7 habits of highly effective spokespeople
When it comes to speaking with journalists, not all spokespeople are created equally. With all the media training and support in the world, and sometimes despite it, it seems that some spokespeople just get it and know how to make the most of a conversation with a journalist, whereas other just don't.
Whether it is the CFO of a Nasdaq listed company, whose shareholders are watching every word, or a Silicon Roundabout start-up, desperate to win the first bit of business, most spokespeople have a lot riding on a media interview. If it goes well, it can accelerate the journey to business success, but failure can result in a wasted opportunity or something sticking around online that is a hindrance or an embarrassment.
I have been lucky enough to work with a handful of executives who thrive when it comes to speaking with the media. I can almost always guarantee these individuals will be rewarded with the coverage that they were aiming for. Here are some tips I have learned from them:
1. Make sure the person who is pitching you out knows who you are.
Whether it is an in-house person or an external agency, there is going to be someone whose job it is to pick up the phone and sell you. The best spokespeople i have worked with get to know these people, and more importantly let that team get to know them. Sure it is important to know the business strategy and vision, but it is also important to let that team know the person behind the job, hobbies, interests, sense of humour etc. The clearer sense we can get of who you are the better we can anticipate the right journalists to introduce you to. We will know whether to put you in front of the slightly crazy tech journalist or the rugby mad business writer. One of my favourite spokespeople is someone who my entire team knows. We know the name of his dog, preference to sail into work and rule about only employing those with lace-up shoes. All great stuff that makes pitching easier and more productive.
2. Throw away the briefing doc
You should always get a briefing document ahead of a planned journalist interaction. This will have all sorts of information on it. Journalist background, biog, anticipated questions and perhaps even suggested answers. The best spokespeople I have worked with always read this and then throw it away. Chances are the journalist will have forgotten what he or she is planning to ask you- if they have actually shared that. Spokespeople who stick too rigidly to this can be restricted when it comes to the exchange of information.
3. Enjoy the conversation
Let's face it you are busy, the journalist is busy. For you this may be a highlight of the day- assuming that you don’t spend all your time talking to journalists in which case you probably are not reading this. For the journalist it is one of a dozen interviews they will do before lunch. Most of which won’t be very interesting or fun. Make your conversation stand out by enjoying it. Relax, sit back and ask questions. The journalist is not there to sell your service or product but is there to tell a story. Give them one that they will enjoy, that is easy to verify and that is relevant to their readers.
4. Show appreciation
Journalists come in many shapes and sizes. Many are young and ambitious and it can be daunting talking to a stern CEO. One of the best CEO's I saw in action was the head of a global ad agency. The office was made of glass walls and floors and an open atrium. When he saw that the journalist had arrived three floors down, he got up, travelled down to reception to welcome him personally. They spent the first 10 minutes talking about the film memorabilia in his office. The Interview went really well.
5. Don't sweat the small stuff
So your job title is not quite right, your name is spelled with a y instead of an i. You can get your PR team to correct it, or you can let it slide. Asking for a correction may be easy enough but remember mistakes are easily made. Sub editors, late nights and deadlines mean things do slip through. If the change is material and will impact your business then absolutely ask for a change. If it is not then let it go. Journalists are busy and have moved on to new stories. Dragging them back to change a detail in an article may just make them less likely to want to speak with you next time around.
6. Treat it like any other business relationship
Successful spokespeople know that a journalist relationship will serve them throughout their career. They Link-In and follow journos on twitter and generally stay connected. When they leave the company, the good-will and editorial follows them. I have one client who has a spokesperson who is moving on. Our job is to make sure the relationship transfers to new spokespeople but the spokesperson is going to also have that contact in their next role.
7. Don’t share briefings on a conference call.
ie: Two spokespeople doing a head to head with a journalist. Just don’t do it. Ever. No matter how compelling the argument for it is. Even if the journalist asks for it themself don’t do this. It is always horrible for everyone. If it is a telephone-based conversation then one spokesperson at a time is enough for any journalist. Follow up calls can be set up if necessary. Even some of the best spokespeople i have worked with have come un-stuck with this. The very best ones don’t do it.
Basically success is about creating the right environment for you and the journalist, and with so many breifings taking place over the phone, it is often harder to make a conncetion. Use these rules and your chances of success should increase.
Have you got any other tips or tricks to share? It would be great to hear about them.