This post originally appeared in IR Update.
Mirrors, pictures, and windows. Marian Briggs, executive vice president at PadillaCRT, says her firm uses these three analogies when helping clients work with the media to develop stories about their companies. Briggs, along with Cynthia Skoglund, senior manager of corporate business development and alliance management at Beckman Coulter, and moderator Laura Graves, vice president of investor relations at Polycom, shared their insights in an August 2013 NIRI-sponsored webinar titled, “Effective Ways to Work With the Media.”
Mirrors involve walking the reporter up to a mirror and saying, “Look at me, aren’t I pretty?” Pictures involve building a relationship by walking the reporter up to a painting and talking about what the artist was trying to depict. Windows involve sharing thought leadership. Open up the window; let the reporter look out onto the landscape to see what trends are coming around the corner.
“If you can think about positioning your company in the last two buckets—pictures and windows, that’s how you’ll ultimately get the mirror story at some point down the way,” Briggs said. These steps, along with using embargoes and exclusives, maximize the impact of media coverage for a company.
Assess With a Media Audit
To develop these types of stories, start by conducting a media audit to establish your media needs. According to Skoglund, it’s important to analyze the company’s business goals for engagement in order to align them with the appropriate outlets.
Go to your executive team members and inquire about how to position them as thought leaders in the market space and what they want in terms of publicity. Figure out the company’s plans to respond to current situations, whether they are positive or negative.
Understand the media environment in your market space. Identify the reporters, industry influencers, and bloggers. Understand who can best tell your story by researching recent pieces to learn what type of tone or angle a reporter may take in reporting on the company and market space.
“Invest in a newsroom on your website that is at least as good as your peers,” Skoglund advised. “Have a source for those media reporters to go to do their own research and homework.”
Prep Time Counts
Prepare by thinking proactively and reactively. Understand the basic do’s and don’ts of media engagements that include no doing an interview just to answer questions, but to provide positive, honest, and brief message points.
Be prepared for questions the media might ask and how the company will answer them. “Anticipate not just what that question is, but what the follow-up question might be,” Graves said. “Think all the way around the question that they’re going to ask you, so that you’re prepared to take off in any direction that reporter wants to go.”
If your strategy is to get national exposure, start with the local media and trade papers so that down the road, a national reporter can see what else has been written about your company, Briggs advised. It’s also a good way to practice handling the tough questions before going national.
Graves recommended taking the time to pull your executives aside to do media training to put the best foot forward, especially since not every media situation is going to be the same. Engage in media training for yourself and you’ll find that you think like a reporter and can better engage your executives.
“It’s going to be different, whether talking to a local publication in the town where your company is headquartered versus a national audience or certainly The Wall Street Journal,” Graves said. Help reporters by sending over background information since they are on deadline. Plan for the “what if” scenario, such as the microphone not working or the camera screen going blank.
Some Key Strategies
Webinar participants also shared other valuable insights:
- Go off the record with someone you would trust only with your first-born child, Briggs recommended. Otherwise, assume everything you say is on the record. You may have to be reactive when there are times you are in a story you don’t want to be in, such as a corporate governance issue or scandal. “You have to decide: are you going to put your executives in any kind of an interview situation? If you can’t win,” she noted, “the answer should be ‘no’ and you should simply provide a statement.”
- Executives can be on the defensive during tough interviews. Don’t become irritated, but instead, answer with a positive message. Try the strategy of “stripping and flipping,” Briggs recommended. “Strip out of the negative—you just don’t talk about it. Instead, you answer with a positive.”
- Avoid “no comment.” Scoglund advised. IR needs to work with the legal team to figure out a holding statement that says something. “’No comment’ is not an appropriate response and one that a reporter never wants to hear,” she pointed out.
- Think about a message triangle with your top three messages in each corner to steer the conversation in a direction that positions your company in the best possible way, Graves suggested. “Any question the reporter asks should be able to be answered with on of your key messages and, in a sense, pulls the question into your triangle by using those three corners,” she said. “By preparing this way, it helps you avoid the ‘no comment’ situation. ‘No comment’ should never be a key message.”