Mastering the Media
By Kelli Calabrese MS
As trainers we all agree that consumers crave a fit, trim body, but continue to be highly confused by the weight loss craze “du jour.”
As a result, members of the media often turn to professional trainers for valuable and truthful information. Since my schooling in the exercise sciences didn’t include any coursework in media relations, I decided to take a course and do some research about mastering the media.
The following is what I have learned from the books and hundreds of real-life interviews.
First, there are deliberate ways to attract media attention (which I will cover in another article), but once the media does call, it’s important to be prepared so you can get your message across clearly, concisely and with calm self assurance. Hot off the wire: When a reporter calls, it’s usually with the greatest urgency. Many times they will expect a quote or interview on the spot or within 24 hours.
The press often works under tight deadlines. The immediacy of the Internet and round-the-clock TV news has accelerated the demand for fast-breaking, up-to-date information. Preparing for an interview: If you know ahead of time about the interview, prepare mentally by realizing how members of the media think.
They are looking for facts, statistics, analogies, attention grabbers, personal stories with names and clear, concise responses. Media consumers today are pressed for time and have very short attention spans.
They’re used to having the media capsulize information for them in lively, easy-to-digest portions. We’ve all heard the broadcasting term, “sound bites.” That’s exactly what I mean. One of the editors I worked for used the phrase “tight and bright” as a reminder of what reporters seek.
Don’t be flustered and give away your power to a reporter. Remember, you are the authority; the reporter is simply the messenger. When scheduling an interview, try to maintain some control over the time and location. Choose a setting where you’ll feel as comfortable and free of distractions as possible.
For example, you may feel more at ease in a location where you normally train clients, or the familiarity of your home or a neutral meeting place like a restaurant. Being interviewed on your own turf is preferable to the hectic environment of a newsroom or the strangeness of a TV or radio studio.
Many radio interviews are done over the phone, so plan to take the call in an environment without noise and distractions. The reporter should always identify his or her affiliation.
Ask where and when the interview will be published or aired to get a better idea of who your audience will be. This is important to know in order to tailor your remarks. A TV news report will contain much less detailed information than a feature in a Sunday paper.
Ask to know the interview topics in advance as well as the reporter’s deadline. Find out who else will be interviewed on the topic, so you can research his or her position on the subject in advance. Prepare key points on an index card.
Time tends to go by very quickly during an interview, and you don’t want to miss any important elements of the story. Sometimes at the end of an interview, a reporter will ask if they have missed anything or if there is something more to add or if you have any final words.
A quick glance at your cards saves from scrambling and lets you intelligently wrap up with a strong close. Think about what you want the audience to remember. During the interview: Try not to feel rushed.
People being interviewed often tend to talk very fast, as though they can’t wait to get through the interview.
Slow down. You can be respectful of the reporter’s time without talking a mile a minute. In fact, newspaper or magazine reporters usually take notes rather than tape record comments.
You make it harder to catch all your pearls of wisdom by talking too fast. To carefully compose your response to a question, take a few silent moments to gather your thoughts.
Don’t worry about how the pause will sound; most interviews are not aired live, and any “dead air” can usually be edited out. Avoid yes or no answers (not that there are many black and white answers when it comes to fitness; most responses will need more explanation).
If you must answer yes or no, follow it with “let me explain…” or “and in addition to that …” Load responses to lead the interviewer into something you would like to talk about.
This is known as bridging. For example, you might say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is . . . “.
Confine responses to a few key points. For example, lead with, “there are three parts to that answer . . . ” This will keep the reporter listening for all three points.
Avoid speculation period! Never guess. If you don’t know an answer, simply say so and offer to get back to them or let them know that it’s outside of your area of expertise. If you cannot factually back up what you are about to say, you may qualify your response with, “In my opinion” or “In my experience.”
Don’t forget to state your qualifications. You are being interviewed as an expert and those listening or reading the article should know who you are, how to contact you and what your background or expertise is. Reporters will also appreciate it if you provide them with a brief bio that lists your qualifications or at least a business card with your title, business name and contact information for future reference. Expect the unexpected. You never know what hidden agenda a reporter may have regarding the politics of endorsing a product or supporting a story.
They may also bring someone to the interview with an alternate position to pit you against each other. If you make a mistake or need to make a clarification, do it before ending the interview.
Speaking off the record: At times you may want to provide information to a reporter as background or to help them understand your position, but you may not want it to appear in print or on the air. Even though you may say, “This is off the record” beforehand, anything the reporter hears may be reported. It’s likely they will want to include your opinion, hot new tip or other confidential information you may share in private.
Avoid saying, “No Comment.” It makes it sound like there’s something to hide. As an alternative, you might say, “I prefer not to comment on that right now,” or “I don’t have the answer to that question.” After the interview: It never hurts to ask to review the article or recorded interview prior to its release.
Most reporters will refuse to let you proofread their work, but they may be willing to read back any statements you made which they plan to quote you on, just for accuracy’s sake. Either way, it will give you a chance to correct any misstatements, misinformation or misunderstandings during the interview.
Other tips for success: Be prompt in getting back to reporters–those who respond first to a press inquiry are likely to get the interview. Prepare a press kit, including a head shot, bio and contact information in case the reporter wants to include it in the article or on the air.
Be polite, considerate and honest. Never get into a frenzied argument, no matter how strongly you feel about your position. It will detract from your professional image. Do not comment on finances or release confidential information. You can simply say that a statement is coming or, “We haven’t made an announcement about that yet.”
Avoid jargon, which can alienate people who don’t understand what it means. The audience will prefer simple, accessible language and personal stories they can relate to. Any time you can slip in your company name helps to enhance credibility and give you exposure.
Polishing your interview skills: Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em. Tell ‘em. Then tell ‘em what you told ‘em. Then tell ‘em again. Repeating your message in different ways helps your audience to remember you and your message. Turn negatives into positives by acknowledging any bad news or damaging issues and then talk about the positive steps that are now being taken.
Again, relax. Enjoy the attention. The more media exposure you get, the better you will become at communicating our shared commitment to fitness. Ultimately we can use the media to reach more people to help them shape healthier behaviors and bodies.
Kelli Calabrese, MS, CSCS - 2004 Personal Trainer of the Year for Online Trainer. She is a 17 year fitness industry leader, author, trainer, and international presenter. Kelli is on the Board of Directors for the American Association of Personal Trainers, An Expert Fellow for the National Board of Fitness Examiners, and has attained over 20 fitness and nutrition certifications. Kelli is the co-author of Feminine, Firm and Fit and is available for fitness consulting. She can be reached at Kelli@KelliCalabrese.com. For more details go to www.KelliCalabrese.com