Advocate

Interviews are an important part of any story.  And the important thing to remember is that you are in control during an interview.  You control what you say, how you say it, your appearance, and the amount of time you spend with the reporter.  If there is time before the interview, create an agenda of the topics you want to discuss and what your responses will be. 

When talking with the media, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Be prepared:
Preparation is the key to good public relations.  Before the interview, if time permits, write a list of all the possible questions the reporter can ask.  Then write answers to each of these questions.  Practice answering the questions with someone familiar with your company.  If your company was featured in an article in the past, read it and look for anything a reporter might want to ask follow up questions to.  Be prepared for difficult questions.  The key to answering difficult questions is having a good response ready.

Stay on message:
Determine what your message is and stay true to it.  Your message is the point you want to make to the reporter and finally to the audience.  For example, it can be that employee ownership is a powerful tool for your business.  Always make sure you start and end with your message.

Be honest:
Never lie to a reporter.  This is a sure way to lose your credibility with the media and the public.  Also, it never works.  Sooner or later a reporter will find out the truth.  If you do not have an answer to a question, simply say, “I will have to look into.  Let me get back to you with that information.”

Stay calm:
If you are asked a difficult question, stay calm.  You may have already anticipated this would be asked if you prepared a list of questions ahead of time.  You do not have to give the impression you are hiding anything.  If you suddenly become nervous or defensive, a reporter may sense there is a story that needs to be uncovered.  Difficult questions are an opportunity for you to get your message out.  When asked a difficult question, pause, remember your prepared answer, and say, “Thank you for asking that.  I’m glad for an opportunity to tell our side of the story,” and answer the question.

Speak positively:
ESOPs and employee ownership make for a wonderful story.  The employee owners at your company are proud of their accomplishments.  Speak positively about the experience your company has had with the ESOP.

Be concise:
Keep your answers simple and to the point.  One of the surest ways to say something you wish you had not said is to keep talking.

Do not use technical jargon, keep it simple:
Not everyone is familiar with the ESOP concept or with your company.  If there is time before your interview, you may want to send a press kit of information that gives a brief history of your company and its ESOP, but be prepared if the reporter does not read the material.  You may want to be proactive and start your interview with a quick summary of your company and how its ESOP operates.  Remember not to use technical jargon and acronyms.  After the interview, you may also want to direct the reporter to your website for more information or ask if you can send additional information.

Use stories to illustrate your point:
An anecdote is an excellent way to make a point.  For example, you may want to describe how all the employee owners began turning off the lights when leaving a room to save money or how employee owners formed an ESOP committee to educate their peers on the ESOP.

Never answer yes or no:
Never answer a question with yes or no.  Do not let a reporter back you into a blanket statement.  For example, if a reporter asks, “Was the ESOP just a way for the retiring owner to take a tax break?”  You can answer, “When Jane was nearing retirement, she worried what selling to an outsider would do to the employees.  Would their jobs be safe?  Would the company still have a commitment to the community?  Using an ESOP allowed Jane to sell to those who she thought could best perpetuate the business – the employees.  In an effort to encourage more retiring owners to sell to employees, Congress did institute a number of tax incentives that Jane was able to utilize but her commitment to her employees was instrumental in her decision to sell the company to them.”

Never plead: 
Never plead or beg a reporter to change their story.  Again, you are hurting your credibility and you look like you are hiding something.  The only sure way to stop a negative story is to keep it from happening in the first place.  Be positive.