Entrepreneur Magazine- August 2005
by Gwen Moran
Dan Hoffman had some bad interviews years ago, back when he was heading up operations at an ISP based in Hong Kong. He would read articles in which he was quoted and sometimes find that the published version of the interview had very different information than what he thought he’d discussed with the reporter.
So when Hoffman, now president and CEO of M5 Networks Inc., a $10 million, New York City-based provider of outsourced telephone systems, got a call to appear on Bloomberg Television, he decided he’d better get some help. Hoffman, 36, called his PR agency, Euro RSCG Magnet, to schedule some media training.
“A lot of people think that doing interviews is a piece of cake,” says former broadcast reporter Barbara Laskin, president of Laskin Media Inc., a New York City media-training firm. “But it’s difficult. That’s why I got into media training in the first place. I was a reporter and cared about getting the story right, but with today’s fast deadlines, you can’t always assume that the reporter is going to figure out what you meant to say if you’re not clear about it from the start.”
Being unprepared is just one of a host of mistakes entrepreneurs make when dealing with the media. Whether the result of popular misconceptions, bad media training or simply having no idea what it takes to be a good source, here are some of the most common myths about being media-savvy.
MYTH #1: It’s important to put a positive spin on everything
Not every situation is positive, says David Margulies, who heads up Margulies Communications Group, a strategic PR and crisis communications firm in Dallas. In order to be truthful, you can’t always put a bullish slant on the circumstances.
“The example I use in my speeches is the airline executive who says, ‘Sure, the plane crashed, but it was right on time when it hit the mountain,’ ” he explains. “You need to deliver the information the audience needs to know.” He advises being honest and sharing the information that is necessary and targeted toward your audience. “Stating the factors that contributed to the crash and giving a careful explanation of what will be done to prevent it from happening in the future would be a better response.”
MYTH #2: If you don’t want to answer a reporter’s question, change the subject
A popular media training technique is called “the bridge,” and it works like this: If a reporter asks you a question you don’t want to answer, you say something like, “That’s a great question, but I think the more important point is . . .” That kind of question dodging, says Laskin, is one of the quickest ways to earn a reporter’s ire.
“It’s not a bridge to nowhere,” says Laskin. “Even though the bridge can be an effective technique to insert your key messages, you still need to answer the reporter’s question. If a reporter asks about your bad sales last quarter, you can answer the question and still include the information that’s important to your company by saying something like, ‘Sales were disappointing; however, our new line, which we’re working hard on, is going to give us positive returns,’ and explain how.”
MYTH #3: You should participate in every interview that’s requested of you
Not always, say the experts. “Appropriateness is important,” says Laskin. “Just to see your name in print is not good business judgment. The story should be germane to your business or make your business look good—otherwise, it’s negative and actually undermine your efforts.”
MYTH #4: Reciting how many other media interviews you’ve done impresses journalists, producers and editors
“One word: overexposed,” says Karen Friedman, head of Karen Friedman Enterprises Inc., a media training firm in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Friedman says that most reporters are looking for fresh voices and ideas. “In many cases, if you rattle off that you’ve been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and on all the major networks recently, the reporter might think that you have nothing new to say on the topic or that your story’s been ‘done.'”
MYTH #5: Mention your company, product or book as often as possible
“This is one of the examples of media training gone haywire,” says Friedman. “It’s annoying when the expert mentions the name of the book in almost every sentence, and I’m convinced that it usually backfires.” Laskin advises clients to mention the book two or three times during an interview and only when appropriate–otherwise, you’ll lose credibility and the reporter won’t call you again for an interview.
MYTH #6: Whenever you don’t want something printed or broadcast, just say it’s “off the record.”
Saying something is “off the record”–usually used when a source gives background information to put something in context and doesn’t want it to be attributed–is risky because a journalist doesn’t have to abide by it, says Laskin. “The truth is that reporters dig. That’s what they do. If you’re naive enough to give them sensitive information that shouldn’t be shared publicly, you can’t be sure they won’t use it. If you say it, it’s fair game.”
MYTH #7: Answer every question so that you look like the expert
Absolutely not, says Laskin. “Don’t answer what you don’t know. Don’t guess or speculate.” It’s OK to say that you don’t know something, adds Friedman. “It’s far better to say, ‘That’s a good question. Let me check on it and get back to you,’ or ‘I don’t have that information right now, but I’d be happy to follow up and get it to you’ than it is to bluff or lie. If a reporter senses that you’re not telling the truth, he or she will just dig deeper to find out.”