Communicating with the Media: For Savvy Leaders, Learning ‘Journalistic Jujitsu’ is Key

Editor’s Note: Anthony Huey will be a marquee presenter at the Northwest Credit Union Association’s Marketers’ Conference, which is scheduled for May 7-8 in SeaTac, Wash. At the conference, Huey will offer transformative, on-camera training to attendees that will send them back to their credit unions as more effective communicators. Here’s a preview.

By Anthony Huey, President
Reputation Management Associates

Do you talk too much? Anthony Huey will help you break that habit during interactive training at the Marketers Conference.

The modern definition of a credit union executive’s bad day: arriving for work to find Bill O’Reilly or Anderson Cooper camped out in the lobby.

But even a routine call from a local reporter is enough to cause panic in many executives. “What do they want?” “What do I say?” “Why me?”

Increasingly, financial news is front-page news, no longer relegated to the Business section. Critical stories about fraud, labor disputes, fiscal problems, corruption and negligence often replace crime and politics on the front page. Financial news is hot. And that leads to the real question: Is your credit union ready for intensive news-media scrutiny? 

To deal with the media, savvy leaders are learning “journalistic jujitsu” by attending classes in media training and employing personal media coaches. The big lesson: Release the story … but control the flow of negative information in a responsible manner. By being candid and careful, credit union leaders can turn a bad situation into a positive public relations opportunity.

All of this is important for one simple reason: Perception is truth!

But understanding the media and learning how to deal with reporters is not something that can be absorbed through osmosis. Media response workshops have replaced “stress management” as the training of choice in many organizations. The sessions, usually conducted by former journalists, provide executives a chance to learn privately from their mistakes rather than read about them in tomorrow’s newspaper or instantly on Twitter.

Executives are learning how to quickly turn negative questions into positive comments. They learn how to stay “on-message” and understand how to bridge an unfair question with a quick phrase: “That’s an interesting point, Tom, but the bigger question here is what our department has done to improve the situation. For example . . .”

And the surprising result of this candor is that an executive’s credibility is enhanced among those who matter most — employees, members and the community at large.

Besides increasing credibility, being candid with a reporter usually gets his or her attention. More than likely, a reporter who has been treated fairly will take a second look at releases touting new services rather than pitch them in the round file. The upshot is that you’re likely to get positive coverage of those “good news” items you want to get in front of your community.

In the modern world of Twitter, Facebook and instant communications, dealing with the media is not something to be passed off to other staff members or dismissed as unimportant. It begins with your commitment to learn and follow basic guidelines.

By learning the “how-tos” of media interviewing, credit union executives can calmly walk through the door of their offices, even if “60 Minutes” is waiting in the lobby. As a modern leader, you need to be prepared, coached and aggressive. Then, invite Anderson Cooper in for some coffee!

Anthony Huey is owner of Reputation Management Associates, one of the nation’s leading communications training and crisis consulting companies. He has presented more than 1,500 media, crisis and presentational skills training workshops, seminars and speeches in his career, and will  be a marquee presenter at the NWCUA’s Marketers’ Conference, which is scheduled for May 7-8 in SeaTac, Wash. Registration for the conference is open online.

 Questions about this story? Contact Gary M. Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

Posted in Events, Marketing & Communications, NWCUA.