Better Outcomes

Section
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
Page
6.8

There are many books, websites and training courses on ‘dealing with the media’, and a good, straightforward and commonsense structure is that adopted by CP Communications – 5 great media training tips (publicrelationssydney.com.au) – and I will borrow their structure, and quote from their page, here (thank you CP Communications).

  1. Know What the Media Wants

“To be an effective communicator you need to know the techniques, tips and tricks to the trade. These include being prepared for questions, even the awkward, uncomfortable ones, organising your thoughts and knowing how to clearly convey the message. You need to understand the audience and the objective you want to achieve from the media coverage. Read some previous articles that the journalist has written so you are able to better understand their style.”

(Friends of the Earth [UK]. 2019)
The previous webpages of Section 6 have been devoted to establishing this vital, first step.

To summarise these pages, generalised media frames/angles and suggested responses can be presented in a table:

 

Perhaps the only thing to add to the table is to, if at all possible, try to establish a relationship, a rapport with a, or your, local reporter/journalist, so that trust can be developed and stories of more consequence published. Obviously, this is hard with the chaotic and unfair employment practices of so much of the modern media, denying any sort of job tenure or security to enable the getting to know of anyone, let alone an ‘environment reporter’, but most journalists are intelligent and interested people and will, at least in part, try to express this, despite the crushing yoke of so much of their industry.

CP Communications highlight attention to identification of the audience, and one’s objective(s) (as well as the media’s). This seems obvious, but it is surprising how little this is done. To be honest, media communications is often quite poorly done by environmentalists and groups, and this basic preparation and identification of ‘what to say and to whom’, is ignored in a sort of naïve belief that ‘the issue will speak for itself’.

  1. Be Prepared

“Media training helps prepare you for challenging questions that the journalist could ask you at any time, it is important that you are prepared for any unexpected question that is thrown at you. There is no need to say “no comment” as you will look like you are hiding something, anticipate any difficult question that could be asked and plan an answer that won’t damage your reputation. There is also no need to repeat any negative question, just answer it briefly and move on.”

I think the last line is particularly helpful, and could be extended to questions too difficult or lengthy to deal with, as well. I was once asked on radio – most intelligently – when talking about cockatoo conservation in SW Victoria and SE South Australia, why certain species had gone down a certain evolutionary path and seemed more adaptable, while others had not and were more specialised and now in greater danger? Oh boy! Instead of acknowledging this as a most perceptive observation and saying we didn’t really know, and then moving back to ‘the message’, I fluffed around, clutched at straws, got muddled, and couldn’t recover the remainder of the interview. This was such a surprising question it could not be prepared for, but I should have been able to deal with it honestly and more skilfully in a general sense, regardless.

  1. Know Your Message

“You must know the topic and issues you are talking about extremely well to sound natural when answering questions. Your key message needs to be short, original, targeted towards your audience and the product or service. Never have more than five key messages. If you only have time for a short answer then you must prioritise what is important.”

Again, as per # 1 and #2, it seems obvious, but is so often ignored and one is often left at the end of an ‘environment’ interview or piece with really no idea what it was about, perhaps except the media angle/frame that it was presented within. This is a terrible waste of effort and opportunity.

  1. Your Tone of Voice Matters

“Using the right tone of voice under pressure can be quite difficult. Be careful not to use defensive tones as it can send all the wrong messages. The use of body language can also be very powerful when delivering a message to the journalist. People don’t only listen to you, they watch what you do and the facial expressions you make. Being confident when speaking with the media is very important; you will find that if you develop your interview skills, you will be featured in the media a lot more often.”

Sadly, the environment world lacks good speakers and presenters and this is quite a handicap. For example, in all of Australia I can only think of a few (e.g. Ian Lowe and Richard Denniss).

Again, as per #1, there seems to be the strange notion that ‘the issue will speak for itself’. Groups need to identify who is a better communicator and use them, and if necessary, assist them with training.

  1. Learn to Control

“As well as controlling the message and tone, you must be in control of the interview. Media training will help teach you how to compose yourself throughout the entire interview and have the outcome you want from the interview. Although it is important to be clear in your responses, it is okay to ask for a second before answering the question.”

The media can be intimidating, and they know it, and can use it to advantage. As per #4, it is imperative to use people who are more adept at handling this pressure and providing them with the necessary training and preparation to do so, and to do well.

This is easier said than done. It is their ‘game’ and their ‘arena’, and it is difficult to remain calm and focussed and in control. Once, when appearing on a minor TV program to talk about land clearing, I got annoyed and flustered by the make-up person complaining – loudly and rudely – to her colleagues, about my face and hair, exasperatedly saying “What am I to do about these flares?” (apparently, ‘flares’ is make-up talk for red skin; it was hot, I may say), and “What am I to do about this hair?” (I have [had] curly hair). We went straight to interview and I was too annoyed and off-put to start well and wasted the first part of the discussion. Thankfully, the interviewer was interested and well-intentioned and things got back on track, but I should have not allowed myself to be so easily ‘knocked off the ball’. More training at the time would have definitely helped.

 

To balance, perhaps, the slightly more corporate response of CP Communications, here is the approach of an environmental organisation, Friends of the Earth (UK):

 

Give a media interview | Resources (friendsoftheearth.uk)

 

 

1 Meadows, Donella. 1999. Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a System. The Sustainability Institute, Hartland, USA.

Explore Other Media Environmental Context

6.1 Introduction

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6.8 Better Outcomes

There are many books, websites and training courses on ‘dealing with the media’, and a good, straightforward and commonsense structure is that adopted by CP Communications - 5 great media training tips (publicrelationssydney.com.au) – and I will b...

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