How to Meet The Press, Do It Well and Enjoy the Free PR

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Dec 9, 2013

Meeting the press can be terrific or terrible for people in placement, depending on the meeting agenda. It’s often a hidden agenda, too. I’m still never absolutely sure whether the final “piece” will be a true rendition of the placement industry or just a device to sell newspapers and get a by-line for the reporter.

But I’m learning. You can too. There are proven ways veterans get favorable publicity at press time. Here are six:

1. Respect Freedom of the Press

Most placers are used to paying for newspaper advertising. Regardless of the kind of ad, they totally control its form and content. It’s a value-for-value business deal – money in exchange for control.

“Free” publicity with the (very) free press isn’t. You “buy” the mention, giving “newsworthiness” in exchange. Sometimes it’s human interest, sometimes it’s a feature, sometimes it’s an event. It may even be a combination of these. But if it’s not considered by the editor to be newsworthy, it’s history.

That makes you a puppet, even more than an actor on a stage. Your costume, the lighting, and even your delivery can be changed to suit the reporter. (We’ll discuss this later in Item six.)

For the first several years, I rushed to open the clipping service envelopes. I’d remember those long, pleasant interviews that resulted in mistakes, misquotes and misinformation. Those 60-second “hellos” rushing on the way to the airport that masterfully built a full-page feature. The words I never said, looks I never gave, clothes I never wore.

I’ve been so upset, I’ve even written letters to the editor. Not even a reply. It’s just as well — he probably realized my amateur status in those days. I didn’t understand the value-for-value relationship. It wasn’t a contract law trial. This was a constitutional law one. The First Amendment applied.

2. Understand the Perception of the Placement Industry

Recruiters are historically among the most misunderstood people on earth.

We’ve come a long way since the applicant-pay-fee days, but I don’t recommend you commission a Gallup Poll to prove it. Job seekers resent being screened, candidates don’t care about our efforts, and employers consider us a necessary evil. The public’s reaction still usually reflects a misunderstanding.

You can’t change this perception by taking on the reporter or by touting our industry. This is an institutional public relations issue. Let the associations, networks or large organizations handle it. Otherwise, you’ll blow your interview.

There’s a lot you can do about the perception of yourself and your business, though.  In Tricks of the Trade, Jeffrey Lant advises:

[W]hen you present yourself to any media source, you open yourself up to criticism… Your job is to expect it, to anticipate it, and to prepare for it. Figure out where your critics are likely to attack you, what they are likely to say about you, and work up your arguments accordingly.

It is not your job, nor even a reasonable expectation to convince your critics of anything. That’s usually beyond hoping. But what is possible is… presenting the most reasonable counter-arguments.

To become a multi-millionaire in this country, you have only to convince a very small slice of the people to do any single thing, and you can comfortably ignore the rest. Keep it in mind.

There are three leading questions (criticisms) reporters usually ask:

  1. How can you justify those fees for finding someone a job?
  2. Why can’t your clients find people on their own?
  3. Don’t you think it’s unethical to call people at work to solicit them for another job?

Work up a one-paragraph, concise, objective answer to each. If you need help, send $25 for the industry script, “Closing on Objections” by Fordyce founding father Paul Hawkinson. It’s available from the publisher:

Research Information Bureau
P. O. BOX 9653
Kirkwood, MO 63122

 3. Understand the Reporter’s Goal

Staff reporters are the most pushed, pummeled, punched, pressured, poorest paper people. Even freelancers are paid only for a specific number of words arranged in a specific way that say a specific thing about a specific subject. And of course, submitted by a specific date.

This pressure is endemic to reporting. Since reporters are creative writers, they must learn to subordinate expressing their own thoughts to the style and philosophy of the paper. That makes frustration the rule, but also makes them rigidly disciplined.

Be on time, and ask him how long he’s been with the paper. Appear interested. You can learn a lot. Don’t take his stilted questions and feverish writing personally. Just be professional and businesslike. Answer directly, but reflect before you do.

Here are a few of the reasons recruiters and reporters frequently don’t get along:

  • Recruiters are like passengers trying to tell pilots what to do. Reporters fly the planes. They take their orders only from the control towers.
  • Recruiters are extroverted entrepreneurs who make things happen. Reporters are introverted employees who report what happens.
  • Recruiters are business-oriented and want favorable public relations. Reporters are news oriented and want to justify the “piece.”
  • Recruiters are suspicious about the press. Reporters interpret that suspicion as evasiveness.

4. Provide an Angle

In Publicity: How to Get It, Richard O’Brien states:

[T]he more news angles you’re armed with, the more ways you can publicize something, the better your chances for ‘breaking’ in the media.

. . . What initially seems to be a simple bit of news can, and usually does, have all sorts of additional dimensions. Feature interviews are [also] possible.

So there we are. To get publicity, you must have news. Your first job is to find that news. Your next job is to find out if there is any more news that can be added to it, to make it more interesting or perhaps to gain additional publicity.

There are a number of placement “hooks” (angles) that make interesting articles. Among them:

  • National or local hiring trends (“hot jobs,” new careers, shifts in employment,etc.).
  • Techniques to identify the best employers or candidates.
  • Skill, psychological, drug and other employee testing.
  • Ways to prepare a resume.
  • How to interview (for a job).
  • The latest employee benefits.
  • Methods to get a raise, promotion or transfer.
  • What to do when the headhunter calls.

The biggest mistake recruiters make here is that they hook themselves. They pick some topic that interests them, then try to convince the media to publish an article about it. Unhooking themselves sometimes just tangles them up even more. A recent example was a client who had some novel ideas about new employee benefits. He was an expert on the subject. Unfortunately, the newspaper headlines for months had focused on impending layoffs in the local area. His timing was off. His hook was dull. He was tied and gagged.

Recruiters are problem-solvers, but they too often position themselves as saviors. People who pick up a paper don’t perceive themselves as needing to be saved. They’ll accept how to do something readily, though. Reporters like “how to” articles because they’re not “time sensitive.” This means they can be:

  • Used as “filler” at press time.
  • Serialized as special assignments.
  • Included in feature editions.

That’s why newspapers call how-to-articles “evergreens.” They’re always timely when and where the need arises.

5. Be Quotable

Not a major problem for most placers. The problem is being concisely quotable.

You should be able to state a message in 10-second “news bites.” Then you should be able to expand the same message to 30 seconds, one minute and three minutes. There should be at least 20 of these that you can recite on command. You may think this is easy, but it takes the rigid discipline of a media pro. Prepare a script for yourself. Then memorize and rehearse it repeatedly until it is second nature.

Don’t just write a short message and expand it. Write a zippy long message that will take three minutes, then reduce it to one minute, 30 seconds, then 10. The exercise of doing it will sharpen your delivery.

6. Be Credible

Not being credible is also a way to get your name in the paper. Too many placers do it that way. Being credible is really just looking credible. It consists of:

  • Preparing with the right information.
  • Timing your responses, and
  • Responding in a factual, rational, measured way.

A press interview (like a job interview) is just another screen test. Another act. Know your lines, perfect your delivery, and dress for the part, and you’ll maximize the effect of the “actor factor.” You’ll look credible.

The primer for your acting lessons is The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book that I wrote for job seeekers. While the interview scripting is different, the delivery and costuming techniques are identical. The same principles about preparation, timing and response apply.

Richard Beatty advised in The Five-Minute Interview: “[T]ake some time before your interview to design some questions. . . I guarantee that by doing so you will substantially improve your interviewing ability.”

An added benefit of this preparation is that you have considerably greater confidence, which will translate into a more effective presentation.

In doing research for The Q&A Book, we developed a data base of over 5,000 questions asked by interviewers. Answering them in one volume appeared impossible, until we analyzed them. Almost immediately, we realized the same questions are asked over and over. Only the words and word combinations were different.

Exactly the same phenomenon exists in any press interview. Furthermore, since you either pick the subject or are chosen because you know about it, the questions you are asked can be easily ascertained.

At first, most people are afraid they’ll be like a bionic with a broken brain, and just talk or move out of context. Not a chance. The subconscious just stores. Words and actions will happen naturally when the time is right. You’ll adapt the delivery to your own vocabulary and mannerisms like any actor. That’s why the reporter will never know you’re using a system.

Here’s how to use the programmed interview technique to fast-forward your future:

  • Record the questions, leaving three minutes for the longest answer.
  • Use a stopwatch to time yourself answering the questions within 10-second, 30 second, one minute and three minute intervals. (The first few times you can read from your script.)
  • Play it back at least three times a week for two weeks, sitting in front of a full-length mirror. Try to simulate an interview as closely as possible by using a table for a desk, etc. Don’t pause the recording. Pay attention to your facial expressions, hand movements and body language. Smile. Look the reporter (you) in the eye. Try not to speak with your hands. Lean forward to make a point. (If you want to learn more about how this can be used most effectively, pick up Contact: The First Four Minutes by Leonard and Natalie Zunin, and Body Language by Julius Fast.)
  • Use your driving, riding or walking time to listen to the CD and answer the questions. (You can just think the answers, but talking to your imaginary friend will train your mouth.)

After a few weeks of this, you’ll be ready to meet the press. Be sure to dress properly. As every superstar actor knows: Look the part, and the part plays itself.

Meeting the press can happen at any time to anyone. If you follow these six items, you’ll be ready to maximize those meetings.