How to… Manage the press

Workplace issues – and by definition, HR – is big news. Whether it is issues
surrounding pay strategy, industrial relations, employment rights or diversity,
HR-related matters form the basis for some of the meatiest news stories around.

HR professionals must be able to deal with the media when called upon, and
this could range from being asked to comment on a general point or being
interviewed on a matter that directly relates to your organisation, such as a
round of redundancies.

Either way, you are representing the company, and how you come across will
be seen as a reflection of your organisation’s overall brand.

How should I prepare?

If you know that appearing before the media is going to be a regular part of
your job, get some professional media training. This is often carried out by
journalists, who will provide a good insight into the media world.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all journalists seek to stitch up their
interviewees. They just want a good story with meaningful answers and comment.
A professional trainer who has worked in the media will explain how to give a
journalist what they want and teach you the skills and techniques to equip
yourself well.

What can I do to prepare myself?

Aside from training, there are some other basic guidelines to adhere to.
Always be prepared: if you are being interviewed about your organisation,
compile a list of the positive points that you want to get across. Remember,
the interview time will disappear very quickly and it is easy to get
sidetracked by the journalist’s agenda.

Ask them what kind of interview it is going to be (in-depth, news-led,
feature-led, based on research, live and so on) and how long it will last.

Always find out what the first question will be, especially if it is a live
TV or radio interview.

Arm yourself with some good soundbites – long, complicated sentences will
not score any points with the journalist or with the audience, so be short and

Make sure you have the most up-to-date facts and figures at the ready. If
you possess the latest info, you will feel confident enough to answer any
questions put to you. Remember not to get bogged down by too many statistics.

Anticipate any difficult questions well before you meet or speak to the
journalist, and give yourself time to prepare your answers. They may not come
up but once again, it will bolster your confidence knowing you are ready for

Do not let the journalist rush you – answer the questions at your own pace,
but try to ensure your delivery is lively and colourful, rather than dry and

Appear open and honest at all times – phrases such as ‘no comment’ imply
that you have something to hide.

Cultivate your press contacts

Make sure you take the contact details of the journalist you deal with and
if you are happy with the way they treat you, call them after the article has
appeared or the interview has been broadcast (if not, talk to their editor).

Members of the press can become extremely useful contacts and if you help to
give them a good story first time round, they will almost certainly come back
to you in the future.

The people quoted most are those with interesting and meaningful things to
say, who are accessible and can react quickly to a deadline.

Also, remember that you can go to the journalist with story ideas and
subjects you are prepared to speak about which is an excellent way to get good
PR for your organisation externally and for the HR department internally.

You may have a corporate communications department or public relations
consultancy which deals with the press for you, but that shouldn’t prevent you
from making your own contacts as well – if a journalist wants a quote on a
recent work-life balance report 10 minutes before deadline and they know it is
your pet subject, they would prefer to come directly to you.

Are radio, TV and the press different?

Yes, they all have their own peculiarities. Unless you are being interviewed
about something relating to your organisation, such as the latest pay strategy,
the TV experience is likely to be short and simplistic, probably focusing on
one item. No-one is really interested in who you are, just your view on the
subject. That said, people will notice whether your body language is poor, or
if you fail to make eye contact with the interviewer.

Radio interviews are likely to be shorter too, but can feel more relaxed as you
are not on show. But unless the interviews are live, be prepared to find your
five-minute radio or TV interview edited down to 30 seconds – that’s
broadcasting for you.

For print, local and national news journalists will come to you when there
is a newsworthy story occurring at your organisation. The latter are often
accused of trying to make more of a story than really exists. Your only defence
is to stick to the facts.

As far as business magazines such as Personnel Today go, they want good news
stories too, but they also look for good spokespeople and pundits on HR issues
in general.

If you are interviewed by a print journalist, however, do not ask to see the
copy before it is printed as this suggests you don’t trust the journalist, or
will want to change what you said once you’ve seen it on the page. And a final
word of advice: find out when the publication’s press days and times are and
don’t call during these periods, as everybody will be far too busy to see to
your queries.

Where can I get more information?

Press Complaints Commission
Hopefully you will not need to use it, but you can read the Code of Conduct
here that gives the media industry a set of guidelines to follow, and a
framework in which the commission can deal with complaints.

Independent Press Councils
Provides details of press councils around the world, along with their
respective code of ethics.

Editorial Training Consultants
Courses include media training and public relations and trainers include
working journalists and broadcasters.

London-based company which runs courses across the country. Has some useful
tips and advice for free on the website

Guardian Media Guide 2003

Contact details of just about every publishing, broadcasting and media
company you could need, plus it has lots of useful media-related info.

Successful Public Relations in a Week by Claire Austin

A good introduction and guide to PR.

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