Today’s media landscape is tough and much different than it used to be. If you’ve been a media spokesperson before – either for your current company or past roles – you have likely experienced changes, whether you can put your finger on them or not.
While many factors and changes have a role to play, the one that sticks out to most people is an uptick in opinion-based content. (There’s a great assessment of the media landscape by the RAND Corporation in this Psychology Today article which breaks it down by the numbers.)
What’s more, people – everyday Americans – are holding companies and executives more accountable than ever and expecting them to take public stances on social issues, such as national politics.
Two thirds, to be exact. A 2018 survey from Sprout Social found that 66 percent of U.S. consumers want brands to engage in social and political issues. For those ages 18-34, that number goes up to 73 percent. (Just yesterday, Quartz published an article by Alan Rusbridger that’s worth reading: Why your next corporate hire should be a moral philosopher.)
Lines are blurring – between news and opinion, politics and private sector – which requires new skills, resources, perspectives, and preparation. While this can seem overwhelming, there is no need for fear, anxiety, or avoidance. Rather, what is needed more than ever is clarity, respect, and a commitment to humanizing language.
Gone are the days of walking into an interview with a set of talking points, an ability to ensure those talking points remain front and center throughout the discussion, and some practice “blocking and bridging.” Today’s reporters are looking to tell the bigger story, connect with their readers, and provide valuable and unique insight. (Check out my recent post that goes deeper into what reporters are looking for in 2020.)
So, how can you test if you’re ready to be (and comfortable being) front and center? I asked Elizabeth Yekhtikian, professional speaking & media trainer, who provided the following list of questions. By answering them, you should have a sense of whether you are prepared to be a media spokesperson in today’s changing landscape. Note: They start with foundational elements, like company values. Elizabeth says these are critical to establish before heading into discussions with reporters.
Have you identified, as a company, your values and how you want to talk about them publicly?
If so, have you developed specific talking points around those values?
Are you experienced in/comfortable with navigating questions about you or your company’s point of view on political or social issues?
Do you have a basic understanding of the process for working with the media – from pitching to securing/scheduling the interview to following up after coverage has appeared?
Do you feel like you can relax and “talk normally” when doing an interview with a reporter?
Have you identified potential “landmine” topics or questions, and practiced answering them clearly, directly and genuinely?
Are you confident your messaging/positioning clearly sets you apart from your competition?
Reporters want to connect with their audiences just like you want to connect with yours. That means that, as a spokesperson, the need to be human - while navigating those landscape shifts - is more important than ever.