Thursday, June 24, 2010

Authors and the Media

Today I welcome Jonathan Bernstein, author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training.

When breaking news relates to the topic of a book, can authors take advantage of that without coming across as exploitive?

The answer is a resounding “yes” – I’ve done it myself, frequently – but it’s critical to remember these guidelines.

1. Don’t “stretch” the connection. Make sure that what you have to say is truly relevant. For example, as I’m writing this, General Stanley McChrystal has resigned as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. If you are an author with expertise in crisis management, the military, the wars in the Gulf, politics and any number of other topics, the media would like to know you’re available as an expert source.

2. Make sure that, when you give an interview, you give your book credentials as well as other relevant professional credentials. For example, I always tell reporters that I’m “Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.” Recently, that got my book mentioned repeatedly – and flashed on the TV screen – during a five minute Bloomberg News interview.

3. Use publicity tools such as the many available free press release services, and blog tours such as those provided by Promo 101, to seed the Internet with mentions of you and your book. Then when the media uses Google to find an expert source, they’ll find you.

Here, from my book, are some tips for dealing with reporters after you’ve “hooked” them.

1. Be helpful to reporters. They have come for a story. Define it for them. Be as open, frank and engaging as possible without revealing any sensitive issues your organization might have. Reporters know you have boundaries, but they will ask anything.

2. Be honest. If you aren’t, you’re likely to (a) get caught, sooner or later, and (b) suffer far more damage than you would have otherwise.

3. Be concise with your answers. Talk in headlines; state your conclusions first, e.g., “There has been an accident at our plant, everyone is safe, emergency responders are on the scene and we are assisting them as requested.” Then, if time permits, give more background information.

4. Use anecdotes, when possible, to support and/or illustrate your message points, particularly anecdotes that involve real people, versus hypothetical situations. When a major restaurant chain endured a food contamination situation that sickened dozens of people at some of its restaurants, the CEO went to the states where this occurred after it was clear that the problem was contained and in the past. When he spoke, one of his strong message points was “We’re not just company spokespersons, we’re also our own best customers, we eat at (name of restaurant) all the time, and we’re going to have lunch at the local (name of restaurant) today.” The media loved it and it was well-received by the public.

5. Don’t use jargon. Jargon and arcane acronyms confuse your stakeholders – a surefire way to make a crisis worse. Let's check out a few taken-from-real-life gems:

a. The rate went up 10 basis points.
b. We're considering development of a SNFF or a CCRC.
c. We ask that you submit exculpatory evidence to the grand jury.
d. The material has less than 0.65 ppm benzene as measured by the TCLP.

6. To the average member of the public, and to most of the media who serve them other than specialists in a particular subject, the general reaction to such statements is, “Huh?”

7. Take your time before answering questions. Pauses are effective. Even on TV, unless it’s live, all the pauses will be edited out and only your answers used.

8. When awaiting questions, maintain a neutral or, if appropriate, pleasant expression. Do not look guarded or defensive. A good reporter, or cameraman, watches your face all the time.

9. Do not repeat, or nod your head affirmatively, to a false premise or misleading question. Immediately correct the questioner politely and firmly.

Remember – you’re the expert, unless proven otherwise!

[Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training is available in hard copy and PDF formats at The Crisis Manager Bookstore and in hard copy and Kindle versions at]

About Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training

Anyone who has achieved some degree of success in business, government work, helping run a non-profit organization, or any other field may be interviewed by the news media. This is a rich opportunity to gain positive publicity, but you can also find yourself in a position where you look bad. Jonathan L. Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., has varied professional experiences, including public relations, crisis management, journalism, and covert military intelligence operations. Bernstein is a regular guest commentator and expert source for national media outlets and PR Week described him as one of 22 individuals nationwide "who should be on the speed dial in a crisis."

About Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training. He is a former journalist and a veteran of five years in U.S. Army Military Intelligence covert operations. He is also publisher and editor of Crisis Manager, a first-of-its-kind email newsletter written for “those who are crisis managers whether they want to be or not,” currently read in 75 countries. Bernstein is a regular guest commentator and expert source for national media outlets and PR Week described him as one of 22 individuals nationwide “who should be on the speed dial in a crisis.”

We invite you to join us for the Keeping the Wolves at Bay virtual tour. The schedule and more details can be found atBook Promotion Services. For more information and to get your copy, visit The Crisis Manager or Amazon


Mason Canyon said...

Very informative interview. Great tips that would help in all areas of work. Best of luck Jonathan with your book and tour.

Diane, thanks for introducing us to Jonathan.

Thoughts in Progress


A wonderful, intereting interview Diane, loved every word.


Karen Jones Gowen said...

That's really helpful stuff! I like how he says to keep expression neutral, probably why men come across so much better in interviews than women. Our faces are too expressive. And when I try to keep my expression neutral I just look tired. Good thing I'm not getting many interviews these days lol!. Best of luck to Jonathan, his book sounds excellent!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Jonathan, glad you could visit us today!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Though the need to keep anybody at bay is not yet a problem for me, I think these tips are helpful for even the most basic of interviews.

Helen Ginger said...

Excellent advice. It all makes sense and can easily be incorporated by anyone being interviewed. Thanks!

Straight From Hel

Talli Roland said...

These are fantastic tips. I've done a few radio interviews where I have blathered on waaay toooo long. I definitely could have used this advice beforehand!

Lydia Kang said...

Great advice. I don't know anything about this stuff, so good to hear.

I gave you an award on my blog, btw!

Unknown said...

Interesting. Can't say that I understood everything but it was informative nonetheless.


Arlee Bird said...

This is useful information to learn and to keep in mind.

Tossing It Out

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks for the tips! The thought of speaking to the press makes me nervous, so this is good stuff to keep in mind. :)

I'm tweeting this.

Alissa Grosso said...

Great advice. Thanks!

Saumya said...

This is such a great post and blog! I think these tips can apply to so many different things. Thanks for sharing!!