Impress the Press tips

By: Georgette Nyankson

December 15, 2018

The Rural Policy Learning Commons (RPLC) sponsored four secretariat members to partake in media training on November 16, 2018. The aim was to gain insights on effective ways of promoting RPLC activities and resources to the media. As a communication officer and rural engagement assistant for RPLC, I took part in the training and offer highlights of what I learned.

Adam Dooley was the presenter of this very informative training session. Adam stressed a quote by Benjamin Disraeli: “Without publicity there can be no public support, and without public support every nation must decay.” This interesting quote highlights the fact that the media is an important tool to help organizations or projects such as the RPLC achieve their mission.

Dooley’s presentation during training. Photo by Georgette

According to Dooley, public relations (having stories in the media) are more advantageous in some aspects than advertising. The advantages are that public relations: 
* builds trust
* is less expensive,
* gives third-party validation (from the media), and 
* is earned.

Advertising on the other hand:
* builds exposure
* is costly, and 
* addresses a skeptical audience.

I will highlight my takeaways from two main aspects of the training: “news” and “interviews.”

NEWS

The presenter touched on news and how to create great stories. He pointed out that every news item is made to catch as large an audience as possible, and hence, every story pitch should be created to appeal to the largest audience. A story can be newsworthy when it has impact, timelessness, proximity, human interest, and prominence, among other factors. Following (or newsjacking) a news story that you didn’t create, but which you are well positioned to contribute to, is also an opportunity to inject your voice into a topic in the news.

Newspapers: Photo by Adam Dooley

Dooley emphasized that although not all stories are news, all news is a story. For instance, Alfred Harmsworth (Founder of the Daily Mail) stated that “when a dog bites a man, that’s not news, because it happens so often. But when a man bites a dog, that is news.” He added that videos and pictures are critical and need to be added to news or stories so they attract more readers.

MEDIA INTERVIEWS

Dooley discussed how, during interviews, journalists looks out for information that will attract an audience and short soundbites of information that will crystalize the message. Journalists also look out for clarity, candor, and brevity in interviewees, as well as people who can communicate their interests in ways that meet the audience’s needs.

Media interview: Photo by Adam Dooley

He further provided tips on how to be successful during media interviews. These tips included: 
 * breathing
* speaking slowly
* pausing
* positive body language
* using vocal intonation to make it interesting, and 
* using a tone pitched to fit your message.

Reporters

According to Dooley, reporters are underpaid generalists, driven by deadlines, who may or may not have a news beat (eg. crime, travel, etc.). He advised attendees that, when confronted with a reporter, there is no need to do the interview unless you are 100 percent sure of what you want to say. Also, you need to understand the reporter and ask questions: Who are you? What outlet do you represent? Have you spoken to anybody else on this topic already? Whoever speaks to the reporter first on the topic gets to shape the story.

Dooley’s presentation on reporters. Photo by Georgette

Additionally, he emphasized that the interviewee needs to control the message, or else the reporter can shift the agenda to gain control. On this note, the interviewee needs to develop one key message and preferably two, but not more than three, sub-messages when communicating with a reporter. When doing an interview, the interviewee should “Answer, bridge, and message.” In other words, if the question provides an opportunity to communicate a key message, answer it. If it doesn’t, bridge to the question you wish you were asked, for example, by saying you need to provide some background. Your message should use plain language, be simple, and use everyday examples.

Preparing for a media interview

Dooley also provided tips for preparing for video interviews with reporters. He pointed out that location is very important when preparing for a video interview. He said that the location should be in line with the story. For instance, for academic interviews, you should be in an office setting with an appropriate background. Don’t forget to check the lighting and test the audio ahead of time.

Kids interrupted their dad in BBC World Broadcast Interview: Screenshot from Adam Dooley

Furthermore, one needs to check all surroundings (including locking doors) to ensure there will not be any form of distraction in the course of the conversation. Adams remarked that one needs to dress professionally and remove lanyards, dangly distracting jewelry, and other noisy materials such as pocket coins. Cellphone and computer notification noises should also be turned off or muted.

He highlighted that the interview is not over until the reporter has left the room or hung up; if the interview seems over, but the interviewee keeps talking, assuming it is off the record, he or she can be in for an unpleasant surprise. Don’t let your guard down; there is no such as thing as “off the record.” He further explained that most reporters are professional and will honour a request to speak “off-the-record,” if the request is made up front, but there is always the possibility of a reporter failing to keep a promise as well.

I strongly believe that this training will help me in my communication duties, as well as helping others at RPLC. Adam Dooley discussed and presented very important information and tips, which have added to my knowledge about the media and public relations. I appreciate RPLC for giving me this opportunity.