The ultimate guide to Spokesmanship

Media Relations
The ultimate guide to Spokesmanship

As the face and voice of your brand, a Spokesperson is the gatekeeper of your brand’s reputation.

A good Spokesperson is a rare and special breed. They are at once a company and industry expert, a media specialist, and the most likeable person in the room.

People are more likely to trust an actual human being than a faceless corporation; Spokespeople help turn companies from an ‘it’ to a ‘we’. Having a spokesperson on hand when things go wrong (or right) is just as vital as paid marketing efforts. Without the public’s understanding of what it is you do, and why, there will be a psychological barrier between you and your audience, and your reputation will suffer.

We spoke to Hugo Stienstra, Global Spokesperson/Reputation Manager at paints and coatings company AkzoNobel for some tips on how to be an effective Spokesperson. After 12 years in this position at several multinationals and currently at one of the Netherlands’ oldest and largest companies, Hugo has plenty of good advice for both those starting out, and those wanting to improve their skills as a Spokesperson. His expert tips can be found throughout this guide, in quotation marks.

“It's very important for companies to constantly tell people who you are; what you stand for, what products you make, what your morals and values are, what is going well in your organisation and what could be improved, and your plan to improve those things. Especially for big companies who are in the spotlight a lot.”

For AkzoNobel, keeping its employees and their families safe and well during the COVID-19 outbreak is a top priority. Hugo, therefore, is one of many colleagues currently working from home.

For AkzoNobel, keeping its employees and their families safe and well during the COVID-19 outbreak is a top priority. Hugo, therefore, is one of many colleagues currently working from home.

In this guide, we will cover:

  1. An average day for a Spokesperson
  2. How to be an effective Spokesperson
  3. Traits of a good Spokesperson
  4. Things to avoid as a Spokesperson
  5. How to navigate different interview formats
  6. How to build a good relationship with the media

What does a Spokesperson’s average day look like?

Most spokespeople will tell you that their days are never the same, as the news moves fast they suddenly may have to clear their agenda and work on a story. Nevertheless, some of their main activities include:

Preparing interviews and events, aligning messaging with their team and company, writing media releases, planning upcoming stories, solving issues, answering media requests, preparing press events.

Hiring a Spokesperson? Download our Spokesperson scorecard to make sure you find your perfect candidate.

On top of the above, a Spokesperson is always available, as they have to react to stories as soon and as proactively as possible. 

“You have to be available 24 hours a day. And that's an important thing to note because some people won't want to do that. You can't say “sorry, I’m off”- because the story might come out the next day without your company's vision on things. This might damage its reputation, and protecting and maintaining the good reputation of your company is one of your key priorities. But, of course, that doesn't mean that I'm working the whole weekend. It just means that I am available. We have a media phone, and we are two spokespeople, so my colleague Joost and I rotate weekends. This way the media can reach us when it's really important.”

14 tips for being an effective Spokesperson

  1. Do your research
  2. Know your audience
  3. Understand how the media works
  4. Never stop telling your story
  5. Ditch the jargon
  6. Be timely
  7. Make it personal
  8. Don’t be afraid of showing emotion
  9. Be findable
  10. Practice, practice, practice

 

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Effective Spokespeople aren't just born: they're made. Here are some rules of thumb followed by the best and brightest in the industry:

1. Do your research

As a spokesperson you have to have a decent understanding of your audience, the issues of the day, your industry, your company, and your product. Needless to say, you should always be researching. To be considered a thought leader you will need a solid ‘internal archive’ to draw upon for examples, context, and inspiration.

2. Know your audience

You have many audiences, one of which is the media. Knowing them well will make it easier to take a strong stance (which journalists love) and to know the journalist well enough to give them a message that they find useful (which they also love).

Always assume your audience might be sceptical- if they already trust and like you, then you will have lost nothing by being prepared. If you come with the tools to win them over and succeed, you will leave a winner.

To understand what your audiences want or need from you, you will have to be familiar with their culture, the language they use, their beliefs, and the information they might already have or need.

 

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Most of what your audience believes or knows about your organisation stems from your ability to quickly and effectively connect with them. To connect, you will need to make them the hero of your stories and use real world examples.

3. Understand how the media works

Good Spokespeople often have a background in journalism or publishing, and understanding the motivations of the media. This makes the switch to the other side of the equation much more seamless.

“As a Spokesperson, it’s really helpful if you have a background in media, or at least an understanding of how news works or how to make a story newsworthy. In my job it helps me a lot that I have worked in media myself, as a journalist for the NOS Dutch Television and Radio News

4. Never stop telling your story

“If you want to be the reference point in the industry, you have to proactively tell people what you are doing. You have to talk to all stakeholders; whether it's consumers, NGOs, or the media- you're constantly working on your reputation.”
“And it’s not just me telling our story, it’s also our employees. When they are at a party and someone asks them ‘hey, where do you work, what kind of company is it?’ You want them to tell a good story- not because I tell them to- but because they genuinely feel that they're working for a good company. Employees are your key ambassadors”

5. Ditch the jargon

For people to connect with a story, you will need to use the language of your audience. Using jargon alienates people (taking away that ‘we’ feeling) and clouds your message. You’d be surprised how much of the language you take for granted in your organisation is not used anywhere else.

“Try not to sound corporate but human.”

As the conduit between your company and the outside world, your main job is to be understood. Make sure you use clear, concise, simple language. If you have to use concepts and jargon in a story, make sure you explain the terms. Not all reporters are experts in the industries they happen to be covering, so they will also appreciate plain English.

 

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6. Be timely

A unique point of view on a topical issue is a fantastic opportunity to get your story out there. Keep on top of emerging calendar events and trends. Equally, when a reporter asks for information, ask for a timeframe and stick to it.

7. Make it personal

Using personal stories to illustrate key points in an interview can be powerful. It’s also good to remember that using words like ‘you’ or ‘I’ makes what you say sound immediate, which breaks down the psychological barrier between you and your audience.

8. Don't be afraid of showing emotion

There is a reason companies hire a spokesperson and not a corporate bot- humans are more relatable. A spark of something- whether that’s humour, sympathy for people suffering misfortune, passion, or enthusiasm- is your humanity at work, which will always resonate with people.

9. Be findable

There is no point in telling good stories if people can’t find them. One way to be findable is making sure your contact details are publicly and easily accessible on your website, ideally in your newsroom. If your newsroom needs a bit of love - we recently wrote an article with examples of good, findable newsrooms.

10. Practice, practice, practice.

To be an effective spokesperson you constantly need to hone your communication skills. This will require good preparation, plenty of rehearsing, and opportunities to hear honest feedback. There are two areas you will need to work on:

A) Getting your body language right

B) Nailing your delivery

“A media training can be very effective. Set up a practice scenario with a journalist and a trainee, film it and look back and evaluate. What went well and what could be improved? Give honest and constructive feedback.”

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A) Getting your body language right

55 % of communication is non-verbal. This means you will have to practice interviews to make sure you are doing everything possible to get the message across. Here are some general pointers:

  • Maintain an open posture (this can be things like keeping your hands visible and sitting up straight)
  • Don’t hide behind physical objects like podiums
  • Don’t dress in a way that emphasises a difference between you and your audience
  • Make eye contact with the person you are speaking to
  • Lean forward slightly and use your hands to make a point (think: Obama)
  • Don’t fidget or fling your arms around like an octopus
  • Keep a friendly, relaxed expression and don’t frown too much (exercise some caution here, you don’t want to present a wide smile when talking about serious issues)
“During live interviews, even when a question is challenging or difficult, try to maintain a positive, friendly expression. Because people listen partly to what you say, but they are watching much more, and if they don’t trust what they see, they probably won't hear what you are saying anymore.”
“You always have to keep in mind during TV interviews that the spectator is the one who is sitting on his couch at home. And when someone talks a lot with their hands, it can be annoying. Then the message is lost. Live interviews have to be a combination of a good story, but also, what we would call in Holland ‘being TV-genic’”
“Many programmes that do TV interviews will shoot 15 minutes of video but only use 2 minutes in the actual news item. You never know what exactly they are going to use. They may be able to cut your story, but they cannot cut your friendly facial expression”

 

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B) Nailing your delivery

That other 38% of communication? You guessed it: it’s vocal. Delivering your message effectively helps you to be understood, which helps journalists out. Sometimes, reporters will be taking notes; help them out by including pauses, and speaking clearly and concisely so they don’t have to ask you to repeat.

When you answer questions, state your key point (more on that later) and emphasise it with your intonation and gestures. It’s worth recording yourself to identify any communication habits that need sharpening. Ask others for feedback too so nothing slips through the net. But most of all, don’t forget to breathe.

11. Anticipate questions and prepare answers

If you have a good knowledge of the issues facing your industry and what the journalist interviewing you tends to write about, you can anticipate what kind of questions you will be asked. This will make you feel more confident.

Every journalist is different, some will ask you to give a statement and ask questions at the end, whereas some will try and have a conversation. Preparing answers to challenging questions is a great Spokesperson technique. A journalist is much more likely to warm to someone who seems eager to answer all their questions, than someone blocking them at every turn.

Occasionally, you will be asked something you have not prepared for, but that’s ok. It’s perfectly acceptable to say “I don’t know, but I can find out for you and get back to you ASAP”. Just make sure you actually do.

“You can't only talk about positive things, you also have to talk honestly about the challenges your company faces. These topics are part of your business. If you only want to do an interview and answer happy questions, then don't do interviews, because journalists will always always ask challenging or difficult questions”
“You need to prepare answers for what your contribution towards decreasing carbon dioxide is for example, to be able to say, ‘well, this is the progress we've made so far, and in three years time we will be here.’ You have to show that you understand that you're part of society and that you take responsibility.”

12. Follow your key messages

This is crucial. Before any meeting begins, jot down 3-5 key messages you want to hit, making sure it aligns with your company’s overall communication strategy. Touch upon them all in the interview. Do not add any more ideas as your point will become clouded, no matter how sophisticated your audience is.

When talking with journalists, it’s best to get your message across as soon as possible. Start with the conclusion (ie. your key messages) and work down, using facts only as examples. Rinse and repeat. The idea is that your messages are as quotable as possible. Then they can be turned into soundbites; which is why being explicit, accurate, and using positive action verbs is key to making news.

Try to stay on track with this by thinking of the headline you want to see. Bridging techniques (see below) can stop the conversation from straying too far from your key messages. If an interviewer's question is convoluted, make sure you break down multiple part questions for clarity.

13. Learn to bridge

Bridging is a skill that all good spokespeople have, it helps move the conversation back to your key messages. For some interviews you may not have a lot of time, so staying on topic is crucial.

To bridge back to what you were saying, make sure you first acknowledge the journalist's question (and answer it if you have a quick response) and then use a bridging phrase to steer the conversation back to your key messages. Bridging phrases are things like “I think the underlying question is….”, “yes you are right, which leads me back to the overall issue of….”, or “whilst I don’t have the information on that, what I can tell you is…”

This being said, don’t actively evade a journalist’s question, not only does it look bad, but it’s annoying for everyone involved, including the viewer. Do not risk seeming like a slimy politician, as there’s a reason the public trust in politics is at an all time low. If you have a good answer for a question, answer it.

14. Learn from your mistakes

Every interview or media interaction is a learning opportunity. Even if you think it went well, make sure you always take some time to evaluate how it went, and see if there is any room for improvement next time. This is how you get better.

 

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Traits a Spokesperson needs to be effective

Although you have little control of what journalists write about you, you have 100% control of what comes out of your mouth. This is why although an effective Spokesperson will need some training, there are some unifying characteristics that can make them especially good.

Here are the traits you will need:

  1. Articulate
  2. Passionate
  3. Interest in high-pressure activities
  4. Authoritative and credible
  5. Authentic
  6. Memorable
  7. Flexible
  8. Calm under pressure
  9. Good judgement

Articulate

This is pretty fundamental to the role. Being articulate is not just about the messaging itself - which involves being clear, having a good vocabulary, and using powerful examples- but it’s also about the delivery. That means engaging intonation, clear pronunciation and speaking in a measured way.

Passionate

Having a palpable love for your company or projects is infectious. And it’s one of the main reasons a journalist will write about you.

“Only work for companies that you believe in. You have to believe in who the company is and what it stands for, and in the products or the services they deliver. If I don't believe in the company I work for, how on earth am I going to tell a compelling story to a journalist?”

Interest in high-pressure activities

It may sound obvious but a good spokesperson has to have an actual interest in the responsibilities of the role. If the idea of being grilled on national television brings you out in hives, then you should probably consider another position.

“You have to like it (being a Spokesperson) because you have to deal with the things some people sometimes find stressful. And if you find the role of a spokesperson very stressful and don't think you'll ever like it: don't do it.”

Authoritative and credible

As a spokesperson, a journalist has to feel that they are speaking to the most well-informed person around; someone who knows what leadership is really thinking, and what the company direction is. Without that air of authority, a reporter may try and contact a CEO directly, which would make the role of a Spokesperson pretty redundant.

Those who weren’t blessed with the natural presence of Angela Merkel don’t have to worry too much- these things can be learned. Learning how to project confidence even when you are feeling nervous is one of the most important things you will be taught in media training.

 

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Authentic

An authentic Spokesperson is someone that gives you the feeling that when the camera stops rolling, nothing changes. No one trusts a corporate shill, which is why someone like Mark Zuckerberg does not come across well in interviews- his answers are robotic and unnatural. Being sincere requires you showing parts of yourself that other people can relate to, instead of being too polished or slick.

“Be yourself, because it's so difficult to be someone else. You could only do it for one interview. Otherwise you’ll be stuck thinking ‘how did I behave in that interview?’ and struggling to stay consistent. It just doesn't work.”

Memorable

Being memorable does not mean you have to dress like Lady Gaga. It can simply mean that you are physically and emotionally present, so that the audience or journalist can connect with you. When you give people your full attention, they are much more likely to remember you with a smile.

Flexible

Spokespeople are going to be thrown into many different scenarios, from prepping the CEO for an interview, to being interviewed for TV, radio, or print. You can anticipate most questions, but every so often you will be caught off guard. Adapting to these changes as they are thrown at you is your superpower.

Calm under pressure

If you can handle the unscripted, or maintain composure in the eye of a media storm, your calm temperament will have a ripple effect. Being calm dispels panic: it gives the impression that the company is handling things, and gives you a clear head to let you think on your feet.

 

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Good judgement

A little common sense never hurt anyone. Erratic behaviour (see: Elon Musk in interview) can have real consequences for your brand. Having the emotional IQ to read a room is invaluable if you want your reputation (and journalists’ sofas) to stay intact.

Humble

It is rare to find someone who is gracious when receiving feedback. Admitting that you have made a mistake, explaining what you have learned, and describing the steps you are taking to make things right again is very powerful. Being humble is vital for building trust with your audience, because it shows tremendous confidence and humanity.

This grace also extends to how you talk about your competition; when in doubt take the high road. Resist the urge to criticise- even if they can’t do you the same kindness. You’ll come off looking much better for it.

Empathetic

Being empathetic is a deeply attractive quality and makes you a great communicator because you can easily connect with your audience. By demonstrating that you understand some of the stresses that also arise in the life of a reporter they are more likely to warm to you, equally by showing that you understand how the public might be feeling, you will ultimately gain their trust.

A people person

Being a spokesperson means you are going to spend most of your time working with people- colleagues, journalists, customers, industry peers - if this gives you energy then you are a natural fit.

“You have to like to build up a network internally and externally and reach out to people proactively. But also; you need to like people, to be interested in them. You don’t have to be super extroverted, but if you don’t get on with other people and enjoy their company it will be harder to build up a network”

An imaginative storyteller

Coming up with stories requires some imagination and an ability to see connections between seemingly unrelated things. It means you need to find new angles or look in unusual places for a scoop.

“You really have to dive into a company to get the stories out because- especially in a big organisation- there are so many stories to be told. And these stay with the person that's working on something if you don’t find them, you have to get the stories out there”
“You have to know how to turn a lot of information into short, compelling, clear stories that everyone- or at least as many people as possible- can understand and find interesting."

“In the end, it's all about telling a good story. You can have all the resources in the world but without a good story, or a good network, you won't get your story out there, and then the job won't be as rewarding.”

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A good listener

Listening skills will come in handy not only for sniffing out stories, but for learning about consumers and reassuring them when they are unhappy. This can be in person or online; whatever the format, people want to feel understood.

“The role of the spokesperson is also to listen to people who are fed up with you, or may have doubts, not just to convince them that you're doing something good. You actually have to have a conversation with them and listen carefully to them.”
“People will say all kinds of things about your company: but worries or questions keep you sharp, and give you another opportunity to tell people what you're doing. This is much better than hiding under the table”
“You have to know what's happening in society, what emotions these elicit in people, and why these issues are so important. Then you learn not only what is said about your brand, but about your industry, and the world”

 

Things to avoid as a Spokesperson

Anyone who has ever cringed while watching a TV interview could likely tell you what went wrong. Here’s how to avoid a communication car crash:

  1. Never lie
  2. Never say “no comment”
  3. Never take things personally
  4. Don't get angry or defensive
  5. Never say ‘off the record’
  6. Don't speculate
  7. Don’t make assumptions
  8. Don't try to argue with or embarrass journalists

Never lie

If you don’t know something, it’s OK to say so. Lying, in Spokesmanship, is a cardinal sin. In the internet age it is too easy to fact check. As a Spokesperson, it’s in your interest not to contribute to some of the more toxic communication strategies out there. But more importantly; telling the truth is the right thing to do.

Never say "no comment"

When you stonewall a reporter with “no comment”, or actively avoid questions it looks fishy at best and hostile at worst. Instead, give the real reasons you cannot answer something; like you don’t know, or you aren’t the right person to answer that question.

Never take things personally

A journalist, like you, is just trying to do their job. The questions they ask are directed at the company, not you. Equally, If your stories are being passed over, do not take this personally, it might just be a bad fit at that time. Being able to separate your personal and professional personas will help you be more effective.

“Not taking things personally is better for you and it's also better for your performance”

Don't get angry or defensive

Sometimes conversations will get heated, but it’s vital for you to always keep your cool. Your company reputation is at stake. Staying calm during conflict is what separates a master communicator from a jerk starting fights in a supermarket parking lot.

“Even if people are using not-so-friendly words with you- don't use them back. Stay professional.”

Never say 'off the record'

In the modern day there is no such thing as ‘off the record’. If you are having to say that, it probably means you should not be saying it in the first place. It’s also worth remembering that if an interview is over, chances are the mic is still recording, so stop talking.

A bad hypothesis could come back to haunt you, never say anything that you cannot be 100% sure about.

Don't speculate

Make sure you clarify key points in the conversations when speaking to the media, it will help you understand each other better. A study of the 500 most common English words gave an average of 28 definitions per word- that’s a lot of scope for misinterpretation.

Don't make assumptions

By the same token, don’t assume a journalist always has it right, journalists are not immune to human error. If a reporter says something a little off key say “I’d have to verify that before I could respond to it”

Don't try to argue with or embarrass journalists

Trying to make a journalist look silly, or being antagonistic with them won’t do your image any favours. When you keep it classy and respectful, you are much more likely to get your message across.

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Don't repeat negative comments

Negative comments can easily be turned into a soundbite and taken out of context. Repeating them breathes life into the statement. Try reframing the comment by using positive action verbs, or bridging back to your key messages.

Don’t be too demanding

When a journalist agrees to write a story about you, they are doing you a favour by giving you the opportunity to help tell it. Demanding that every one of your comments are edited, or that they don’t interview the competition, or even writing to a publication to insist on a particular reporter is a sure fire way to ruin a good relationship.

Don’t blame others

Passing the buck, especially when it's the competition, will lose you trust with your audience. It shows a lack of responsibility and pettiness, which harms your credibility.

Curious about crisis communications? Check out our article on how to handle a crisis situation as a Spokesperson.

How to navigate different interview formats

Whilst your key messages should always be the same, you will have to adapt your approach slightly depending on the format. In interviews, strong pre existing relationships with journalists will really shine through.

There are some general rules you should observe before an interview, whatever the format:

  • Find out who will do the interview
  • Agree on the subjects beforehand
  • Set limits on time if necessary
  • Ask who else has already been interviewed on the subject (or will be)
  • Make sure you know the goal of the interview
“Print and live interviews are very different of course. With print what you’re saying isn’t immediately broadcasted, so if you don’t have an answer to a certain question, you can look it up and come back to the journalist with a good response after the interview.”

 

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Here are some pointers for different formats:

TELEPHONE

  • Make sure you know when you are being recorded (assume the whole thing is recorded)
  • Ask for feedback from journalists to see that they understand
  • Double check who is on the other end of the line
  • Double check where and when the info is being used
  • Explain jargon and spell out tricky names/words
  • Agree on the time beforehand
  • Ask beforehand if you can read the article before publication

RADIO

  • Try to avoid saying things like ‘ummm, ahhh, kinda, you know” (practice speaking without these words in role play)
  • Stick to your key messages- radio tends to be less in depth than print
  • Use some intonation here- without body language you will need to express yourself with just your voice. Avoid speaking in monotone, it will send the listener to sleep.

TELEVISION

  • Try not to look at yourself in the monitor (see if you can practice on a set beforehand)
  • Look at the reporter, not the camera (unless the tell you otherwise)
  • Ask for a chair with no wheels/ that does not swivel
  • As explained above, speak in soundbites (10-20 seconds)
  • Pause after long answers
  • Don’t do weird things with your arms
  • Do an earphone check and ask what to do if it falls out

Still unsure? Check out our article on tough questions you may be asked as a Spokesperson- and how to respond

How to build a good relationship with the media

As a Spokesperson, it is good to approach the media as a natural ally. A strong relationship with a journalist is fruitful for both parties. Maintaining this is a key part of the role.

“The relationship you have with a journalist is valuable for getting your stories in the newspaper. But the relationship is also good for journalists, because they need good stories. So when you have good stories that are tailor-made for them, that are interesting for their readers, the relationship is advantageous for you both”

Here are some tips for building (and maintaining) strong media relationships:

  1. Start with a coffee
  2. Understand the reality of their job
  3. Be patient and build the network slowly
  4. Come with stories
  5. Make sure you have regular contact
  6. Be strategic with your pitching
  7. Know them inside out
  8. Be findable
  9. Leverage events

 

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Start with a coffee

“In all my positions one of the first things I did was find out who the company’s key media influencers are. Then I approached them saying 'I would like to introduced myself and get to know more about you. Can I have 15 minutes of your time, please?' Without introducing yourself in person, it's difficult to get to know the media. To start any relationship you have to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye.”
“You'd be surprised how many journalists say, “okay, 15 to 30 minutes I can do, come over”- you’ll have to go to them. Sometimes you’ll get a tour of the newsroom, which is also very interesting. I would use the first meeting to introduce yourself, and get to know each other. Maybe tell them what you do besides work, like your passions for example- who you are as a person."
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“Also use that first meeting to listen: find out what their needs are, and avoid giving the journalist the feeling that you’re just out to sell things. Listen first, then come back later with suggestions.”
“Later comes the difficult part: you have to prove to the journalist that the relationship is advantageous to them. A journalist needs to write stories for a newspaper or produce content for a website- they need input. You have to make sure that you have good and relevant input for them”
“Ask them in those first meetups: What topics are you writing about? How can we help you from an XYZ perspective, what themes are important to you? I always aim to develop a story for a journalist or newspaper, so that they feel 'this is exactly what I and my readers find interesting'”

Understand the reality of a journalist's job

Most journalists these days will write for more than one type of media, i.e. the web, TV, print or radio, to a strict 24/7 production cycle. They are bombarded with press releases that are usually not relevant and do not respect their time. Understanding this is crucial if you are to develop a strong working relationship with them. Let every interaction solve their problems, save as much time and energy for them as possible, and they will keep coming back.

Be patient and build your network slowly

A study from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships worked out that, on average, you have to spend 50 hours with someone before you consider them a casual friend, 90 hours before you are real friends, and 200 hours to become close friends.

Unsurprisingly relationships with the media- just like all other human relationships- take time. This is why they feel especially enriching.

“If you want to build up a strong network, you have to realise that it will be time-consuming, although worth it. The time you invest is not just the first cup of coffee: the moments you create afterwards are key. It's better to start with 5 key journalists than with 20. The relationship has to be maintained. So it's better to focus on five for your first year. And in the second year 10, or whatever works. Don't do too many.”
“Of course, if you pitch your story, the story has to be good enough to make them think ‘hey, that's really something that my readers want to know more about.’ At some point, you will have pitched a few stories which a journalist may not have picked up, but don't be disheartened because it’s inevitable. Try and find out why it didn't work”
“In my experience, if you have pitched some good stories- even if they haven’t been picked up- at some point, journalists will come to you for a story. Because they feel you have relevant content for them. They’ll say 'Okay, I'm writing about this company or industry, can you give me some insights/ can I interview someone from your company?' And then you have an ideal situation- one in which you bring stories to them, but they also come to you for insights.”

Come with stories

When you meet up with a journalist after starting the relationship, make sure you always bring something useful or insightful with you. This will help you establish a reputation with them as a reliable source of quality information, which will help you in the future. Plus it’s fun. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a story you have dreamt up in a major publication.

“Come with stories. Think before you pitch: why and to whom am I pitching this? Who in my network would find this relevant? How do I best prepare the story in advance? If a journalist is very busy (which they usually are) and you have prepared well, they will think ‘Wow, this saves me a lot of time, because the story is ready to use’”

Maintain regular contact

“We organise press events and conferences where we (the media and spokespeople) usually see each other. And of course you have a lot of contact via phone or via email. At some point, you don't need to have coffees too often, but it's still important that you see each other or have contact once and a while."
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“And again, they're busy, but sometimes they will come to you to catch up. If you think things through well, you can invite them over and say 'we have a very nice story we can give you first, so you get some extra time to make a nice article.' It's about giving them exclusive scoops.”

Be strategic when pitching

Building reputation involves building up a solid foundation of quality stories that you can point to as evidence of credibility. This will require a more mindful approach, by spending time on stories tailored to particular journalists or news outlets, rather than ‘spray and pray’ tactics, which can damage your brand.

“Sometimes it's better to have one good quality article in a big newspaper than sending out a media release to 2000 people and hoping someone picks it up. Maybe 5 will pick it up. But they have less reach than that one big newspaper, and they might not be quality publications. And then that's another 1995 journalists who might see the media release and think ‘why did they send this to me? They should have known this is not relevant’. They might even consider it as spam, and your pitches will never get to their inbox again.”

If you'd like a journalists perspective on pitching, read this.

Know them inside out

This can be everything from understanding who they are as a person, to what they have written about historically, to the intricacies of their beat. Knowing all of this and tailoring all your information to them is a key part of being an effective spokesperson. Plus it will make your exchanges more enjoyable.

“There are journalists that know a bit about my private life, my holidays, and I know a bit about their private lives too. If they share something about their family, of course, I will share something too, because that's how you also build up a relationship. Some journalists want to keep it purely professional, which is fine too.”

Be findable

“Journalists who don't know us, go to AkzoNobel.com where there's a media section with the contact details of our spokespeople; a telephone number and email address. Make sure that there is a media section on your website, where you have contact details and find the latest media releases and other relevant information. But for key journalists, reach out yourself.”

You can find out more about how to increase your Inbound PR by becoming more findable here.

Leverage events

“A good media event is invaluable because media contacts will go back home at the end of the day feeling happy and satisfied, whilst having learned a lot about your company. It can be a fantastic way to strengthen the network with these key journalists; which will help you in the future. It always helps when you spend the whole day looking each other in the eyes and having conversations in person.”

 

Loved every second of that? You might just be a Spokesperson.

“I'd never have expected that even after 12 years every time you read a story you worked on or a pitch you produced in a newspaper, or somewhere online you think ‘Wow, yes.’ It still gives me a kick and is very satisfying. It’s one of the things that makes my job really rewarding because, in the end, you can see the results of your work.”

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Carmen writes articles for pr.co's blog and is Editor in Chief at Unfold Magazine. Connect on LinkedIn or send an email

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