No-one knows how to relate to reporters better than a
journalist working for a charity. That's the background of Wendy McCown, who told delegates at Vancouver's international
conference of the Association of
Fundraising Professionals (April 1-3) to steward reporters as though they
Just like donors, she says, reporters want to buy on emotion
and justify with fact. That's why an effective spokesperson needs passion and hope
above all. Then add expertise, training, trust, believability and energy, and
you'll be a grounded, tangible representative for your charity.
"Big, loud and wow aren't believable," McCown warns. You
can't be a salesperson. Instead, you want to be known as someone who doesn't
sensationalize when you speak to a reporter.
What reporters wish
The 24-hour news cycle creates unrelenting pressures for
news reporters. "The deadline is always five minutes ago," McCown explains, "so
be prepared when a journalist calls." Save time by boiling down your message in
advance. It's hard with complex missions and multi-faceted outcomes-but if you
don't trim it to an eight-second sound bite, the reporter will have to, and you
might not like the results.
Help reporters set the context of a story by sending
background information ahead of time. Don't assume they understand anything. They're
not nearly as well-informed about your mission and your charity as you are, and
it's your job to bridge that gap as concisely as you can.
During the interview, know your message and stay on it. You
don't have to answer every question directly; you can bridge to your message
with phrases like "You know, the bigger impact is ..." Then link your message
to the original question.
Avoid statements that can be clipped out of context. "We're
not that bad off" sounds very different on its own than when combined with
three subsequent sentences about the funding you've managed to maintain.
Recognize that you're dealing with another human being and
nurture a mutually beneficial relationship. Most reporters believe that those
relationships help them compete with the horde of amateurs posting, blogging,
and uploading videos without context.
Nevertheless, you can't let that relationship influence your
interviews. "The moment the
interview starts, it's a business transaction no matter how good your
relationship is," McCown counsels. At that moment, reporters are looking for
news, not a friendly conversation.
Watch for baited questions like the classic "When did you
stop beating your wife?" and challenge the underlying assumption. Avoid repeating negative words, and watch for
emotionally charged language.
You don't have to respond to rumours, she emphasizes, nor
should you guess when you don't know, speak on behalf of others, or give your
personal opinion rather than your organization's official position.
said all you want to say on a question, just stop talking. Don't
be led into saying more than you've planned, and remember that silence
is just fine. In fact, she says, "it's their problem, not yours, if they
have nothing on tape."
emphasizes that reporters face overwhelming time pressures. You'll
start your media relationships off on the right foot if you make a habit of
returning reporters' phone calls right away and offering
all the help you can from the beginning.
Sounds like common courtesy in any business