On the Record

Managing media interviews can be tricky, but a little advance preparation makes all the difference.

8/12/2019 1:30 PM

NewsCollector Magazine
On the Record

Biased and inaccurate reporting from journalists who fail to ask the appropriate questions are among the reasons trust in media has fallen over the years. But it’s not as bad as you might think.

In fact, according to a Gallup Poll released last year, 45% of Americans report having a “great deal or fair amount of trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly.” Here’s the interesting part—in 2016, the same poll found that only 32% of respondents trusted the media’s reporting. Media trust is now the highest it has been since 2009 but remains below what it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gallup reported.

With that in mind, media relations professionals and the accounts receivable management companies they serve face important challenges as they seek to shape perception and understanding of the industry, reports ACA International’s Vice President of Communications Kim Coghill in the August issue of Collector magazine. This point is demonstrated by ACA's recent response to a biased The Huffington Post piece that failed to include many relevant facts and unfairly impugned debt collection professionals.

Not only is it important for consumers to recognize the ARM industry’s measurable benefits, but it’s equally important—or possibly more important—for policymakers to clearly comprehend the business of recovering unpaid debt.

ACA International’s media relations professionals and their counterparts working at member companies spend a fair amount of energy pitching positive and educational information to media across the nation. Aside from generating news coverage, the underlying goal is to build relationships and educate “the Fourth Estate,” aka the press.

Anyone with media relations experience can attest to the difficulty of this exercise, particularly when dealing with busy journalists who juggle short deadlines, aggressive sources and the incredibly fierce competition of today’s news media.

But ACA has helpful tips to manage media interviews and will serve as a liaison to member companies during the process.

  • When a reporters call, answer the phone and find out what they want. Even if the reporter is writing an unfavorable article, it’s beneficial to have advance knowledge about forthcoming news so you can prepare, if necessary, Coghill reports. Not to mention, if you don’t answer the phone, you might miss an important communication from a reporter who is working on a tight deadline and has 30 minutes to add your quote. Yes, it seems unfair that a reporter would wait until the last minute to contact a source, but it happens.
  • If you do have time to prepare, Huntley McNabb, chief marketing officer at Professional Credit in Vancouver, Washington, recommends spending time reviewing the media outlet and the reporter’s latest articles. If the reporter appears to accurately cover the news, the next step would be to determine whether responding to the request is in the best interest of the company or its leadership.
  • Next, establishing boundaries or “rules” for a media interview is crucial to limiting mistakes, including potential misquotes. As a rule of thumb, avoid making statements in front of a reporter or near a microphone that you wouldn’t want printed on the front page of a newspaper.  
  • Alternatively, if you are uncomfortable talking with a reporter or if the subject matter is extremely sensitive, submitting a written statement or writing a press release is acceptable.
  • When a media interview involves a controversial topic, relying on prepared talking points will save you from blurting out a regrettable statement. This advice holds true when you are engaged with reporters who make provocative statements “hoping it might coax out a better quote,” Bradford Fitch noted in the book, “Media Relations Handbook for Government, Associations, Nonprofits and Elected Officials.”

Read more tips for managing media interviews in the August issue of Collector magazine and contact ACA’s communications team at comm@acainternational.org if you need assistance coordinating a scheduled interview.

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