Dealing With The Media
Media visibility is an effective tool for promoting NMU people and programs. It can foster a positive public image; boost name recognition, which is helpful in recruitment efforts; offer public recognition for newsworthy accomplishments; and show external constituencies what this state-supported institution is doing for its students and the region.
Despite the obvious benefits of publicity, dealing with the media can be intimidating. If a reporter calls for an interview, don't sweat it - make the most of it! Here are some helpful tips:
WHEN A REPORTER CALLS
*The News Bureau is responsible for releasing news items about NMU to the media. The media might contact you directly - to follow up on an NMU news release or to pursue an original story. If the subject matter is negative or controversial, or if for any reason you feel uncomfortable responding, please call Communications & Marketing for assistance in advance at 2720.
*When a reporter contacts you, be courteous and cooperative. Return all calls - even if you don't think you have anything to contribute to the story. And because the media operate on tight deadlines, get back to the reporter as soon as possible.
*Write down the reporter's name and print/broadcast organization before you start the interview.
*Gain a clear understanding of the story's subject matter and angle. If it is in your area of expertise, feel free to respond. If the topic is outside your area of expertise, politely decline and refer to someone else. If the story is based on a wire report or other information source, ask the reporter to fax you a copy for reference.
*If you need time to collect your thoughts or retrieve supporting information, set an agreed-upon time to call back (the sooner the better). Example: "I need to gather some information before the interview. I should have it assembled in 15 minutes. Will it work for you if I call you back at 10:30?" Then, stick to your promise.
*Use extra time to your advantage. Develop two or three key messages you would like to get across during the interview. Jot down likely questions and think of ways to address them while working in those key messages. Feel free to ask colleagues or News Bureau staff for help in anticipating a reporter's questions.
*If the topic warrants, provide the reporter with a fact sheet or other background information before the interview. This is especially helpful for ongoing or complicated matters, financial items and construction projects. Many reporters do not have time to research a story. Providing brief, relevant material for them to review before the interview.
*Check the interview environment (office, conference room) to make sure fans, air conditioners or phones will not be a noisy disruption.
*The interview starts at the moment of contact. Any remark you make is fair game - even if the reporter isn't taking notes, the camera isn't rolling and the tape player isn't recording.
*Watch television "cut-away" shots and post-interview remarks. Until the reporter leaves or hangs up the phone, your comments could be included in the story.
*Avoid "no comment" and "off the record." The former sounds suspicious and weakens your credibility. If you really can not comment (pending court case, confidential information, lack of details), tell the reporter why and assure him/her you will share the information as soon as possible. As for "off the record," there is no such thing. Journalists are not obligated to honor this request. Simply put, if you want to ensure that something remains off the record, don't say it.
* Keep your messages clear and concise. Short, simple words are best. Avoid acronyms, jargon and technical language.
*Repeat your key messages (in different ways) at each available opportunity. Offer a summary or "bottom line" statement at the end of the interview to reaffirm these points.
*Be truthful at all costs - even if it hurts.
*Put personal opinions in proper context if you are representing the university.
*If you need to think about a response before talking, do so. Your silence will not be included in the story. On a related note, respond to the question, then stop talking. Do not be coerced by an awkward silence into saying more than you should.
*Stay within your area of expertise. It is okay to say "I don't know" or "I'm not qualified to answer that."
*Do not lose patience with the reporter, get defensive or trivialize a question. This could reflect negatively on you (and the university) in the final product and will make you a less likely contact for future stories.
*Encourage the reporter to call you back for clarification or follow-up questions, but do not ask to review the story before it is published or broadcast. This is a courtesy that the News Bureau extends to campus sources, but you should not expect it from the media.
*In television interviews, use body language and facial expressions to help sell your message. Maintain direct eye contact with the reporter (not the camera), and lean forward slightly to show interest in the subject matter. It is okay to appear somewhat excited and animated, when appropriate (for example, when sharing positive news about your research, your students, etc.).
Kristi Evans, NMU news director, offers media training for faculty and staff. The sessions cover interview techniques for print and broadcast, media relations etiquette and voluntary mock interviews/critiques. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.