Lights, Camera, Action: How to Respond When the Media Calls

Originally printed in the September/October issue of Funeral Business Solutions Magazine.

As funeral service professionals, we are well-versed in dealing with families during some of the darkest days of their lives. We also pride ourselves on our public speaking abilities and are proud to be community leaders. However, these interpersonal and public speaking skills can sometimes go out the window when the media calls.
Whether the media interest stems from a positive event, such as a community fundraiser, or a less desirable issue, a reporter with a microphone can intimidate even the most seasoned funeral professional. The good news is that by following a few simple rules, every call from a member of the media can be an opportunity to inform, educate and reassure our communities that we are ready, willing and able to meet every family’s unique needs.
Our Foundation Partners media relations team offers the following best practices and tips that should be useful the next time the media calls.

Be Prepared

Emergencies and public relations crises aren’t planned, but you can be prepared. Unless you’ve agreed to a planned interview, you might not get much warning before a reporter contacts you.

  • Because media queries can come to your organization through many different channels – in person, by phone, email or via website contact forms – make sure you establish guidelines regarding who gets notified and who has final approval over participation in interviews. And make sure everyone in your organization, from receptionists to attendants and funeral directors, is familiar with the process.
  • Identify your primary company spokesperson – a funeral director or another critical team member who has roots in the community and is comfortable in the spotlight.
  • Prepare a high-level list of key messages and create talking points to guide your spokesperson to present your story in the best possible light.
  • Before each interview, select 3-5 key points to emphasize based on the query.
  • Each opportunity to speak to the media is a chance to support and reinforce your brand.
  • Know what’s proprietary, and don’t hesitate to say so if asked to share such information.

When the media calls:

  • Resist the urge to answer questions on the spot.
  • Ask the reporter for his/her name, media affiliation, email address, cell phone number, and deadline, and tell them you’ll get back to them ASAP. This will give you time to prepare and ensure you’re in the right location to talk.
  • Update your talking points regularly as the situation changes.
  • Understand your audience – the media are interested in what’s new, different, first, or dramatic.
  • “No comment” should never be your initial response. If you decide not to respond, take down the reporter’s contact information and reply with a “responsive non-response,” such as “I’m sorry but I don’t have time for an interview now” or “Due to privacy issues, I cannot share that information.”

During the interview:

  • Always be responsive, but you don’t always have to answer the question asked.
  • Never answer a question if you do not know the answer. Interject with “we’ll get back to you“ when a question is troublesome or inappropriate.
  • When a multipart question is asked, answer the one you want first.
  • Every question is an opportunity to score points with the audience and bridge to key messages.
  • Be brief, provide positive drama, and get the headline upfront.
  • Tell stories/paint a picture in mind of the audience.
  • Always be prepared to summarize or add new messages when a reporter ends the interview with “Is there anything you’d like to add?”

Tips for telephone interviews:

  • Stand up – this allows you to project your voice and positive energy better.
  • Have talking points in writing in front of you for reference.

Tips for in-person interviews:

  • Personal presence is important and will be remembered more than the content of a conversation.
  • Maintain eye contact and remain friendly, even when rattled.
  • Sit forward, with arms on knees – it will make you more engaging and credible.

Tips for online video interviews:

  • Be aware of your background, camera angle, lighting, and presence on the screen.
  • Silence cell phones.

After the interview:

  • Thank the reporter for his/her time and interest.
  • Ask if he/she would like photos and email them as a follow-up.
  • Ask the reporter when he/she expects the story to be posted, printed, or broadcast.
  • Watch for the news clip and thank the reporter again if the article is accurate.
  • Request a correction or clarification if you were misquoted, or your remarks were taken out of context.

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