7 Ways to Help a Reporter

When Terry Cole began her reporting career, she covered the water commission. She admitted, “I didn’t get it.”

She was fortunate, though, because the commissioner spent time with her explaining about water and how the water commission worked. His taking the time to do that helped ensure the accuracy of her reporting.

Today she is the Communications Practice Director for Jacobs Engineering with more than 25 years of experience implementing strategic communications programs. Along the way, she’s learned some ways to help other reporters, which she shared during the 2014 NFPW conference in Greenville, S.C.

  1. Find the sizzle in the technical stories. If it’s too technical, audiences won’t be interested, which means reporters won’t be interested.
  2. Avoid jargon. This goes without saying.
  3. Break down the challenging concepts. Taking the time to do this leads to more accurate and interesting stories.
  4. Provide a list of acronyms. These are also good to share internally so there is no confusion.
  5. Think of visuals. Cole noted that sometimes spending time with a photographer or videographer to get the right shot may be your only opportunity to tell your story, so use the time wisely.
  6. Don’t let people start from a place of panic. Most companies have a reason for the processes they have in place, Cole said. Too often, though, when a reporter asks a question about the process, people panic. “You have a reason for doing what you do,” Cole said. “Take the time to explain.”
  7. Provide media training. She wasn’t referring to media training for executives, but rather to those on the front line. At a minimum, the training will prevent them from saying, “I can’t talk to the media.”

And if all of those techniques fail, Cole reminded the audience that most of us now have resources at our disposal for telling our stories.

A company website and social media platforms immediately come to mind, but she also encouraged the use of community events. For example, Spartanburg, S.C., has held a Paddle Fest the past three years as a way to help connect the community to its reservoirs and increase the stewardship of water resources.

Five Years of Cynthia’s Communique

Five years ago and more than 500 posts later, I’m still writing Cynthia’s Communique.

It’s a labor of love, and one that I started when I was elected president of the National Federation of Press Women. The blog goal was simple – to engage with NFPW members and start a conversation.

Readers have commented on the blog, liked it on Facebook or read it on LinkedIn. Now they can even learn about it through my Twitter account.

When I grow weary of researching and writing and when I think I should quit, a reader will tell me how much she enjoys it or what he has learned from it. And that keeps me going.

Along the way, I’ve learned what to do and what not to do. And I’m still learning. The blog, as I said, started out mainly for NFPW members and now I don’t even know most of the readers. I do have readers in mind, though. I write for several audiences, including:

  • NFPW members
  • Those in career transition, whether it’s transitioning from newspapers to public relations or into a management or supervisory role, and
  • Those just starting their careers in communications.

I tell people my blog is about communicating in today’s frantic world so I focus on communications, leadership and balance.

As for what’s next, I will continue the blog, at least for now. In 2015, I will most likely scale back to once a week because I’m going to see what happens when I take the best of my blog posts and create a book. That means you will probably see some blog posts about how to publish a book.

When I succeed in publishing the book, I also will need to market it, which will bring about another series of blog posts, and my need to create a website.

For the foreseeable future, I’m not going anywhere. I hope you as my readers will continue the journey with me.

Doing What It Takes to Pay the Mortgage

Tiffany Ervin calls herself the “queen of self promotion.”

She has to be if she is going to pay the mortgage.

She has cobbled together a series of positions to do just that. She has worked as a morning radio show host, a keynote speaker, a sideline reporter, a TV host and even a commercial spokesperson. She also owns a clothing boutique.

Those positions came from her passions – speaking and giving back.

As a preacher’s kid, Tiffany listened to her dad in the pulpit and came to understand how to use words to move people. She also was active with the Miss America organization where she learned the value of community service and further enhanced her public speaking skills.

Tiffany Ervin speaks to NFPW members at the 2014 conference. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Tiffany Ervin speaks to NFPW members at the 2014 conference. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

She followed a fairly traditional path except that instead of working in broadcast journalism she went into public relations and marketing. She oversaw marketing for a hospital. During that time she worked for three CEOs in four years. Tiffany decided it was time for a change.

That’s when she began co-hosting a morning radio show. Next thing she knew, she was doing an infomercial for South Carolina. Other jobs presented themselves, and she became involved with Rotary, which also helped grow her public speaking. She now offers talks called “Breakfast with Tiffany.”

She told an NFPW audience at its recent conference in Greenville, S.C., that “to be a freelancer you have to be constantly evolving and reinventing yourself.”

Part of succeeding, Tiffany stressed, is to find your passion. For her it’s public speaking and giving back. “I’ve had so many great mentors,” she said. “I want to do that for someone else.”

Along the way, she has learned that sometimes she has to make difficult decisions. “You have got to be doing things that give you forward progress,” she said. For her that meant giving up a radio show that required a long commute that cut into other opportunities.

Once you know what you want to do, Tiffany encouraged audience members to network and use social media, both of which involve building relationships.

“Social media is an opportunity to network with people who may be looking for you, and you didn’t even know it,” she said.

Tiffany uses social media to share short clips from her speeches. “It’s great for when someone wants a sample of my work,” she said.

Facebook is good for demonstrating the breadth of what she offers. She finds Twitter helpful for meeting people in the long-term.

At the end of the day, when she has finished all of her jobs, she also knows she has paid the mortgage.

Chess Moves Help With Crisis Communications

In today’s fast-paced social media world, you may never be contacted about a media crisis, even if it’s your responsibility to handle a crisis.

Too often, reporters, get their information directly from social media. By the time you learn of the event, it may have been streaming for hours.

“The journalist writing the story never contacted me,” Patricia Dempsey, director of communications at St. John’s College (MD), shared at the 2014 College Media Conference. “Media are researching online, whether the information is accurate or not.”

Ben Jones, vice president for communications at Oberlin College said, “I got the call at 4:30 a.m. about the situation, but the students were already tweeting.”

What do you do?

“It’s not a linear strategy. It’s like a game of chess.” Jones said. “You have to think five moves ahead.”

Those moves include:

  1. Develop a relationship with the media so they actually trust what you are saying. Provide context and give them something they can use.
  2. Follow the news on social media and update your own channels with relevant and timely information. That’s what the Boston Police Department did during the Boston Marathon bombing.
  3. Work with what is happening. A crisis plan is great to have, but it’s not always valuable in the midst of a situation.
  4. Develop a counter story and share it with the media.
  5. Identify individuals who are supportive who could respond on social media sites, including reaching out to reporters.

Prepared Messages Are Essential Part of a Crisis Communications Plan

If you work in media relations, a great deal of your time is probably spent drafting messages that may never see the light of day. That doesn’t mean that the work isn’t important.

These statements are important to have at the ready, and executives most likely will feel more comfortable knowing that a statement exists about a potential situation.

All media statements contain common elements, namely answers to questions that follow the basic journalism questions of who, what, where, when, why and how. Specifically,

  • Who was responsible?
  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen? Or why did the company respond to the incident the way it did?
  • How is the company resolving the issue?

Once you have the message drafted, it’s important to prepare FAQs to expand on the points and also answer questions that your company may not want to proactively discuss but that may be asked by the media, employees or stakeholders. By already having answers at the ready, the company won’t look as if it is unaware or trying to hide information.

Having messages at the ready is the first step in a well-executed crisis communications plan.

(Editor’s Note: My next post will focus on how to make the best moves for effective crisis communications.)