Hints for Dealing With the Media
Numerous dos and don’ts exist when dealing with the media during an interview or press conference. A PIO is formally trained in these techniques. In contrast, a recreation and park professional who is asked to perform the duty of a PIO will be focusing on survival rather than nuance. A person in this situation should stick to the facts and consider the following pointers.
Repeat the question. The PIO or person acting as PIO can ask the reporter to repeat or rephrase a question if it is unclear. This also buys the PIO time to phrase a response.
Avoid simple yes and no responses. When one answers a question with a simple yes or no response, the response is viewed as being abrupt or even curt. For example, a reporter asks, “I heard that Perky Alice was socializing with a male friend, which resulted in her being distracted when performing the rescue. Is this true?” The PIO’s response is a simple no followed by a long pause. Murmurs ripple across the group of reporters. It is not what the PIO said, it is what the PIO did not say. Even though one can respond with a simple yes or no, a better response is no followed by the talking point that Perky Alice followed procedure and that she initiated the rescue in a timely manner.
Answer one question at a time. Reporters often ask multifaceted questions that comprise several subquestions. By asking a confusing question, the reporter loses control of the question and the PIO can respond in several ways. She can answer the last subquestion first, answer the most important question, reframe the question to suit her response, or answer the question that best relates to her talking points. After giving a response, the PIO can simply move on to the next question or can ask the reporter whether the question had another part. Regardless, the PIO should answer one question at a time to maintain focus and should be courteous and polite to the reporter.
Turn negatives into positives. When responding to questions, the PIO should take the high road rather than the low road and should think positively. Rather than providing a response such as “No, we would never do that,” which is reactive and defensive, the PIO can provide a response such as “We have initiated a new policy” or “Our current procedure is….” These responses may not be truly proactive, but they move the conversation in a positive direction.
Say what you mean. A PIO should be careful of leading questions (e.g., “Would you say…”). A person skilled in this questioning technique can often lead a PIO down a path where, in the end, the questioner has the PIO agreeing with something she does not really agree with. The PIO may agree with three fourths of the question, but the problem lies in the part that she does not agree with. A PIO in this situation should take control of the question and say what she means. Figure 11.7 illustrates the PIO taking control of the question and directing the response to one or more of the talking points.
Avoid hypothetical questions. A PIO faced with a hypothetical (i.e., “What if…”) question should stick to the facts. Explaining what will unfold in the future is not necessarily making a hypothesis; it is merely explaining what will happen. Although it is easier said than done, the PIO can simply respond that the question is hypothetical and that she cannot answer it. Or she can indicate that a policy or procedure in place should address the hypothetical question.
Correct inaccuracies. The PIO should correct inaccuracies when they become known. Inaccuracies normally occur because a news story is unfolding and new and more accurate information is discovered. Sometimes inaccuracies can arise because the media chooses to editorialize on the facts. At the beginning of a press conference, the PIO should state the pertinent facts and avoid any political editorializing.
Do not let your guard down. The PIO should never go off the record and should avoid hypothetical questions and speculation. The PIO must stick to the facts and objectives or talking points.
Do not linger. A crisis is an unfolding event, and information becomes available as the event unfolds. When meeting with the press, the PIO can announce the new information and indicate that the event is unfolding and that she will present more information as it becomes available. Normally, she will announce at the beginning of the press conference that she won’t be taking questions. After presenting the new information, she can then leave. If appropriate, the PIO can take a question or two, but she should not linger—it will only invite more questions that she cannot answer. Usually taking one or two questions during an unfolding event suggests to anyone watching on TV that the PIO is being responsive to the media. Close inspection of the questions usually reveals that the question being asked has already been addressed or the question can’t be addressed because the event is unfolding, the answer is not yet known, and it can’t be answered because it would be speculative.