You never know when it might happen. You say or do something that gets you or your business noticed. The next thing you know you have reporters calling and asking for an interview. I have had a number of these situations recently and want to focus on one. A few weeks ago I was interviewed by a well-known weekly national news magazine about my experience with small business health insurance costs and the impact of the Affordable Care Act. Obviously, this is a timely and controversial topic that could position a company or a person in either a positive or negative light if they aren’t prepared to provide a knowledgeable and credible point of view. What I said must have resonated with this particular reporter because I did not end up “on the cutting room floor.”
Several small business owners I know saw the article and said they would have declined the opportunity because they simply are not comfortable responding to media requests. So, I thought I would share a few things I have learned over the years. And, in the interest of being transparent, I have been on both sides. As a former broadcast journalist and investigative reporter, I was the interviewer and now I am the interviewee. So here is a bit of friendly advice.
Never agree to comment on something outside your area of expertise or experience. It’s tempting to want to get your name out there and get some publicity for your company, but a media misstep or out-of-context quote can take a long time to overcome. It’s okay to decline an interview if you’re not a subject matter expert, don’t have personal experience with the topic or simply aren’t convinced the publication is aligned with the values of your company
Do your homework on the media outlet, reporter and subject matter as it relates to your business. As is often the case I did not have much time to respond to my latest media request. The call came in and in less than an hour later I was doing the interview. In this instance, I was asked to describe my own experience and could easily do some advance research to back up my statements so I agreed to the interview. To prepare, I pulled the insurance rates and plan changes I have made at my company for the past three years so that I did not need to guess or rely on my memory when speaking to the reporter. Specific facts and figures are typically quotable and provide the content the journalist is seeking.
Given the reputation of this specific magazine, I was confident that it would have processes and procedures in place to ensure fair reporting and an accurate and balanced article. I was not disappointed. The reporter did a great job of fact- checking and came back a few times to ask follow-up questions. If you know the “leanings” of the media outlet you can be prepared for the type of questions.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” Even media savvy individuals have gotten caught trying to pretend they know it all only to have a reporter show that they answered the question falsely. If you can’t answer the question, say so and then try to find the reporter someone who can. Or, go and find the information and get back to the reporter in a timely manner.
Nothing is “off the record.” There is a classic mistake that even high-profile, often-interviewed individuals make time and time again. They forget that there is a live microphone in the area and make an offhanded comment which reflects poorly on them or their organization. Then they have to see it played over and over again. As a general rule, never assume that anything you say is “off the record.”
So with all the things that can and sometimes do go wrong why should you bother to seek media attention or respond when it finds you? Simple, the benefits can outweigh the risks.
You become known as an expert or thought leader if you offer a unique perspective or share knowledge that can help others. Let’s face it no one wants to do business with someone who is just average- they want the expert. Media mentions get attention for your organization and that opens doors. But it is not just about getting new business. You also meet people you might not have encountered and learn from them and their experiences which helps you grow and develop professionally.
Another benefit of media attention is that you can advocate for causes you believe in or be the voice for those who might not be in a position to step up. If “doing good” is part of your corporate mission then this helps you expand your reach.
One final note, the more you step up and speak out, the more comfortable you will be with media attention.