Bad News + Prepping the Boss For interviews = a Bad Day For You.

The following article is from Kevin Sullivan, our VP Marketing and PR.  Even in this social media-driven age, I find employers to be woefully unprepared to respond to inquiries about a workplace fatality, union corporate campaign, an executive’s public bad behavior or the countless other types of “bad news,” which can destroy a hard-won brand.  every employer should have a simple plan in place for immediate media response.  With internet sites, you have about 15 minutes before publication and with Twitter and other media, even less ….  “No comment” looks awful, but you must also ensure that the responses do not create legal issues.  Finally, every locations’  managers must know the designated corporate contacts to call 24-hours a day.

Kevin’s article deals more with coaching executives on “what” and “how” to say it.

Preparing The Boss For Media Interviews

By: Kevin Sullivan

Smart executives and business owners know that a good public-relations program can build a brand and burnish a reputation. Good PR costs less than advertising and lends credibility to your organization, products, and services.

But even if executives believe in PR, if they are not trained or experienced it’s important to properly prepare them before granting any interviews. No executive should appear unprepared when representing the organization during an interview. Just as importantly, they should not come across as arrogant or aloof. A key to ensuring that the boss performs well is to train him or her for media interviews.

The following is a quick-reference guide for anyone dealing with the media. It is not a guide for serious crisis management, but is a good playbook for more routine media interviews. Think of them as “The ABCs of Media Interviews.” If the interviewee knows this alphabet, then he should not stumble by misstating facts, appearing unprepared or acting in an unfriendly manner.

So, now you’re the coach. Get your boss ready for the interview with these guidelines.

A.    People relate to people, so be yourself.

B.     Be relaxed, attentive, and alert.

C.     Prepare by reviewing notes, articles, company documents or anything else that will help you to sound like you’re on top of things. Formulate three or four key messages to touch on during the interview.

D.    Do not use jargon.

E.     Keep your sentences short and to the point. Avoid parenthetical phrases.

F.      Incorporate part of the question into your answer. For example, to answer the question, “Do you think that the new product will meet analyst expectations,” do not say, “Yes it will,” but answer with, “We anticipate the product will meet analyst expectations because…”

G.    You can control the interview. If the reporter doesn’t address your key points, bring them up. You can use an old politicians’ trick; acknowledge the question but shift to another topic. “That’s an interesting question, but what’s important is….”

H.    Do not feel pressured to say anything you don’t want to say. If a reporter uses long pauses to encourage you to elaborate further than you are willing, don’t fall into the trap.

I.       Do not speak “off the record.” This is an important rule that will keep you out of trouble.

J.       Make eye contact when you are interviewed in person.

K.    When being interviewed over the telephone, stand up. You will sound more alert and energetic.

L.     Set up important points with pauses or phrases such as:

·          “What’s most important to know is…”

·          “Let me put it into perspective…”

·          “Before we get off that subject/topic, let me add…”

·          “What I’m really here to talk about is…”

·          “Let me give you some background information…”

·          “Let’s take a closer look at…”

·          “That’s an important point because…”

M.   Use examples to support your assertions.

N.    Never respond with, “No comment.” If you can’t answer a question for any reason, explain why. For instance, you might be under a gag order or the reporter asks a question outside your area of expertise or responsibility.

O.    Do not get angry.

P.      Never speak negatively about anyone – especially your competition.

Q.    Never use inappropriate language.

R.     Do not be condescending to a reporter even if the journalist doesn’t understand everything you are discussing.

S.      Always return calls to journalists promptly and let them know that you are accessible – remember they have deadlines and may publish the story without your input.

T.      Do not try to get too “cozy” with a reporter; stay professional.

U.    Remember the ABC’s of Media Interviews: Accuracy; Brevity; Clarity.

Use this checklist when you’re preparing your boss for a media interview. Even if you’re not seeking the spotlight, executives should be in a position to use public relations to their advantage.

About mavity2012

I am a Senior Partner operating out of the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, one of the Nation’s oldest and largest management employment and labor firms. My practice is national and keeps me on the road or in one of our 28 offices about 50 percent of the time. I created and co-chair the Firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. I have almost 29 years of experience as a labor lawyer, but rely even more heavily on the experience I gained in working in my family's various businesses, and through dealing with practical client issues. Employers tell me that they seldom meet an attorney who delivers on his promise to provide practical guidance and to be a business partner. As a result, some executives probably use different terms than “practical” to describe my fellow travelers in the profession. I don't enjoy the luxury of being impractical because I spend much of my time on shop floors and construction sites dealing with safety, union and related issues which are driven by real world processes and the need to protect and get the most out of one's most important business assets ... its employees. That's one of the reasons that I view safety compliance as a way to also manage problem employees, reduce litigation and develop the type of work environment that makes unions unnecessary. Starting out dealing with union-management challenges and a stint in the NLRB have better equipped me to see the interrelationship of legal and workplace factors. I am proud also of my experience at Fisher & Phillips, where providing “practical advice” is second only to legal excellence among the Firm’s values. Our website lists me as having provided counsel for over 225 occasions of union activity, guided unionized companies, and as having managed approximately 450 OSHA fatality cases in construction and general industry, ranging from dust explosions to building collapses, in virtually every state. I have coordinated complex inspections involving multi-employer sites, corporate-wide compliance, and issues involving criminal referral. As a full labor lawyer, I oversee audits of corporate labor, HR, and safety compliance. I have responded to virtually every type of day-to-day workplace inquiry, and have handled cases before the EEOC, OFCCP, NLRB, and numerous other state and federal agencies. At F & P, all of us seek to spot issues and then rely upon attorneys in the Firm who concentrate on those areas. No tunnel vision. I teach or speak around 50 times per year to business associations, bar and professional groups, and to individual businesses. I serve on safety committees at three states’ AGC Chapters, teach at the AGC ASMTC
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