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By Jennigay Coetzer

Companies appoint spokespeople to interact with the media to build brand awareness and image, get their marketing messages across, keep the market up to date with what they are doing and how successful they are, attract new business, and encouraging customers to buy more of their products and services.

But journalists and other media interviewers have a different agenda. They are looking for information that will interest and enlighten their readers, listeners or viewers, keep them up to date with the latest news and trends and keep them coming back for more. So, for them, their audience is always top of mind.

It is important for company spokespeople to understand these different agendas, and media training will help them to do this. Meanwhile here are some useful tips from me, as a journalist who has had more than 25 experience interviewing spokespeople, to get you on the right track.

Journalists are not interested in how much money your company is making or how good its products and services are, except when this information is of interest to their audience – for example when they are reporting on a listed company’s results or a new company listing.

They know their readers are looking for information that will keep them up to date with what is going on locally and globally that could affect their lifestyle or business interests, the economy, the political environment or the markets in which they operate.

Media spokespeople therefore need to understand and identify with what the audience would be interested in hearing as opposed to focusing solely on what they want to tell them, when preparing for a media interview.

At the same time, their audience represents your company’s customers and potential customers, because these are the people you need to reach.  Otherwise it is a waste of time being interviewed by the media.

Another important point to remember is that in essence, the media interviewer is a conduit between the spokesperson and the audience. So during an interview the spokesperson needs to imagine he or she is speaking directly to the lowest common denominator of that audience.

For example, among other things, I have a broad knowledge of IT and telecommunications, but I write about topics in this area for a business audience. The spokespeople I interview therefore need to interact with me in practical business terms. It is not up to me to interpret their industry jargon and gobbledegook into the language my readers will understand.

It is also risky to rely on the journalist to do this, because it could give rise to misinterpretation, speculation and assumption. Hence the common complaint from spokespeople that they were quoted out of context. You can find another article on my website: www.jennigay.co.za that focuses on the dangers of assumption.

When interviewing spokespeople and during the media training workshops and one-on-one sessions I run, it amazes me that so few spokespeople have a bigger-picture view of the trends that revolve around the markets in which they operate. They are so often only capable of putting forward superficial views and pushing the products and services they sell.

When I write articles, I am looking for interesting views from spokespeople who are prepared to share knowledge and ideas that will enlighten my readers and enable them to use the information to make better decisions.

Even when discussing a new concept, product or service, readers, listeners and viewers will want answers to questions such as who it is targeted at, how it will benefit them, how it works, where it can be obtained and when? How it fits into the bigger picture of the market, whether this marks a trend, and so on. In other words, what’s in it for them to absorb this information?

This will require getting onto the audience’s wavelength as opposed to expecting them to get onto yours, which many spokespeople make the mistake of doing. One-on-one media spokesperson training sessions and group media spokesperson workshops will help spokespeople to acquire techniques to achieve this.

Jennigay Coetzer is a business and technology journalist and has run more than 100 media training workshops and coaching sessions. She also runs article writing workshops. An electronic version of her book, A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guideline to writing press releases, can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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