When talking with the media, credibility is everything.
Your credibility either as an interview subject or calling journalists to pitch or correct a story can have a significant impact on the result.
Credibility doesn’t just happen overnight. Sometimes credibility is simply earned by how you handle yourself in an exchange you deem insignificant.
For example, when I was working in Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office, I was staffing an outdoor media event in late July. In those days, I would always wear a jacket and tie. This particular event was on a very warm day. Everybody at the event – media, onlookers, even the Governor – was in short sleeves. Not me. I dutifully wore my tie and sportscoat as a show of respect to the office I was representing.
WGAN radio sent Dick Dyke, a well-seasoned reporter, to cover the event. TV and print outlets were there as well. Mr. Dyke took particular joy in giving me a hard time about my outfit. Other reporters took notice and seemed to enjoy the ribbing. As the media event was getting started, I remembered that I had forgotten to start an audio recorder. So I walked toward the Governor and pushed “record.”
The Governor stopped talking and watched me awkwardly try to be discrete with a smile on his face. Once I pushed record and started walking away, Governor Baldacci said to the crowd to give me a break because I was getting married on Saturday (which was true). Polite laughter and a couple of people clapping filled the air until Dick Dyke very loudly said, “And he needs to take off that damned tie!” Governor Baldacci quickly agreed and said, “And take off that tie!” Through laughter, I said, “Yes sir,” and removed my tie.
Later, Mr. Dyke had a question. I answered it for him. He looked at me…paused, and wrote it down. Sensing that he might need proof, I offered supporting documentation. He said, “No need. I trust you.” And I said, jokingly, “Why?” And he said, “Because you left your tie on until your boss said it was okay. And you called him sir.”
Just by doing what I was doing, then playing along with him while maintaining the level of respect I thought the office deserved, I earned credibility and trust. I never forgot that.
So how else can you earn credibility?
- Be trustworthy. Through relationships, build and earn trust over time through honesty and integrity.
- Know your stuff. Be prepared by doing your homework before you talk with a reporter or make a phone call to pitch a story. Also, if you DON’T know your stuff, it’s okay to say, “Let me find out and get right back to you.” NEVER make up an answer.
- Know their stuff. When you talk with a media outlet, do some homework to learn a little about the organization and the reporter or editor. If that media outlet just won a Peabody Award, it might be nice to say “congratulations.” They work hard and are proud of their honors and their team.
- Be sincere and genuine. In some cases, it might be beneficial to be cold to a journalist when talking with them. I haven’t found any of those cases yet, but I’m not saying it’s impossible. By and large, sincerity and genuine personality are appreciated by the news media, and humans in general.
- Be respectful. It’s human nature. And it’s helpful to build credibility.
- Be accountable and follow through. If you tell a reporter that you will respond to them by close of business, do it. Even if it’s to say that you still don’t have an answer. If you leave reporters hanging while they wait for information from you, they will stop seeing you as a credible source of information.
- It’s okay to be persuasive, but don’t pretend that you can “control the media.” That doesn’t happen. Be persuasive. Be prepared. But don’t pretend that you can be anything more than that.
This is just a handful of tips. For more tips on credibility or advice on what to wear to outdoor media events in the summertime, e-mail me anytime at email@example.com.