Once upon a time the media looked like the distant, exclusive realm of celebrities, politicians and VIPs. Jane and John Does viewed the media as so cut off from their daily lives that in most cases a course in media-handling sounded as far-fetched as one in rocket science (though perhaps altogether less enticing). Conversely, those intent on being featured in what we dub as ‘traditional media’ today often had to go to great lengths and great expense (contracting the services of PR agencies and the like) to enjoy their minute in the limelight.
Those days are gone, and I dare to say never to be back. Several factors have colluded to bring the media closer than ever to our day-to-day realities and make being ready for the media and their ‘make or break’ impact on our personal brands a necessity: the advent of personal branding, the new online democracy, the blurring of the lines separating traditional and social media and the proliferation of media outlets at local, national and global levels that has ushered in a massive increase in the amount of news and information on offer. As a result, and especially if your personal brand begins to gain momentum, you will be in all likelihood the object of media attention sooner rather than later: and what you make of your early media appearances may well set the tone for and be a stepping stone towards the success of that brand called you.
The first thing you ought to know is that, at least at ground-level, the media is not made up by spin doctors set on distorting every word that comes out of your mouth for their own evil purposes. Most journalists I know are fair-minded, hard-working fellows striving to offer the best story for their audiences in an über-competitive arena. My first piece of advice is therefore crystal clear: make journalists your friends and not your enemies; understand that in many cases they will not be experts in your topic (you are!) and that it is your job to enlighten them and convey your message in the most understandable, compelling and inviting manner. Every interview or media appearance you are offered is a golden opportunity to transmit your brand’s core messages (your style, your expertise and your values among others) and should under no account be taken lightly (even if you are dealing with ‘just the local press’). Your brand should shine while you address the questions you are asked as smartly as you are able to for the benefit of listeners, viewers or readers (always bear in mind that they are your end client, and not the journalist!)
As your brand develops, the time will come when you will have to become discriminating and turn down some media offers. While the principle remains that every invitation to be featured in the media should be regarded as an opportunity, it is inadvisable to take part in TV or radio shows where the topics being discussed do not fall within your specific area of expertise or the tone or setting is not in accord with your brand. Recommending a more knowledgeable colleague will make you trustworthy in the eyes of the journalist and instantly turn you into a reliable source for future interviews. Another way to help the media is to make sure that your webpage or blog includes either a media kit or at least a downloadable PDF that can act as one. And make sure you list every single media appearance with links (if necessary you may scan press cuttings) in your ‘About Us’ section: it adds credibility to your brand and shows your interviewers you care.
All of the above proves that in the XXI century handling the media right is an integral part of your personal branding strategy. The media have the power to catapult your brand into stardom or sink it into ignominy. If your brand is to achieve anything memorable, being media-ready is a must. Every blog post or book you read on how to deal with the media is a step in the right direction. And so is every effort you make to integrate journalists into your budding online community of followers and cultivate a mutually-benefiting relationship with them. One day you will be glad you did.