AASV Straight Talk
The other side of the microphone

It’s certainly an understatement to say that the swine industry has been in the media spotlight the past year or two. For many swine veterinarians who have been asked to give interviews, the spotlight may seem more like a floodlight. This column and the next will focus on media tips from the experts to help you prepare for your next interview.

From Angie Hunt, television reporter with KCCI-TV Des Moines

“Don’t be afraid of the camera

Occasionally, sources will say to me, ‘I’d be happy to talk with you, but not on camera.’ So I try to assure them that the camera is not as intimidating as they might think. Treat an interview with a TV reporter much like you would handle a conversation with a colleague, friend, or neighbor. In most cases, the interview will be recorded, NOT live. If a reporter does not establish that fact in advance, just ask. With a recorded interview, the reporter will be looking for two or three short sound bites, or short clips, of the interview that he or she will weave into the story. So in that situation, don’t be afraid to take a little time to compose your thoughts before responding to the question. Additionally, if you start talking and lose your train of thought or your words are coming out all wrong, most reporters won’t mind if you just start over and rephrase your response.

However, the rules are different with a live interview. There’s no opportunity to start over, or if you wait too long to respond, that dead air can get uncomfortable. In most live-interview situations, the reporter, anchor, or producer will give you some general topics or issues they would like to cover during the interview so you can prepare.

Speak to your audience

That’s not to say you should talk down to the reporter or the intended audience during the interview, but keep in mind you’re not presenting your research to an audience with a shared knowledge. Keep your answers short and simple – remember that reporters are looking for sound bites around 10 to 15 seconds. If it’s a complicated topic, try to break down the information into segments – so if a reporter selects a sound bite on one segment they can paraphrase the remaining points.

Don’t be afraid to point out what you feel is most important during the interview. A reporter will generally pick up on statements such as, ‘What people need to keep in mind…’ or ‘It’s important to understand that…’ – just remember to follow those statements with short and simple responses.

Don’t be afraid to follow up

If the interview went really well or you were upset with the way the story was presented, don’t be afraid to let the reporter know. Your concerns may not warrant a correction on air or in the paper, but a polite e-mail or phone call may help the reporter avoid making the same mistake in the future. It’s also helpful for other reporters – we all strive to do our best to give an accurate and fair representation of the situation or issue. However, it’s difficult if we’re all painted with the same brush because of one bad interview, and that keeps good sources from agreeing to future interviews.”

From Cindy Cunningham, Assistant Vice President of Communications, National Pork Board

“I was working with a group of pork producers just the other day about how to respond to the media. As I began my presentation, one of them stood up and told me that it didn’t matter to him, because there is no way he would ever talk to the media about any issue. He said some rather negative things about media coverage of H1N1 and other issues. But then he told me his plan to deal with the media. He told me he would refer them to his state pork association’s executive director. So, even though he doesn’t trust the media and thought that he would never have to deal with them, he had a plan. Good media relations start with a plan and then follow through with the points of the plan. Here are a few basic tips to use when building your media response plan.

Before you do the interview

Find out a little about the reporter. Have you read or heard anything they have covered?

Do they understand the issue? The report should serve as a bridge – for your information – to their audience.

What specifically does the reporter want from you? Determine if you are the best spokesperson for the interview.

What do you want the reporter’s audience to take away from the interview? This is the outcome of the interview and will help you develop your three primary message points.

What other questions could the reporter ask you? Practice answering even the really hard questions before the reporter blindsides you.

What is the reporter’s deadline? Rarely will you have a reporter working with a long lead time, but even 5 minutes of preparation can lead to a better outcome.

So now you are ready for the interview

Repeat your key messages. Keep your answers easy to understand. And remember you are talking with your audience, through the reporter.

In almost all cases, you will know more than the reporter about your subject. Build a relationship with them so they consider you a credible spokesperson. The next time they are looking for answers, they just might call you first, as opposed to calling the other side. The opposition will always speak to the media. Pork producers have decided it’s time to take a stand. Be prepared to tell your story before someone else tells it for you.”

-- Tracy Ann Raef