporters to also write short letters on your behalf.

Yet I still find executives who say, “We’re not going to respond. Just let it die. You can’t get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” That statement was wrong 50 years ago and it is even more wrong today.

In the past, a negative story may have run on TV or radio once or twice for 60-90 seconds, then it was gone. In the past, a negative story appeared in the newspaper for just one day, then the paper was thrown out, never to be seen again.

But the internet has changed all of that. Today, those negative stories live on in archives on the internet forever. Additionally, media websites are among the highest ranked websites on the internet because their information is deep, the site is constantly updated, and it is perceived by search engines as highly credible. The media sites are so highly ranked that if your organization or name is mentioned in a news report, the media website could come up as a higher ranked site on the internet than your own site.

What this means is that if I do an internet search for your name, or that of your organization, I may see and read the negative things written about you on a media website before I read the positive stuff about you on your own web site.

So what do you do?

Well, just as always, if it is a newspaper that has damaged your reputation, you should write a letter to the editor as I’ve outlined above. That letter to the editor now becauses part of the online archive linked to the story. That way, in the future, when people stumble across the story they will immediately find your point of view as well.

In the case of radio and TV, you should place your comments on the media outlet’s blog on their website. Please be aware that other web users and opponents may verbally attack you and your comments once they are on the media outlet’s blog. You need to be ready to clearly state your case.

Additionally, you may wish to place a response on your own website and blog. Blogs are highly valued by search engines and will help counter the negative comments from the original story.

Finally, don’t take it personally. Your response is as important as a business decision, as we outlined in lesson 2. Hire professional PR writers to help if necessary. They will take the issue less personally and likely choose better words that may temper any anger you are feeling.

In our next lesson we’ll explore why the facts don’t matter.

Prescriptions for Great Media Interviews: Secrets You Need to Know Before Talking to Reporters

By Gerard Braud

Braud MDU3 copyThe doctor’s resume was impressive. It demonstrated a successful practice, plus a history of research and teaching. The ABC News program 20/20 wanted to do a story about the doctor’s research. The teaching hospital selected me to be the media trainer.

After the best research possible, to prepare, I called the public relations department at the doctor’s hospital.

“What exactly does this person do?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” said the public relations director. “That’s why we hired you.”

“Hum? This is going to be a challenge,” I thought.

The media training class began as normal, with the doctor being recorded on camera for a baseline interview, to evaluate the spokesperson’s natural strengths and weaknesses. The baseline interview is usually followed by a critique and suggestions for good key messages that will help guide the interview.

There was just one problem. After the baseline interview, I still had no idea what the doctor was saying. No matter how I tried to get the doctor to simplify the information, we were getting nowhere, until the fourth hour.

Yes, it was four hours into the day when I sketched out a simple diagram with a cause and effect explanation. I presented it to the doctor and asked,  “Is this what you do?”

“That’s perfect,” The doctor responded.

“Then why didn’t you say that four hours ago?” I asked.

“Well what would my peers think?” the doctor replied. “I don’t want to dumb it down.”

“The goal of this interview is to put butts in your waiting room and money in your pocket,” I replied. “We’re not here to impress your peers. We’re here to talk to potential patients.”

Many medical professionals fall into this same trap. They are afraid to “dumb it down.” The truth is, you don’t need to dumb it down, but you need to simplify it.

With that said, let us examine three great rules for more effective media interviews.

Gerard-Braud-Author-BookRule #1: Don’t talk to the media, but rather talk to the media’s audience.

Spokespeople mistakenly put reporters on a pedestal. The reality is, most reporters are generalists who know a little about a lot and can make an audience think they are smarter than they really are. Don’t try to talk at a high level. Besides, the reporter isn’t your audience.

Your audience is made up of the people at home. Research tells us the average person watching television has a 6th grade education and the average person reading a newspaper or other written source has an 8th grade reading level.

This means that anything you say must be said at a 6th grade level if you want to be a great communicator. You don’t win prizes for using big words. Additionally, never give too many details.

Many spokespeople shun this advice, saying they don’t want to “dumb down” their information. The best mindset you can adopt is the same one learned through diversity training, which is to respect all people and to be inclusive of all audiences.

Also remember, when you use big words and technical terms, often the reporter has no idea what you are saying. Which leads us to the second rule, based on how little most interviewers know about your topic.

Rule #2: You should always know the first words that will come out of your mouth.

The goal is for you to know two great sentences that instantly adds context to your interview and simultaneously states a great quote.

The two most often heard complaints by spokespeople after interviews is that they were taken out of context and their best stuff was left on the cutting room floor. That will never be the case when you follow this rule. These first two sentences become a verbal headline.

Many spokespeople reject this rule. First, they don’t believe you can know what to say without knowing the question they will be asked. Secondly, they don’t want to sound scripted or rehearsed.

Here is a confession from my 15 years as a journalist, combined with a revelation from 20 years as a coach to spokespeople. Think AED Hears sign_633back to your last media interview. While you were talking, were you partially wondering what the next question would be? Confession: when I was a reporter and my guest was blabbing, I was wondering what my next question would be, because their answer was rambling, full of jargon, too detailed, or lacking quotes.

The revelation is that both the reporter and guest are wondering what their next question is and no one is concentrating on the current answer. This creates an amazing opportunity. Your pre-planned answer will provide context to all you believe about your subject, it will be quotable, it alleviates the jitters about not knowing what to say, and it becomes a preamble to eventually answering the question you were specifically asked.

Furthermore, when written for the mouth and ear, and used in daily conversation following your media training, your pre-planned sentences become internalized and never sounds rehearsed. In fact, you will sound spontaneous and natural.

Rule #3: Talk about the benefit you bring to your patients and not the scientific details. Focus on what’s in it for them and work to manage their expectations.

If you think details are important, do a quick self-examination. When you read the newspaper, do you read every story? No. Of the stories you read, how often do your read until the end? Often you don’t. Chances are you read the headline and the first few paragraphs.

So, if you are not interested in everyone else’s details, what makes you think people want to know your details?

Finally, remember that media training is designed to let you mess up in private so you’ll be great when the real interview happens. In a career where perfection is expected, it takes humility to subject yourself to training. But the most effective communicators train at least once a year and before every interview.


About the author: Gerard Braud is the author of Don’t Talk to the Media Until… 29 Secrets You Need to Know Before You Open Your Mouth to a Reporter. He is a media training expert who helps spokespeople communicate more effectively. Braud has appeared on TV more than 5,000 times and been quoted in more than 500 publications around the world.

Lesson 3: It’s About Me

By Gerard Braud

My wife often reminds me that it’s “not about me.” But she forgets that I come from a 15 year career as a journalist, where everything was about me.

Everyday it was my story; my interviews; my scoop.

Reporters have big egos. Accept it. You can’t change it so don’t even waste your time and energy.

To be successful in an interview, you have to know and understand the wants, needs and desires of a reporter. They include:

• I want a hot story.
• I want to be the lead story, which is the first story in the newscast or the first story on the front page.
• I want to build a positive reputation.
• I want to advance my career.
• I want to impress my boss.
• I want a raise.
• I want my TV station to have the best ratings.
• I want my newspaper to have a high readership.
• I want to be recognized as a good reporter by my peers.
• I want to win awards.

Do you see a trend here? I want, I want, I want…

Give reporters what they want, but give it to them on your terms. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you.

Help them tell a great story and they will treat you right.

The best single tip I have for you in this category is to talk in great quotes. A quote is one of the single most important things a reporter needs for a story. Sure, facts are important. But when it comes time for the reporter to write the story, your quote makes or breaks the story.

Most spokespeople concentrate too much on trying to convey facts.

The anatomy of a TV news story is this: the reporter writes 1 or 2 sentences to set up the premise or “lead” for the story. The next 2 sentences are a quote, followed by a 2 sentence transition that sets up a second quote. Then the reporter wraps up the story with a summary. A newspaper story is similar, but 3 to 4 times longer.

When you speak in quotes you are actually writing part of the reporter’s story. I’ll bet you didn’t realize that.

Here is one other weird thing that reporters do that no other professionional does. A reporter gives away a portion of their job each day to a complete amateur. Yep – A lawyer doesn’t let an amateur try their case or write a contract; an accountant doesn’t let an amateur do the math or balance the books; an engineer doesn’t let an amateur run the chemical plant; a doctor doesn’t let an amateur do surgery. But a reporter turns over a portion of their script – the quote – to you – an amateur. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, etc. are not professionally trained writers. Yet they are writing a portion of the reporter’s story when they start talking in an interview. Some part of that interview will be quoted and that means you are writing a portion of the final script.

Great quotes are seldom spontaneous for the spokesperson. That is why they are best written by a professional writer and public relations expert. It is the spokesperson’s responsibility to ask for help crafting quotes and then also their responsibility to go through media training and practice so the quotes are internalized, honest and sound unrehearsed.

In our next lesson we’ll examine those age old responses from spokespeople who say, “the media took me out of context and they left my best stuff on the cutting room floor.”