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Four Steps for Dealing with Hostile Journalists

Four Steps for Dealing with Hostile Journalists

Posted by lukebuesnal in on 3 June, 2016

By Luke Buesnel

The media are reporting the mass exodus of MPs under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s tenure as scandalous. Indeed, some have been but most are not.

Could your business cope with losing key personnel quickly like this? Or would it cripple your productivity and stifle plans?

Losing a number of employees in a short span of time could look like a crisis to the outside world. It could flag to investors or customers warning signs – “don’t engage them, huge turnover of staff. They can’t be trusted…”

The truth is often more simple, sometimes people just move and seek other opportunities.

Of course that doesn’t stop the media baying for blood on occasion, they like to claim a scalp.

If the media do decide to attack, how should you respond?

Applying these four tips will give you confidence when dealing with the media:

  • Research: Never agree to a media interview on the spot, organise an alternative time. Ask journalists the topics they wish to cover and find as much information you can on it beforehand. Going into an interview blind is disastrous. Remember though, journalists won’t give you all the topics they wish to discuss, expect the odd curveball.

Journalists understand you’re busy and time poor. In a “crisis” situation, they want you more than you want them and will be prepared to be lenient in order to secure an interview with you.

  • Talking Points: Develop positive lines about your business, lines that can be spoken when dealing with journalists – address questions like: how are you fixing this crisis/why it’s not a crisis? Are your employees happy? Are you the best person to lead the team? You can refine the lines as you need to. Always rehearse them with colleagues before any media interview – practice makes perfect. When a camera is rolling, memory is never as good.

Build a narrative throughout your talking points – tell the story of your successes and anecdotes of political/business life. These make you seem human and can often shape the interview in a more positive light.

  • Consistent Messaging: Sing from the same hymn book – one message per answer. If more than one person is addressing the media make sure you say the same thing. Inconsistent messaging gives journalists the ability to pick holes in your statements – stay on message, one message.

Consistent message delivery makes it difficult for journalists to tangle your words, misquote or trap you in questioning.

  • Fight back: If you think you’re being unfairly treated by journalists, say so. They play games in order to get you uncomfortable and pressure you into making statements you don’t wish too. If journalists say “statistics reveal”, “it’s being suggested that…” ask for more information – what statistics? Who’s suggesting it? – Chances are it’s a ploy to get you to comment. Don’t be afraid of the silence – if you are confident in your answer stop and wait for the next question – it’s incumbent on journalists to fill the silence not you. Filling the silence with meaningless words will get you into a pickle.

Fighting back is a respect issue and it applies both ways. Journalists will cool their questioning if they see you’re no push-over. You are not allowed, however, to be arrogant or aggressive in your answers. That’s simply bad PR on your behalf.

Dealing with the media is a skill learnt, often through mistakes. Journalists call when you least expect it or when you don’t want them to. Implement these steps so you’re primed, ready to go when your moment arrives.

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