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Randy Savicky

[September 2, 2004]

Strategy + Communications Column:
Meet the Media: Your Key Messages in the Real World


In the previous column, “A Look Inside Media Training,” we explored the importance of exposing your company’s spokespeople or “SpokesTeam” – from the “C suite” to the product manager level – to practical, hands-on media training.

Formal media training is the key to making a company spokesperson – whether loquacious or reticent – deliver your key company messages to the media clearly and concisely. In the best case, an outside expert or team of experts is brought into the company for a half- or full-day session that provides both the theory and hands-on practice of speaking to the media. Through actual practice interviews, the spokesperson gains experience responding to an interviewer’s questions and developing salient answers that deliver the key company messages.

Having gone through a formal media training session, your company “SpokesTeam” is ready to face the media. The first step is to determine appropriate roles for each team member, and these roles will be shaped by the size and structure of the company. In a large global organization with three divisions, for example, the team could consist of the following executives with these responsibilities:

• CEO – overall corporate direction, including sales, marketing and divisional activities for entire company

• Vice President of Sales – sales strategy, results for entire company

• Vice President of Marketing – marketing strategy, opportunities for entire company

• General Manager, Division X – overall division-specific activities

• General Manager, Division Y – overall division-specific activities

• General Manager, Division Z – overall division-specific activities

Now let’s imagine that your corporate communications department or outside public relations counsel has set up an interview with the business writer from the important daily newspaper in your local market – whether it’s The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, AZ, or Lawrence, MA, with The Eagle-Tribune. The writer is interested in writing a corporate profile based on some important recent news from your company – the launch of an important new product from Division Z – and would like to interview the company executives in person.

Based on the writer’s interest, the ideal situation for this live, in-person interview would be to have all six of your "SpokesTeam" members available. Each of the members would be prepared to answer questions in their specific areas of responsibility – linking their answers to the key company messages. Ideally, since the article is intended to be a corporate profile, the CEO would be the focal point of the interview, but since the “news hook” for this piece is the new product introduction, the General Manager of Division Z would share some of the spotlight – but only as it relates to the new product.

We also recommend that each of these two “SpokesTeam” members recognize that they do not have to answer every question that is addressed to them. Each should be comfortable directing sales and marketing questions to the respective vice presidents. In addition, although they are not a focal point of the interview, the other two divisional general managers need to contribute their perspectives on the overall company while not detracting from Division Z’s new product announcement.

In the best case, the questions and answers flow freely, with each team member contributing something in their specific area of responsibility and also presenting opportunities for the other members of the team to answer directly or contribute their own thoughts to an ongoing discussion.

The CEO, for example, in answer to a question about the new product, would discuss the importance of this product to the overall success of the company and tie in a key company message. Perhaps, the key company message as we discussed in an earlier column (“Being – and Staying – ‘On Message’”) is “technological innovator” and this message is supported factually in the following manner: • We have a long history of technological innovation as an alternative energy company • Our worldwide investments have produced a stream of new and innovative products

 • We invented the first portable fuel cell generator

 • We sold the first fuel cell to a public utility

• We invented the first solar fuel cell

• We have twice introduced the lightest on-road zinc fuel cell

In responding to the interviewer’s question about the new product, the CEO may respond like this: “As you are probably aware of, technical innovation is our company’s mission, and we have a long history of technological innovation as an alternative energy company. Our latest new product is, in fact, part of a steady stream of new and innovative products we have introduced since the company was founded in 1990.

“Let me give you an overview of just some of our key innovations: We invented the first solar fuel cell and portable fuel cell generator, sold the first fuel cell to a public utility and have twice introduced the lightest on-road zinc fuel cell. Our goal in the years ahead is to stay at the forefront of technology; it’s what our customers have come expect from us. And this new product is our latest proof point that we are continuing to do just that.

“Now, I want to let the General Manager of Division Z talk about the importance of this new product to his division.”

As you see, with the CEO handing off part of the answer, he or she is opening up the discussion to present a more well-rounded company perspective. In like manner, if the interviewer followed up with a question about how the product would be sold or marketed, ideally the vice president in charge of the respective areas would be the first to answer the question.

The best way to ensure that this interview turns more into a conversation is for the corporate communications or public relations counsel to obtain the specific questions that the writer plans to ask prior to the interview. This will allow representative answers to be formulated and appropriate “SpokesTeam” members to be assigned to answer each question.

If the specific questions cannot be obtained, which is most likely in a business interview of this nature by a daily newspaper (trade journal interviews are different), perhaps a list of “topics to be discussed” or “areas of inquiry” can be obtained.

We will look more closely at this area – the art of media interview preparation – in our next column.

A veteran marketing executive and journalist, Randy Savicky is the President of Strategy + Communications Worldwide, Inc., a consulting firm that helps companies gain mindshare and win market share by improving their communications to their key audiences. With his unique "both sides of the editor's desk" perspective, Randy Savicky’s advice and counsel on public relations, marketing communications, web marketing and media and sales training has been called upon by some of America’s largest corporations and best-known brands. These include such Fortune 500 companies as IBM, UBS, Fujifilm, Motorola and Sony, early stage companies like Arbinet, Barnesandnoble.com, Dialogic and Juno as well as startups like ClubMom.com, New Paradigm Software, SBIC Services and Viaweb. He welcomes your comments, questions on how to put his ideas to work or communications challenges and can be reached at (516) 467-4122 or at [email protected]


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