Media First's guide to briefing your spokespeople | Media First

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Media First's guide to briefing your spokespeople

Here’s a funny thought. Ask someone to do a presentation to a roomful of people and they’ll hole up in their office for hours working on what they want to say. On the other hand, ask them to do a media interview and, all too often, they’ll jot down some notes and then dive straight in.

The irony is, of course, that in the presentation they might be speaking to 10 or 20 people whereas during the media interview they’ll be addressing a thousand or even a hundred thousand times that number. They could even find themselves talking to millions.

According to the BBC Today programme’s veteran broadcaster John Humphrys - and our experienced trainers – the most important thing to think about before doing any interview is preparation.

So how do you prepare a spokesperson for your organisation? What do you need to think about?

1. Understand your Audience

The first thing is, of course, the audience. Who are they? What do they want to know? What perception do they have of your organisation? These are all questions you’ll want to consider. At the BBC, for instance, the editorial teams for Newsnight, Newsround and Newsbeat all sit near to each other yet their audiences are a million miles away from each other. With the print media, what you might say to the Daily Mail will be very different to what you’ll put across to the Financial Times, the Yorkshire Evening Post or to trade journals.

2. Plan your Messages

Thinking about who you’re speaking to will help you to think about your key messages. What do you want to say to these people? How do you want them to feel? What one thing do you want them to take away from the interview?

3. Strengthen your Message

Next you’ll need some examples, stories and anecdotes. These will not only engage your audiences but they’ll prove your point. I can throw any number of facts, statistics or clever arguments at you but your powerful, clear story or example complete with a strong human element will always triumph.

4. Prepare for Negatives

You should also know who the interviewer or journalist is. Is he or she a specialist? Are they junior or do they have years of experience? Do they have a particular beef or concern? Have they been fair or even favourable to your organisation or business sector in the past or, more importantly, do they not like you? This will inform your spokesperson’s preparation and whole approach.

5. Understand the Interview

If you’re doing TV and radio you’ll also want to know whether your spokesperson is on live or will be recorded for a package. Live interviews might be a more frightening prospect and might carry more risks if the interviewee says something wrong but he or she actually has more control than they would in a recorded interview as their comments can’t be edited out of context.

Similarly, for a press interview you’ll need to tell your spokesperson whether this interview is for a brief news piece at the front of “the book,” as it’s known, or a longer, more discursive feature piece. They can then tailor their comments accordingly.

In both media your spokesperson should know whether someone else will feature in the report. It’s useful to be aware of who these other contributors are – competitors, industry commentators, customers, pressure groups or academics. It’s also useful to get an idea about what they’re likely to be saying. The reporter or producer should be willing to tell you this.

Preparation before a media interview is essentially a form of risk management. With a disciplined, focussed approach preparing for an interview need not take too long – and the benefits that it brings are enormous.

Media First are media and communications training specialists with nearly 30 years’ experience. To find out more about our highly practical training courses, contact us here. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog.

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