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Are you ready when the journalists call?

The better prepared you are, the more clearly you will be able to communicate your messages and the better the effect will be. Remember to breathe, too - and read the tips from one of Denmark’s leading communications agencies.
How do you react if a journalist calls and asks critical questions? And how do you act during an interview?

Publiceret: 18.01.2017
Af Karen Witt Olsen mail

The phone suddenly rings one day. On the line is a journalist who wants to hear more about the annual accounts, the layoffs, the merger, the new field of business, the complaints on Facebook or the alleged case of fraud in the subsidiary.

”That’s simply not true,” you might say.

Although the reaction is very human, in terms of communication, you are here making the first mistake, says long-time communications consultant for Danish businesses, Nicolaj Taudorf Andersen, who is the founder and chairman of Radius Kommunikation.

”Denial is intuitive the first time you hear about something ’bad’.  But at a professional level, this cannot happen for a business owner or manager,” he says and points to the Volkswagen case.

Here, the senior management denied that emission tests had been tampered with in the German manufacturer’s cars. But this was the case in millions of cars, and CEO Martin Winterkorn was forced to resign, he says.

According to Nicolaj Taudorf Andersen, the problem with categorical denial is that you end up with some explaining to do if it later turns out that the case is in fact true. But it can also mean that you waste the chance to examine the case, do something about it and thereby retain some initiative.

“The golden rule is to never say anything without thinking first. That’s why preparation is the key word and secret weapon necessary to be ready before journalists call,” says Nicolaj Taudorf Andersen.

See also: Guide: How to take charge of your external communications

How serious is it?

When Radius Kommunikation is contacted by a company in need of communications consulting, the agency always starts by establishing needs.

Some companies have never been in contact with a journalist before and have no channels of communication. Others are used to communicating and have channels but wish to increase their number of spokespersons or rehearse for a campaign, for example. Others still are facing a veritable “shit storm”.

”I always need to know what the company wants, what they’re capable of already, how serious it is and whether they’re in a rush,” says the chairman of Radius Kommunikation.

Be careful with guarantees

Once Nicolaj Taudorf Andersen has established the nature of the case together with the company, it is time to find the documentation and words to support the company’s explanation and help turn public perception in the right direction.

“For example, if a company is about to make layoffs, it’s a good idea to say that it’s necessary to adapt to the market and demands. People understand that. It’s also a good idea to refer to those dismissed as talented employees. It helps them on their way,” he says and continues:

“And if, for example, there are voluntary redundancy schemes, it’s important to mention these as well. It’s not a pleasant situation, but it can be angled and managed. And it’s possible to do so in a way that helps both those being laid off and those staying in the company,” he says.

The chairman of Radius Kommunikation strongly discourages that the company guarantee there will not be any more layoffs.

“Guarantees are like categorical denials - they’re difficult to explain in a believable way if they don’t hold true. And everyone can easily end up in a situation where they’re forced to make layoffs again for various reasons. So avoid running that risk,” he says.

Skills over titles

Nicolaj Taudorf Andersen repeats that if the company has prepared, the spokesperson is often much calmer and can deliver the company’s messages with composure. And this is true whether it is a positive or negative case.

He recommends that the company prioritise communication skills over the title held.

“The spokesperson must be able to formulate the company’s message clearly and concisely. This is more important than the formal position in the hierarchy. A professional might have greater legitimacy than the CEO."

He also recommends that spokespersons do the “mirror exercise”:

stand in front of a mirror and practice saying the messages, answer possible questions and consider what is necessary for the receiver.

“As an owner or manager, you need to be particularly aware that although you have a lot on your mind, most of it isn’t relevant for the person reading the interview or watching the segment. Once again, it’s about preparing well and figuring out what is most essential to communicate.

From three days to three hours

Time is also a significant factor in relations with the press. Nicolaj Taudorf Andersen explains that when he started Radius Kommunikation thirteen years ago, it took much longer for a case that had started simmering to break out.

“We’ve gone from three days to three hours - or an instant. The news stream and news cycle run practically 24/7 and require preparation and an ongoing state of readiness. Especially if the company is active on social media like Facebook, where cases can spread in no time,” he says.

Avoid self-inflation

When the chairman and employees of Radius Kommunikation train managers or spokespersons, they follow the motto:

Can we make them a 10 - 15 per cent better version of themselves?

“We’re not aiming to make people afraid or fundamentally change them. They need to retain their personal expression and be authentic. Communications training provides a safe space to practice in and thereby decreases the risk of blanking when a journalist calls or the questions become really critical,” says Nicolaj Taudorf Andersen.

However, a training course also involves the chairman of Radius Kommunikation expresses his candid opinion.

“It’s easy to tell someone ‘speaker slower’ or ‘sit still’. It’s more personal if I have to tell someone to be more realistic or to avoid self-inflation. Honesty must go hand in hand with a sense of propriety, but it’s important for me that they recognise their strengths and weaknesses and learn to present themselves even better. That way, they can communicate the company’s messages in the best way possible,” he says.
The golden rule is to never say anything without thinking first. That’s why preparation is the key word and secret weapon necessary .
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PUBLISHED: 1/18/2017 LAST MODIFIED: 1/18/2017