If you’re a club leader, you may from time to time be contacted by the media for comments on university issues. It’s not as easy as just sharing your thoughts because they might be in conflict with your university’s position. So how do you handle this? Here are my thoughts based on what happened to our club.
I’m a co-chair for a university alumni club that a few years ago had some trouble with one of those collegiate sports institutions. Our club is in the same state as our university and the media in our town reports on its goings-on frequently. The news was disappointing and the local media wanted to interview a representative from our club to get our thoughts. I quickly contacted the University for their opinion on what to do and walked away with one piece of advice: let the reporter know that the opinions you hold are yours and do not reflect those of the University. Hmmm.
Ultimately, I contacted the reporter and let her know it would be best if she found some local alumni to speak with since we didn’t have any comment on the matter. I felt that this was the more appropriate option since I might possibly say something that could reflect poorly on the University and THAT is something I didn’t want to do. More importantly, I didn’t want to disappoint or anger local alumni by seeming to speak for them.
When There’s Bad News
My lesson learned is that when there’s bad press about your university, resist the urge to go on record with the media. You can be personally disappointed, shocked and angry but save those thoughts for your friends and family. Decide if you want to help the reporter reach out to a local alum for their thoughts but don’t feel like you have to. The reporter will get whatever reaction he or she wants through their own sources.
When There’s Good News
I’m happy to say that our local media quickly forgave us for that first interaction and have continued to reach out to us for comments on other school news. We’ve been able to meet up with reporters for TV or newspaper interviews on other (and happier) topics. My advice, even on good news is that, remember, your name will appear as <Your Name>, Alumni Club Leader in the story so, as my college marching band director used to say, “remember who you are and what you represent.” Be thoughtful, diplomatic and informative and stay away from sharing your own feelings.
So assuming that the topic is one you want to go on record for, how can you get ready for the interview?
Preparing for a TV Interview (Recorded or Live)
Our club held a big game watch for an NCAA championship game (that’s me being interviewed). It was really exciting! The local news media was reaching out to us to get game details, thoughts on the team and more. Here are some tips if your local TV station wants to do a recorded interview with you.
- Find out who the reporter is – What TV station? What their role is (sports, local interest, etc)? Does he or she have a connection to your university?
- Find out what the reporter wants to know – this will help you prepare some answers in advance. It’s not fun being stumped by a question on TV.
- Know when/where the interview will be held – are you going to meet at a mutually agreed location or are they going to catch you at your local game watch spot?
- Find out about the interview logistics – Is the reporter shooting her own footage or will there be a videographer? Will you wear a mic or will the reporter hold a microphone. Is it a live interview or recorded? I’m a little bit of introvert and can get unnerved by the equipment so I like to know what to expect!
- Wear your school colors or school swag – I know I don’t have to say that but remember to represent!
- Look and speak like a professional – not suit-and-tie professional but like you are a representative of your university because, more or less, you are.
- Do it! – the reporter will get you camera-ready (and if she doesn’t, ASK!). Where do you need to look? Do you need to pause before or after answering? Where do you need to stand? Find out what order she’ll ask her questions so you can be ready with your answers. Now RELAX and SMILE! (Really.)
Preparing for a Newspaper Interview
Newspapers and local blogs are always looking for a good story. Getting ready for those interviews can be a little less stressful than recorded interviews but you do need to be ready nonetheless.
- Find out who the reporter represents – what newspaper or blog? If it’s not a news outlet you’re familiar with take a few minutes to research it. Make sure that this is an organization that is fair/friendly to your university and that has journalistic integrity. Avoid #FakeNews #JustSaying
- What’s the reporter’s story? – ask them what kind of story they’re writing. Something “friendly” or an exposé? A local blog does an annual “College Football Game Watch” post before in the late summer. I found out that the reporter was an alum through our email exchanges. He then invited me to a panel interview with club leaders from other big football schools to learn more about out what our plans were for the season. That was enough to prep me for the interview and allowed me to do a little research of my own on what those other clubs were doing.
- How does the reporter want to collect your responses? – will the reporter send you questions and you’ll email answers? Will he conduct a recorded interview? Will he use content from your website? Again, it’s best to know how the interview will be conducted so you can be ready.
- Where and when will the article be posted? – this can be a great marketing opportunity for the club. Find out when and how it will be shared so you can post it on your social media or include it in your club communications.
Meeting with the media can be a great way to not only promote your club but also let alumni in your community know about the good work you’re doing on behalf of the University. A little bit of preparation will help you make the most of that interaction.
Do you have a question about media relations or want to see more topics on this? Let me know.