How to Stay on Message with the Media

By Mark Macias

Politicians are notorious for not answering the question. Journalists ask the yes or no question, and they scramble to another topic instead of staying on the message. Here’s how it came across recently when an MSNBC reporter asked candidate Scott Walker a simple yes or no answer.

KASIE HUNT: Do you think that birthright citizenship should be ended?

SCOTT WALKER: Well, like I said, Harry Reid said it’s not right for this country — I think that’s something we should, yeah, absolutely, going forward-

HUNT: We should end birthright citizenship?

WALKER: Yeah, to me it’s about enforcing the laws in this country. And I’ve been very clear, I think you enforce the laws, and I think it’s important to send a message that we’re going to enforce the laws, no matter how people come here we’re going to enforce the laws in this country.

HUNT: And you should deport the children of people who are illegal immigrants?

WALKER: I didn’t say that — I said you have to enforce the law, which to me is focusing on E-Verify.

The Importance of Staying on Message

I work with many tech startup entrepreneurs who are typically less media savvy. Their delivery frequently works to their advantage because they are authentic, but this isn’t politics. If you’re trying to promote your business or service through the media and you have a reporter listening to you, it’s important to stay on message and to continually sell your services.

Don’t learn the hard way. A video client recently told me that she was interviewed by NPR, which is a national news organization that reaches influential and educated listeners. She told me a reporter spent two different days on the phone with her but she wasn’t mentioned in the story. She asked me what she could have done differently.

I wasn’t listening to that interview, but if a reporter calls you twice – he or she is rooting for you. They want you to give them the context or sound that they need for their story. Journalists are inherently self-interested, which isn’t a negative stereotype in this situation. When it comes to writing their story, they need to be self-interested or every other person will influence the direction of their message.

Media Advice for Interviews

This is why it’s so important to stay on message during an interview with the media. You have little time to persuade this journalist that you belong in his story, so measure that time well. Don’t spend 15-minutes giving background on facts if the reporter didn’t ask for that. Facts don’t sell the story. Context sells your story. Perspective brings commentary and color to any story. Reporters want color and context because color brings a story alive and context makes it relevant.

Remember that the next time you get a chance to sell your tech or business story to the media. Stay on message, the clock is ticking.

Macias PR was named the 2015 “PR Consultant Firm of the Year – USA” by Finance Monthly. The firm was founded by Mark Macias – a former Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York. Macias is a weekly contributor with and author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media, which has been featured in the NY Times, Fox Business, NY Post and others. Macias PR has run media campaigns for tech startups, financial groups, service providers, nonprofits and politicians.