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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

Articles/Press Releases

What to Say When the Media Comes

By Jane Eckert

Most of us work long and hard to get the attention of the media. If you have heard me speak or followed this column for more than a few months, you know how I feel about the importance of writing press releases and seeking to get free publicity. But now, it’s time to talk about what happens if you are successful; what are you going to say when the media does call you?

Obviously, what you say is equally as important as getting them to call or come to the farm. Now is your opportunity to “speak to the world.” So what do you say?

Too often, we want to tell them what we want them to know and not what they want to know. The other day, I listened to the radio as a friend was interviewed about her new book on parenting. Towards the end of the conversation, the interviewer asked, “What are the most important things a parent can do to…?”

That was a very direct question about her book, and called for a very direct response, like, “first, they need to…, second, they can try…, and third….”, laying out the main points of her book in a very short and condensed manner.

She didn’t do that – instead she began giving another illustration, thereby losing the impact of the interview. She blew the opportunity to make me truly want to buy her book and learn more. She was thinking about what else she wanted to say, and not about what the audience wanted to know.

Here are few simple steps that you might follow to avoid “wasting” that golden opportunity:

  1. Prepare. Don’t think that you can just “wing it.” Before the press arrives, take the time to write down the potential questions that the interviewer might ask, and then write down a one-sentence response to each question. Yes, that’s correct – for live interviews you can’t speak in a paragraph, but must plan your message to be spoken in one, concise sentence. You’ve heard of “sound bites” in the press: Out of everything you say in two, three, or even 10 minutes, the radio or television station is very likely to use one sentence-a “bite” of everything you’ve said- and that’s what they will put on the air.


  2. Make the most out of your “bite” of free publicity. Identify in advance what are your key messages: “Yes, at Eckert’s, the crop this year is the best ever, a mild winter and spring means there will be lots of sweet, juicy peaches.”

    Likewise, if the crop is not going to be a good one, a little planning can emphasize the positive, such as “Yes, it’s true the peach crop this year is smaller, but the peaches are a good size and very sweet.”


  3. Rehearse. Yes, now that you have written down the questions and your answers, rehearse them. You want to make your responses to flow off your tongue. Have someone listen to your response to make sure you have chosen the best words for your one sentence. If you’re doing a live interview, it sure doesn’t hurt to rehearse in front of a mirror. Smile when you speak. When you are excited about the farm, your audience knows it!


  4. Prioritize your thoughts. Be ready with sound bites, but also be ready to tell them more about your farm and your family—the story you tell may be so interesting that they want to know more! Newspaper and magazine writers usually have a little more time to listen to a lot of information. With writers, you can give a more detailed and complete response, but be sure to give your concise, one sentence response first. That’s going to be her quote.


  5. Don’t be anxious to end the interview. Be sure you pause now and then to give the reporter time to write or type your responses. Let her or him have time to think of additional questions. If they seem to run out of questions, be prepared to introduce additional thoughts, like “are you familiar with the health benefits of dark cherries?”


  6. Nothing is off the record. I ‘ve been burned myself by this mistake. While a newspaper or magazine reporter might say, “I just need it as background for my story…,” there may be some things you just don’t want them to know, or questions you don’t want to answer. Even if you say, “Well, okay, I’ll tell you. But I really don’t want you to print it,” chances are you answer may still show up in the publication. The rule is, if you don’t want to give an answer—don’t do it. You must learn to deflect the question, or answer in way that protects your response.
    For example, the reporter asks, “How much will your apple crop add to your bottom line?” Ouch. That’s too personal. So instead of talking in dollars, which is what they want to hear, you could say something like “we expect the crop to exceed 15,000 bushels this year.” Another response is something like, “Well, our expenses for equipment, labor and so forth run year round, so we really don’t focus on just the income of a single product.”


  7. Become a friend with the media. Make sure you are easily available when the media calls. When they are on the farm or on the phone, give them your undivided attention. Don’t take last minute phone calls or keep them waiting. The media will return to the farms where the owners give them a good interview and make them feel welcome. (Of course, sending home a peck of peaches or a bag of apples for them to take to the newsroom won’t hurt either.)

When you are dealing with the media, please know that it is very rare that you will have the benefit of seeing the story in advance, even with newspapers or magazines. That’s just not how they work – newspapers are on very tight deadlines and typically the story is to run the next day. All the more reason for you to prepare a clear, concise answer in advance.

Finally, remember that people believe what the media says even more than they might believe a paid advertisement. This is a major opportunity, so—as the scout’s say, “Be Prepared.”

Tell me, how is your crop this year?

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.