Communicating With The Press During The Rough Times and Through A Recovery

Kathy_Zoellerby Kathy Mattson Zoeller, published in Bacon’s

Many senior executives dread seeing their name in print and being misquoted especially if the business is going through or coming out of a difficult time. It’s going to happen every now and then but shouldn’t deter you from staying in front of the press – especially during the current economy when many factors hampering business growth are completely out of your control.

When speaking with the broadcast, print, business, financial or trade media, you’ll obviously have a number of things to remember and consider, including what you are going to say about the current state of your business and the industry, how you will explain the impact of geopolitical risks and uncertainty among customers and what you will divulge about your growth strategy, cash flow and profitability. You have already worked very hard to develop and hone clear messages that address these concerns. Now is as good a time as any to start talking. Here are a number of items you’ll need to consider when creating your media outreach plan.

Stick To The Point

Every executive spokesperson must be extremely clear about how he or she is going to describe the company and its near term outlook to the press. The key messages you’ve worked so hard to create must therefore be well rehearsed before you ever pick up the phone or meet face-to-face with a reporter to conduct an interview.

Each message should be communicated in one or two sentences. Make sure that you stick to the point and don’t ramble or leave yourself open for a reporter to ask you a question that throws you off balance and leaves you sounding defensive.

Train The Spokesperson

Tap two or three other senior executives to speak with the press so that in the event you are not available someone else will always be trained and ready to talk to a reporter. Make sure that the executives you select exhibit confidence and a genuine interest in helping the media write interesting, positive stories about your business. All spokespersons must be able to clearly articulate the facts about the business and economic risks you face today, the actions you are taking to address these risks and what impact those actions will have on the future success of your business. Know these messages backwards and forwards!

Work with your PR counsel to develop a Q&A document that answers every possible question you believe a customer, employee, partner, shareholder, reporter or industry analyst might ask. Make sure that for each and every answer you include some reference to your key messages. Then practice, practice, practice and practice some more.

Don’t Get Stuck on Difficult Questions

Handle the tough questions quickly. If you feel it’s necessary to expand on a difficult question, add an example or reference and then move on to a new topic.

If you can’t answer the difficult questions in one or two sentences, you may run the risk of looking like you’re trying to hide something or that you don’t know the answer and are bluffing your way through. It’s okay to tell the reporter that you think the question is a good one and then pause to collect your thoughts before answering.

Don’t let a reporter bully you. If you feel that the reporter is trying to steer you in a direction that’s clearly off topic, it’s okay to disagree and bring up a subject you feel is more relevant to the business at hand.

Make Public Relations A Priority

You need public relations counsel during this difficult period as well as during a recovery. Your audiences are still here and they want to hear from you. Wise public relations counsel can help train you to deal with the media during this time. In the event you experience a crisis, a trusted PR advisor who is intimately familiar with your business can offer valuable input and support. Once you have navigated through the rough times and are in a better position, your public relations counsel can help you develop new messages and publicize good news when the economy strengthens.

A 16-year veteran of financial services, healthcare and high-tech corporate communications, Kathy Mattson Zoeller is President of Mattson Communications, Inc., ( a business-to-business corporate communications and financial PR firm. Mattson Communications is known for its strategic assessment of a client’s PR needs and for executing communication programs that generate superior results. She can be reached at 312-988-9352 or

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