Advice To MBAs On Talking To The Press
What is the first clue that you’re making a name for yourself in business?
You’ll get a call from a journalist.
Most people love seeing their name in print (or on screen, these days). It validates that they are a player or an expert. But those 10 minutes you spend on the phone with a journalist can be a disappointment. Forget misspelling your name. Your scribe may only include some bland 10 word quote after you’d walked him through 200 years of legal precedent. Then, they might take what you say out of context – or worse, jot down exactly what you said, word-for-word, when you focus fades.
Chances are, you won’t get much press training in b-school. While your employer will require you to run interview requests through media relations, they probably won’t be holding your hand during the interview. Speaking to the media will fall on your shoulders – and what you say can ripple everywhere from your stakeholders to the street. And it can make-or-break careers too.
Recently, Hank Gilman, a Forbes contributor who has written for Fortune, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe, provided a media primer for MBA students. Here are some key points on how to work with reporters and avoid misunderstandings and mistakes.
For one, Gilman points out, respond to a journalist in the same way you would if your boss put you on the spot with a question you can’t definitively answer. “Even if it is a casual interview, don’t hedge,” Gilman writes. “I’ll get back to you,” is a good answer – if you don’t actually know.”
For another, be judicious in what you say. Gilman points to a story he wrote about a Vermont retailer, who dropped his guard and shared that his successor (along with another family member) weren’t up to the job of taking over for him. As you can expect, some feelings were hurt. “Remember: It always looks different in story form, no matter what the media form,” Gilman advises. “If you don’t want what you say to appear in any media form – Don’t Say It!”
Third, Gilman emphasizes that a source should have the same understanding of what key terms mean as the reporter. For example, “off the record,” from Gilman’s vantage point, means that a reporter keeps your name out of the story. “The reporter can only use the material for guidance – not publication unless [they] can get it verified elsewhere.”
Most of important of all: Never assume a reporter is your friend. “Don’t get sucked in,” Gilman warns. “One reporter I know tells his subjects the following: “I may be friendly, but I’m not your friend.” On the other hand, beware of the reporter that acts like your best friend. I’m not saying this in a bad way – it’s just business and some people, like my friend, are genuinely nice to be around. Don’t be fooled – stick to business.”
To read additional advice from Gilman on how to work with the media, click on the Forbes link below.
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