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Have you watched too many well-meaning interviewees torn to bits on 60 Minutes? Heard your peers reel from being misquoted in the local paper? Do you worry that the media won't "get it" when it comes to your business?

Working with the media is no picnic. When done strategically, however, it has the power to increase your company's visibility, boost your status as an expert in your field and drive business to your door.

Having a strategy in place to get reporters to notice you is only the first step. Once they are interested, you need a plan to work with them effectively.

1. Do your homework

  • Know who you are talking to. The media is not monolithic: mainstream media reporters have become corporate employees who cover stories that "sell." Trade reporters also have an eye on the bottom line, but the specificity of their field makes them more receptive to industry experts and their pitches. To ensure that your message is clearly understood, speak the language of the media outlet you are targeting.

    Learn about the reporter. Your PR counsel should provide you with an overview of that person's body of work, approach and pet peeves. When setting up an interview, don't be afraid to ask whether the reporter is planning to talk to other sources for the story, how much time he or she planned for the interview and what the format will be.

  • Remember whom you are trying to reach. The media is your third-party conduit to your target audiences. Who are they? What do they think of you? What do you need to tell them to affect their thinking in a way that will trigger positive results? View the reporter as a facilitator who can help you get your message across to your stakeholders, prospects and clients.

  • Keep it simple. The more muddled the message, the more likely it is that the messenger—and as a result, the audiences—will misinterpret it. You need to clearly communicate who you are, what you do and for what purpose. A positioning statement helps you crystallize your key message in succinct, easy-to-remember sentences.

  • Massage your message. Message delivery is as important as message content, and it is not enough to simply regurgitate your positioning statement. You need to make the message your own, until it becomes the crispest, most effective part of your discourse.

  • Understand the risks of media exposure. While the benefits are obvious (increased exposure, added credibility, your positioning as an expert), the risks—save for the fear of being misquoted—may not be readily apparent. For a start, you must face the potential skeletons in your closet to make sure they'll withstand media scrutiny. Audiences will forgive your mistakes, but they will never trust you again for covering them up.

Sometimes, media exposure is too little, too late. Catching up to negative publicity is an uphill battle, and focusing on doing good deeds instead of fighting a media war may be a better strategy to restore a battered reputation.

2. Practice

You should never meet the media without being able to present yourself as a polished interviewee, but you shouldn't be over-rehearsed, either. Finding the right balance is a tedious exercise, but it is crucial to avoid miscommunication. Before any media interview, you must...

  • Know your message and how to deliver it. You have only seconds to articulate your message. Then you must reinforce it as often as you can. You need to practice variants of your "elevator speech" over and over to make sure your message sticks.

  • Go through media training. Even if you have had media training before, you will benefit from timely media refreshers, particularly those that include simulated interviews. Going over interview techniques, including tactics to deal with tough questioning, can greatly influence the outcome of the story.

3. Sharpen your presentation skills

Appearance does matter, nowhere more so than on the small screen. You need to dress in a way that does not shift the focus of the viewer from your message to the way you look.

To be an effective on-screen communicator, you must get rid of any distracting behavior—the use of filler words, exaggerated gestures, or fiddling with various objects.

4. Don't be a chum, but be courteous

Reporters are not your friends, but they are professionals, just like you. Treat them the way you'd like to be treated.

After the story appears, send a quick thank-you note. Don't patronize, threaten or get angry. Remember that this is a mutually beneficial relationship: you gain exposure in return for the reporter's getting the story that he or she was looking for.

If the reporter gets a fact wrong, simply call or write to correct the error. Do not swear him or her off your list. Mistakes happen. Set the record straight, and move on.

5. Evaluate your performance

Finally, you must be brutally honest with yourself after each interview. Did you connect with the reporter? Were you on message the whole time? Did you provide enough specific information to make it worth the reporter's time?

"The reporter got it all wrong" is just an easy way out; it is your job to make sure the reporter understands what you are saying. There are very few "off-base" interviews, but plenty of missed opportunities to deliver the message.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sylvie Sadarnac-Studney is principal of Kedrika Communications (www.kedrika.com).