3 steps to controlling how your message appears in the press

February 5, 2023

At the end of January, Lyles Carr received a nice piece of press. A senior vice president at McCormick Group, a national executive search firm based in the DC metro area, he was the sole expert interviewed for Michael Schaffer’s Politico column about Biden appointees’ private sector job prospects. Carr has spent 47 years helping high-level government officials like cabinet secretaries, agency senior counsels, and elected officials find private-sector jobs, so he was a perfect fit for the topic. And the column and outlet were a perfect for his brand.

Carr didn’t just have a disciplined narrative in an important outlet, though. He also spoke to a columnist he trusted to accurately represent his comments and expertise. And that discernment is why when I asked about the column’s impact, Carr told me it resulted in numerous people contacting him; but no criticism or negative feedback.

You can never control how the media will frame an interview. But you can control which media you talk to and what you say to them. And that’s how you get a win.

Here are three important steps to getting positive press.

What do you want to say?

A great message is the foundation of good press. You must be intimately familiar with what you want to say and disciplined enough to consistently stay on-point. You don’t want to stumble when reporters, podcast hosts, and other media gatekeepers ask difficult or unexpected questions.

Your message must also be of interest to the press. This means finding an angle or hook that’s relevant and stands out. It does no good to have the same idea that a reporter has seen 200 times already. In Carr’s case, Schaffer already had the relevant hook because administration officials are looking for work.

Lastly, you must be able to provide in-depth analysis. Nothing burns a bridge faster than pretending to be something you’re not. Carr didn’t just have knowledge that the job market for government officials is heating up – he was able to provide intimate (if anonymous) details about a client’s journey to the private sector and share how officials who help create policies are often sought after to help companies navigate the impacts of those policies.

Not all outlets are created equal

Once your message is ready, it’s time to decide what outlets are worth your time. The first consideration is which ones reach and influence your target audiences. You don’t want to waste your time with an outlet that your audiences don’t care about or even disregard.

Another consideration is the outlet’s perspective on what you want to address. This is more obvious in politics – Fox News and MSNBC are on the opposite sides of the political spectrum – but no less important to business. For example, a regional outlet is going to care far more about local real estate than a statewide paper, and Washington Technology and Federal News Network reach different parts of the government contractor market. And if you’re going to talk about something controversial like the future of your industry, it may be best to avoid outlets that have a different point of view.

Finally, you must take styles into account. If you’re a thoughtful and deliberate speaker, target outlets and gatekeepers appropriately. If you don’t speak well, you may want to avoid podcasts, radio, and TV.

Discernment sometimes means silence

Muhammad Ali may be the most famous person to believe that no publicity is bad publicity. He didn’t have to deal with social media, where a single troll’s misinterpretation or misrepresentation can result in a firestorm of criticism, bad press, lost revenue, and lost brand reputation.

Carr likely picked up Schaffer’s call because he trusted Schaffer to be straight with him, and because Politico is a deeply trusted outlet with Carr’s niche target audience. If a provocative political commentator like Tucker Carlson or Joy Reid was on the other end of the line, Carr probably would have let them go to voicemail.

It’s sometimes hard to say no to an opportunity. However, silence is often the right choice. It’s certainly better than risking your brand by going with an unknown or distrusted media outlet or gatekeeper.

On-message in the right outlets: A one-two punch victory

Carr’s on-message expertise in the right outlet was a victory his company promoted on its website. And rightly so, because for his narrow target audiences – experienced senior officials with intimate knowledge of navigating government bureaucracy, regulations, and changes; and the companies seeking to hire those officials – Schaffer and Politico are what they read every day.

This piece was originally published by Dustin Siggins with American Business Mag.

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