Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Press

I'm posting this after reading some letters and thinking about some comments that people have made to the press. I am sure that most people when speaking to the press mean well - they want to share information/get the message out and the press can be an incredibly powerful ally. After all, they have the reach that none of us have and is a great way to get your message out there.

On the other hand, remember the power of the press can work both ways. It's a double edged sword and has brought even Presidents down. It can also be very harmful if the wrong message gets out.

So here are a few basic pointers I think are worth bearing in mind when dealing with the press.

Firstly, what is your message? I have spoken to caregivers who were thinking of writing in or going on television who did not have know what message they wanted to impart. If you don't know what you're trying to say, you can't convey it. You are also far more likely to say something that can be harmful to your cause.

Secondly, keep it concise. You need your message to be short. If it's in a letter, then check what the word limit is - most forums will have one. The less you put in there, the less the editors will have to cut out.

On television it's even more important to be concise. When you see someone on television in advertisements, you rarely hear them give long, rambling discussions. They speak in soundbites - short, pithy, easily remembered sentences. These should be as short as possible - around 30 seconds at most.

Thirdly, focus on one issue at a time. There are often many reasons for why something happens. For example, why are cats killed? Is it because of complaints? Abandonment? People who aren't sterilising? Irresponsible feeders? The list goes on. Too many issues cloud the whole discussion. Focus on one or two of these issues - you can also mention the rest at a later time. What are the most important issues right now in response to what you want to get across?

Fourth, weigh the pros and cons. If you're going to the press, what do you hope to achieve exactly? There must be an end goal. If the end goal is just 'press attention' I suggest you re-think it. That attention has to serve some purpose. Also weigh the bad press and backlash you are going to get in response - and there will always be backlash. For example, in this case of the Jurong dogs, the backlash is obviously one, that ALL animals could get complained about because there will be complainants who like neither cats nor dogs. Two, it can be blown up into what becomes a schism in the animal welfare groups - ie dog versus cat.

Fifth, remember you set the agenda. You don't have to talk to the press. If they ask you a question that you're not comfortable with, then you can refuse to answer. Sometimes saying nothing is better than saying something harmful. It's best in fact if you are doing an interview - radio, television, etc - to get a copy of the questions beforehand so you can prepare.

Sixth, if you DO get thrown a difficult question, you can choose to answer it or not. However if you can answer in a calm, reasonable manner, then do. If you are able to bring up facts, even better. For example, a 'controversial question' may be about why all cat feeders are crazy, unmarried women. If you are able to, then it would be a good time to contradict that and say that this is untrue and that caregivers cut across all races, genders and marital status. The more factual your comment, the less likely they are going to be able to drum it up into something 'controversial'.

Finally, always be polite and act reasonably. If you're going on television, dress sensibly. Wearing a t-shirt that says "the more I meet people, the more I like my cat" for example may be amusing to those of us who see it is a joke. To the general public however it may spell crazy cat person who doesn't care about people's concerns.

I am sure there are many other little pointers people who have dealt with the press can share. If you'd be willing to share some of those pointers, please do!

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