Winning and Keeping Media Interest During Negotiations
By Lisa Bracken
Public support can be a very important and often critical element in a highly complex and publicized negotiating situation. This is an area of negotiation preparation and process that you may choose to handle yourself, depending on your capabilities, or one you may determine is best turned-over to a professional spokesperson. Whichever course you select, however, an understanding of this key area is essential. This article provides an overview and key tips for success in negotiation media management.
To make the most of any media opportunities throughout your negotiations, scrupulously maintain the high ground by avoiding shouting matches, petty mud slinging and “spin”. Think ahead of your adversaries and recognize what will interest the media by imagining yourself in the place of a reporter. This will help prepare you to manage inevitable press questions and afford you precious time to plan your responses. When a significant event occurs in the course of your evolving situation, consider the who, what, where, when, why and how of the event. Failure to prepare your responses will leave you vulnerable to saying too much, not enough, or worse, something irrelevant.
Media loves conflict (it’s at the heart of any compelling story), so if your comments are aired, know that they may be edited, and the media is probably hoping for a response volley from your adversaries. It’s likely your opponent’s public relations department will parry, so in anticipation, try to work two or more steps ahead. This keeps control in your court and your opponent in a reactionary mode. It’s hard for anyone to plan tactics when they’re in constant panic.
I’ve experienced many media interviews both planned and impromptu. Some lasted over an hour and others barely three minutes on-the-spot. Some have been over the phone, others over coffee, and many over the air. Since media opportunities may present themselves under less than ideal conditions, when verbalizing your case to the media, keeping the following points in mind can better prepare you for indeterminable circumstances and help you maintain a degree of consistency in your approach. This will contribute to your confidence and you’ll be less likely to allow a great, albeit unexpected, opportunity to pass you by. Let’s begin with ten essential techniques for success in media interviews:
1. Try to determine exactly what the reporter is asking and answer their question directly. This helps you prevent straying off point which can sometimes accompany feelings of awkwardness or embarrassment by being “in the spotlight.”
2. Keep your sentences short. This helps prevent the reporter from taking you out of context, or missing something vital which can occur if you get into too complex of a subject, litter your response with prolonged editorial commentary or stray into subject matter which is related but irrelevant.
3. Keep your comments tightly framed. That is, contain your response around the issue literally as you see it and want it illuminated to others. This immediately provides topical context; and, by artfully confining the reporter’s likely range of questioning, can further minimize any feelings of anxiety which you may find associated with an in-depth, unbridled discussion of the issues. Previously, I referred to the term “spin” which you may have heard elsewhere; and, you might suspect that this third point is advocating exactly that. Not so. Spin is a technique which takes a truth and attempts to shift the parameters which position it as either a perceived liability or asset to one side or the other. In extreme cases, spin attempts to actually create truth from a set of probable circumstances. Regardless of an adversary’s attempt to create a diversion of truth, there is no hedging cause and effect, or right and wrong. “Spin” or even outright lies will eventually show themselves to be what they are, and your adversary, if they participate in them, will probably entangle themselves in them.
4. Keep your comments on point – in other words, keep each response, closely relative to the talking points you create. This technique can, once again, somewhat restrain the scope of inquiry and guide it back to only those topics you consider relevant and would like to discuss.
5. Keep your comments highly relevant to the event which is the focus of your interview. This is why the reporter has approached you, so don’t attempt to seize the opportunity as a means of creating a forum for some other issue. You may be able to correlate a different issue and open a pathway of discussion through conversational threads; but, if not done subtly and skillfully, you might risk alienating the reporter or worse, loose a chance to discuss an important issue since you will have successfully changed the subject and there may be no going back. Other risks include confusing the reporter and being taken out of context. You should also consider the nature of your comments relative to what the current event or subject of discussion might lead to. Gauging your response accordingly can give the reporter greater insight and may inspire them toward a line of questioning which positions you ahead of your adversary.