‘Bad news’ stories about difficult or contentious subjects should be carefully planned and released in the same way as ‘good news’ stories.
Respond to the issue quickly and credibly.
Control the agenda so your message gets out, not the journalist’s ideas or preconceptions.
Take extra care as you go through the usual steps:
- Draft a media release.
- Discuss it with the people concerned.
- Nominate a spokesperson.
- Work out the main messages.
- Put it in simple terms.
- Anticipate questions.
- Organise an interview or event.
Preparing for the interview
- Find out as much as you can about the agenda of the media. Why are they doing the interview? What are the related issues? Who else will they be talking to?
- Find out who the audience is; it will shape the interviewer’s questions and agenda.
- Work out what you want to talk about, and what you DO NOT want to talk about. Draw a very clear boundary around your story.
- Prepare positive explanations of the research that will keep you on the front foot during the interview. Never become defensive.
- Be careful with analogies and explanation of risk – they can backfire. If you want to use analogies, make sure they make sense for the target media audience.
- Acknowledge the concerns of others as valid, even if they do not have a rational basis to them. Don’t be arrogant.
- If possible, rehearse with a freelance journalist or ex-journalist who can ask you difficult questions.
- For TV: Where will the interview be held? How will the location affect your image and that of your organisation? Take control of this.
Doing the interview
- Know what you want to say, and keep saying it – pleasantly, patiently and firmly.
- Stick to your key points. See every question as an opportunity to say what you want to say.
- Remain cool, calm and polite. If the interviewer becomes aggressive, they are the ones to lose out, not you.
- Don’t be afraid of silence. Say what you want in answer to a question, and then stop. Silence is the interviewer’s problem, not yours.