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Handling the media

27 April 2005
Handling the media

Once you've developed your key messages and have scoped out your planned PR initiatives, it's important to put in place the working processes you need in order to respond quickly and effectively to press enquiries. This should be done before you release anything to the media.

Choosing the right people

Establishing your PR team is an important first step. In a small company, you may have one person in charge of taking media calls, but for larger operations you may want to set up a full press office with a number of staff.

Either way, your main press contact is there to manage press enquiries and visits, and to co-ordinate any interviews or requests for further information.

In crisis situations (see Dealing with a Crisis), they will also issue reactive statements and can shield spokespeople from the media until a clear communications strategy has been agreed.

For obvious reasons, choose an enthusiastic and articulate employee as your main point of contact for the press, as the first person a journalist speaks to within an organisation can shape their view on it. If they're met with somebody who is glum, abrasive or confused they're less likely to cover your story. Worse still, they could even mention their negative first impressions in print.

The press contact should also have a good overall understanding of how the organisation works, so that if they are asked specific questions they can quickly and easily source the required information from other parts of the business.

Traditionally, PR has tended to be placed under the control of the marketing director, but in the hospitality sector, you might find a customer services member has the sort of hands-on knowledge and good communications skills that will make them an ideal press contact.

Create a process

Once you've established your main point of contact, make sure you communicate a clear, working process for dealing with media enquiries to the whole team.

All front-desk staff should be aware of who has press relations duties within the organisation so that they can direct calls to the appropriate person. Invariably, journalists are working to very tight deadlines and they won't appreciate being sent around the houses to find the information they need.

Equally, the press office needs to keep all staff informed of PR activity. In particular, they should brief all customer-facing staff in advance of a press visit, and inform sales and customer service teams of any media coverage that might prompt enquiries from the general public.

Preparing spokespeople

Depending on the nature of your PR activity, you may occasionally be asked for additional comment - or even a full interview - on a story.

It's therefore worth establishing who is best placed to field these requests and prepare them accordingly.

You may choose to have one spokesperson for all enquiries (perhaps the general manager or managing director), or have a number of spokespeople who can speak on particular areas of expertise (eg, a chef might be best placed to speak on culinary trends).

Either way, spokespeople need to be confident, well presented and clearly-spoken. Personality is also important, particularly if you are likely to do broadcast (ie, TV or radio) interviews - you'll want somebody enthusiastic and able to present ideas in a lively and engaging way.

Prepare your spokespeople ahead of any media opportunities. It may even be worth investing in a formal media training session by a PR consultancy. They will fully explain how the media works and what they're looking for, as well as simulating interview scenarios to give your team practice before the real thing.

Briefing your spokespeople before the interview is absolutely crucial. Your press office should provide them the following information:

Who is the interviewer and what is their role (if known)?

When and where will the interview take place?

What format is the interview (live or recorded, panel discussion, one-on-one?) and are they expecting the spokesperson to do anything special - eg, chefs might be asked to prepare a meal)?

Background on the journalist and the newspaper or radio or TV show they work for - eg, what is their general style, what sort of audience do they cater for? What has prompted the opportunity? The appropriate press release, or details of the conversation the press office had with the journalist, should be forwarded.

What key messages you're trying to get across, with suggestions as to how these might be fed into responses.

It can often help if the spokesperson runs through a mock interview with a colleague before the real interview - this can help to untie the tongue, ease nerves and iron out any problems.

SUMMARY: Top tips for slick media handling

Choose a sensible first point of contact for the media - somebody who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable and articulate.

Communicate a clear process for dealing with media enquiries to all front-desk staff.

Establish who will act as your spokesperson for a given subject.

Prepare for media interview with briefing notes.

Consider investing in media training to bring your spokespeople up to speed. Neil Coffey is a consultant with travel PR experts BANC Communications. He can be contacted on neil.coffey@banc.co.uk.

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