By Charlotte Andrist, President of Nickel Communications, a leading K12 EdTech PR Agency
District spokespeople and public information officers who provide behind-the-scenes counsel and support know that successful communications skills are honed by training and practice. To deliver compelling messages, spokespeople should participate in comprehensive media training. Media training does not give you a script for what to say; it helps you communicate clearly using proven skills and techniques.
According to the Public Relations Journal, those who serve as spokespeople should receive training beyond getting an image consultant. It’s important to be prepared with more than tips about how to sit straight, dress and look. It doesn’t matter how professional you appear if you can’t clearly and effectively communicate the message you want to convey.
In the end, the effectiveness of communications is not just in what you say, but also how you are heard.
Preparing for interviews
Understanding media relations and preparation are the first critical steps toward becoming an effective spokesperson. Here are a few tips to help a spokesperson prepare before participating in an interview:
- Clarify the purpose of the interview and identify the reporter’s deadline. If the story reflects on your school/district, some level of participation should be strongly considered.
- Become familiar with the reporter, media outlet and relevant past news coverage, but focus on the news outlet’s constituents so that you can direct your message to that audience. Consider whether you’ll be addressing a local news outlet where the audience is familiar with your school/district or a trade publication, where the readers may not be as familiar with your work.
- Offer updated press materials and background information such as number of students, number of schools, or names of key leaders as the school year begins. Also, provide the district logo and other key visuals along with your contact information to ensure media reporting aligns with your district’s branding strategy.
- Take charge in advance of the deadline. Quickly plan your strategy and provide the most information, the soonest and in the most helpful manner. Such action may help provide you with some influence over what is reported.
- Control the logistics of the interview and feel free to set a time limit with the reporter. By limiting an interview to 30 minutes, you are more likely to stay focused on key messages and not become distracted during a drawn-out exchange.
- Select a venue which affords you sufficient control and necessary privacy. If the interview is scheduled in the superintendent’s office, ensure all calls are directed elsewhere, clear the work area of proprietary materials, and alert colleagues that you’ll be involved in a media interview that will take priority over non-emergency interruptions.
Developing your message
Follow this five-step process to drive message development and interview preparation.
1. Set an agenda. Before each interview determine who you need to reach and what you want to say. Further ask yourself, “If I could write the headline or story lead, what would I want it to state? What quote would I want attributed to me or my school/district?” Your conclusions should be reflected in key messages, supporting information, Q&A responses and a pre-planned closing statement.
2. Craft key messages. With repeated use, key messages ensure dissemination of clear, consistent and compelling information. This approach can help you prioritize information, stay focused and obtain measurable results. Develop three key messages to serve as the foundation for all communications and weave these messages into each interview. They should be concise––about two or three sentences in length or 15-30 seconds when spoken.
Be more strategic than simply the ‘three most important things.’ Craft key messages that…
- Describe the district’s vision and mission
- Differentiate your district by showcasing your strategic leadership
- Focus on the benefits to the target audience, clearly stating what’s in it for them
3. Prove your points. Your goal is to introduce and reinforce key messages. Supporting information can extend a conversation, offering proof and adding credibility. Utilize these key details and strategies to emphasize your points:
- Facts: Use simple and descriptive statements
- Statistics or figures: Put information like test scores in easy-to-understand or quantifiable terms
- Authorities: Quote credible, relevant third-party experts (Book authors, researchers from renowned higher ed institutions, etc.)
- Stories: Share a student, family or educator story; personal experience; anecdote; or analogy to help bring the interview to life and make it relatable to the audience
4. Be ready for Q&A. Prior to the interview, speculate about potential interview questions. Go beyond the who, what, where, when, how and why to include inquiries that are trending on a local, regional or national level. After creating a comprehensive list of potential queries, you can arm yourself with responses focused on your key messages and seek necessary data or counsel from district lawyers in advance of the interview.
5. Make a lasting impression. Because people often remember what they hear first and last, it’s worthwhile to preplan a meaningful closing statement that reinforces your missions, values and goals for the school or district.
The key to preparing for a successful media interview begins with mastering the art of clear and impactful messaging through training and practice. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can become a confident and influential spokesperson, ensuring that your school or district’s voice is heard and understood. By embracing the training, preparing your messages and honing your skills, you can be the voice that makes a lasting impression.
ParentSquare is here to help you create lasting connections with your families and community. Learn more about our features by booking a demo today!