Communications Toolkit for Academics

Talking to the Media

“Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing”
-John D. Rockefeller

If you don’t tell your story, someone else will try to, and they may not get it right. It is important to be prepared to tell your story to the media, including print, radio or broadcast.

Preparation

Talk to CABS. We can help you clearly identify “the story” and potential media (or journalists) that may be interested.

How to prepare

  • Become familiar with the reporter, media outlet and relevant past news coverage, but focus on the news outlet’s constituents so you can direct your messages to that audience. Consider whether the audience is familiar with your topic or industry, if they’re business influencers, policy makers, future students or the general public.

  • Take charge well in advance of the deadline. Quickly plan your strategy and gather needed tools, striving to beat other sources in providing the most information, the quickest and in the most helpful manner. Such action may provide you some influence over what is posted.
  • You can better position your organization by helping reporters do their job. Deliver background information, written statements or subject-matter expert quotes; offer visuals such as photography, graphics and video; and even introduce reporters to colleagues or clients who may provide perspective via testimonials or case studies.
  • Control logistics of the interview and feel free to set a time limit with the reporter. By holding an interview to 15-30 minutes, you are more likely to stay focused on key messages and not become distracted during a drawn-out exchange.
  • Select a venue which gives you the most control and, if needed, privacy. If the interview is scheduled in your office, hold all but emergency calls, clear the work area of proprietary materials, and alert your colleagues that you’ll be involved in a media interview that will take priority over potential interruptions.

What should I say?

Prepare Your Messages

  • Before each interview, determine what you want to say. Ask yourself, “If I could write the headline or story lead, what would I want it to state? If interviewed, what quotes would I want attributed to me or my organization?” Your conclusions should be reflected in key messages, supporting information, Q&A responses and a pre-planned closing statement.
  • Use your Message Box to craft key messages that are clear, consistent and compelling. This critical tool can help you prioritize information, stay focused and obtain measurable results.
  • Develop no more than three key messages to serve as the foundation for all communications and to weave into each interview. They should fit on one page: each as two or three sentences in length or 15 to 30 seconds when spoken.
  • Prepare your soundbites. Lengthy explanations are rarely quoted, but short comments lend color to the interview. Practice a few key sentences. And be wary of off-hand comments that can sometimes come off as snide or cynical–reporters love these types of comments but they can be a distraction in the story and ruin your key messages.

Use supporting information

Use supporting information to help illustrate concepts or explain technical information, but remember to avoid using jargon:

  • Facts: Use simple and descriptive statements. (MSU has the largest single-campus residence hall system)
  • Statistics or figures: Put information in easy-to-understand or quantifiable terms. (More than 16,000 students live in our residence halls)
  • Be a storyteller: Use case studies, personal experiences, anecdotes, analogies or metaphors.

Get ready for Q & A

  • Think about potential interview questions. Consider what’s topical in the news or your industry, as well as what you’re uncomfortable being asked. Develop answers to the questions using your key messages.

Make a lasting impression

  • Because people often remember what they hear first and last, it’s worthwhile to pre-plan a meaningful closing statement that reinforces your benefit or "so what" statement. It should be your key message. Use this when asked, “Anything else to add?”

It’s Interview Time

There is no such thing as “off the record”: If you don’t want a statement quoted, don’t make it. And always assume the tape recorder is on and the feed is live.

If you don’t know an answer, just say so: Offer to get back to the reporter with the answer in a timely manner or refer them to someone else. Offer an explanation if possible: “We don’t have that information yet, the analysis is not yet complete, but what I can tell you….” Refer back to the key messages you want to communicate.

Repetition: According to the American Association of Ad Agencies, your audience may need to be informed of your key messages as many as seven times for the information to be remembered. Strive to revisit your key messages often and say the name of your discovery, paper, research, program or organization several times.

Flagging: Help the audience recall your message by emphasizing what you consider to be most important. You can preface a statement with an attention-getting comment such as:

  • “The most important thing to remember is…”
  • “I’ve talked about a lot of things today, but I think it boils down to…”
  • “The best part about…”

Counting down: State the quantity of points you wish to make and articulate them one by one, alerting the reporter and audience about your agenda. It also helps you maintain control as you are less likely to be interrupted.

Bridging: Gets you from where you are to where you want to go. Respond to an inquiry by answering the question and then use a transitional phrase to bridge to your key message. This is a good tactic if a reporter asks a question about a topic you don’t want to discuss. Some examples of good verbal bridges:

  • “The most important thing to know is…”
  • “The point is . . .”
  • “The real question/issue is . . .”
  • “The fact is . . .”
  • “We have to remember that . . .”

Always come back to your key messages.

Personal presence

  • Stand in a balanced stance or lean forward slightly when seated – for a telephone interview, too, if necessary
  • Use direct eye contact
  • Make natural hand gestures – keep them small
  • Keep your energy level high or appropriate for the situation
  • Vary your voice level to match the significance of your message
  • Temper your body language to reflect the nature of the topic
  • If you are doing a TV interview, ask the reporter if you should look at them or at the camera
  • Practicing your key messages always helps and results in a better-delivered interview

Technology

  • If you have to do a Skype interview, make sure you are level with the camera on your computer. You want to look into the camera, not up or down. Be aware of what is in the background. You want an uncluttered, clean backdrop.
  • CABS has a dedicated ISDN line for radio interviews. The ISDN system uses multiple phone lines for providing studio-quality-clarity during call-in interviews. Using the ISDN makes the subject ‘appear’ to be in the studio with the host rather than having poor phone-in quality. There is a significant audio benefit and perception that the clearer the person, the more reliable the person is. Contact CABS to make arrangements to use this line.
Media
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