Tips to remember…
Councillors have many duties and perform many roles. When talking to the media make sure you know your council’s media policy. Then ask yourself “am I the right person to speak on the topic?”.
What are council policies on talking to the media? If you don’t know find out!
Before making any public comment, do your homework. Identify your key points (three is about right) and practice saying them out loud. Try to think of good, practical examples to illustrate your key points. Don’t get side-tracked.
As a councillor you can request media training. Talk to your CEO. Training in working with the media may be available through the VLGA or the MAV.
- Stay on top of the local news – what are the issues? Listen, watch and learn
- Focus on the local news outlets – the local newspaper, radio and TV (in regional areas)
- Determine which local media is most influential – direct most of your energy to that publication or media outlet
- Know what the newspaper/radio/television deadlines are
- Never provide information on an ‘off the record’ basis. Work on the theory that everything you say will be published and there will be no nasty surprises
- In terms of social media the rule is – if you would not like to see it on the side of a bus – don’t say it!
Dealing with a journalist
- Get to know the local reporters, be polite and friendly – but keep it professional
- Do not assume the journalist is your best friend
- Have a clear purpose for talking to a journalist. Prepare your key points before a meeting or telephone call and have examples or analogies to back them up
- Try to anticipate the ‘angle’ – the key point of the story
- Ask the journalist what the story is about – know the angle – this shows you understand their business, that you are not out to waste their time and it will be appreciated
- Ask the journalist who else will be interviewed for the story and what they are saying – know your enemy. If the journalist won’t tell you, be very wary
- If a reporter calls with a question you cannot answer, play for time. Say you are on the other phone or in the middle of an important email and promise to call back. Get the answers you need and if it is not your area of responsibility find someone who knows. Call back
- Always return phone calls promptly
- Do not be afraid to say “I don’t know”
- Do not be afraid to disagree with a journalist, explain why you do not agree
- Do not feel obliged to fill silences in a conversation with a journalist
- Be careful of joking with the journalist- a joke in print or on air is not always as funny as it seemed when you said it
- Never say ‘no comment’. Give a reason for not answering, for example that’s not your area of expertise, there are legal restrictions, or you simply may not know
- You do not have to put up with rudeness, point out that the reporter is being rude and that is not the way you wish to engage
Your public image
- Do not pass on rumours about your opponents or others to journalists
- Be clear about the major points you wish to make – stick to these and do not get distracted
- Be concise and to the point
- Be honest – do not lie or bend the truth or be evasive
- Do not make factual errors
- Do not promise what you cannot deliver
- Treat the media as you would a guest, be friendly and polite
- Never get angry or lose your cool