CUNA Management School, Year 3: Media Relations
“A lot of your dealings with the media are within your control.” This is what Marshall Cook, Professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison told the CUNA Management School’s 3rd year class last Friday afternoon. From my seat in the audience, I’m not sure if the entire 3rd Year class believed him.
But, admittedly, they warmed to our charismatic tour guide to the press. As a journalist with countless years of experience, Cook had plenty of useful insights to share on the topic of the media, if and when the time came for credit union managers to come into contact with this sometimes daunting entity. Here are just a few of the strategies he urged year 3 students to heed when speaking into the microphone:
- Know your subject well and convey your topic in plain simple language. Your audience expects you to be an expert on your topic and you should be able to respond confidently to every question that is asked of you. Clarity, precision and confidence can only come through practice and repetition. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
- Always be conscious of how what you are saying relates to your audience. People are busy and don’t necessarily have the time or patience to listen to everything you have to say about your credit union. Similarly, they don’t have the energy to decipher financial jargon. Instead determine the information that is most relevant to your audience and speak to that content simply.
- Do not repeat negative sentences. Instead, always answer positively to any question that is asked of you. For example, you might be asked a negative question by a reporter such as, “Some say that the leaders of your organization embezzle funds from institution. Your response?” If you respond defensively, “Our credit union doesn’t embezzle funds,” you repeat their negative language and, ultimately, look guilty. Regardless of your reputation, ‘embezzle’ came out of your mouth and now you seem a little less than innocent. Instead deflect negative questions with positive language, replying to the same question, “Our credit union is staffed by loyal, honest people, dedicated to placing our members’ needs above everything else.”
- Finally, Cook urged Year 3 students to become a trusted source for journalists. “You can’t buy that level of credibility,” he stressed. By establishing a good relationship with the press, you will not only be seen as an expert in the financial services industry and be quoted on all topics financial, you will be able to steer the news to highlight issues in your favor.
And then there is the bad news. Nobody likes it but everybody likes to talk about it. Cook suggests three strategies for dealing with the ugly truth:
- Get in front of the story. By willfully providing the information the public wants immediately, you can direct the story and establish your credit union as an honest and moral financial institution. The more time you take to deliberate your next move, the greater chance there is for the problem to get out of hand. “They always remember the cover up,” Cook said. “The best thing to do is get to it and get on with it.”
- Address the bad news head on. That doesn’t mean elaborate but you do not have the right to obfuscate any details either. Simply tell what happened in terms everyone can understand, apologize and list concrete steps you are taking to ensure the incident will not happen again. This provides the opportunity for you to win back the public’s trust while demonstrating your professionalism and dedication to your community.
- Be sincere. This is one of the hardest qualities to define, but probably the key to overcoming the bad news. Simple advice: mean what you say when you say it.
As the Year 3 students learned last Friday, dealing with the media can be all degrees of challenging, but the one thing it does not have to be is unpredictable.
Greg Langen is the Marketing Copywriter for the Credit Union National Association