National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Media Relations: Responsive Strategies

Responsive media strategies can be either proactive or responsive in nature, but involve reacting to a major news event. When a governor or county executive announces the budget for mental health programs, for example, NAMI might respond with a statement. If there is a violent tragedy, it may require crisis management.

Information, tools and templates in support of a reactive strategy are provided to enhance advocacy success.

TV and Radio Interviews

When you pitch a story, a producer or reporter may to interview you on camera or for the radio. Other times, you may get a phone call unexpectedly. In each case, be prepared or know how to prepare.

Do your homework: Familiarize yourself with the media outlet or program. A lot can be learned by browsing the station's Web site. Find out who will interview you. Find out the nature of a specific program or talk show.

Questions to ask:

  • What is the date and time they want to for the interview?
  • Where will the interview be conducted (e.g., at the television station; at your office or home; or by telephone)?
    • Note: If it's a telephone interview, radio stations often require that you use a land line as opposed to a cell phone.
  • What will be the focus of the story?
  • Will the interview be live or taped?
  • Will you be interviewed with anyone else?
  • If it is live, will there be audience call-ins for questions?
  • How long will the interview last? How long do they expect the finished story to be?
  • Will it be possible to get a tape of the segment? Will it be available on-line?.
  • If it is a phone interview, will the station call you-or should you call the station? Even if they intend to call you, it's best to also have the producer's direct number just in case.

On Radio: You're Invisible

  • If you are being interviewed from your office or home by telephone, you can spread talking points or other notes in front of you. You can refer to them and check them off as you make them.
  • You also can take notes about what other interviewees or callers say in order to respond as the interview proceeds, if time allows.
  • At the same time, try to relax. It's better to sound natural rather than scripted. Don't rush to say everything. Speak clearly and calmly.

On Camera

Television opportunities may be relatively rare, but no matter how many times people are interviewed on camera, they need to make sure each time that they feel comfortable.

Dress to impress: Television is a visual medium. Your appearance will speak volumes about you, your work, and your level of respect for the audience. Dress professionally and appropriately for the occasion. What you wear for a studio interview needs to be more formal than what you wear for a walkathon.

Colors: Avoid white and patterned clothing. Blues, browns and darker hues tend to look best on camera. If you wear glasses, make sure they are clean. Don't wear sunglasses unless outdoors, and avoid photosensitive lenses.

Keep your eyes on the prize: Maintain eye contact with the reporter and other guests. Think of your interview as a conversation with them. Don't look at the camera lens unless the interviewer asks you specifically to do so-in which case "eye contact" is with everyone watching television in their living rooms.

Speak slowly: Editors will cut the majority of your interview because there is limited time available for news stories (e.g., 60 seconds). Answer briefly, incorporating talking points into your answers. When people are nervous, they tend to speak faster. By slowing your speech pattern, you will force the audience to pay attention to what you are saying. Avoid non-words (um, ah, like).

Keep your cool: Don't become defensive on any point. If you feel attacked, don't express emotion or reveal personal tension. Make affirmative statements. Don't try to answer questions using assumptions in a question or by posing rhetorical questions.

Be animated: When you are on camera, be energetic and engaging. Change you voice inflection to emphasize important points. You might use a hand gesture to make a point, but be careful not to let hands or other motions distract people from what you are saying.

Break that habit: Avoid unconscious mannerisms like playing with your tie, tapping your pen, or rocking in your chair. This is distracting to both the interviewer and audience. Remember, the camera picks up everything.

Air date: It's okay to ask when an interview is likely to air. If you know in advance, set your VCR or DVD recorder to tape your interview when it airs.