Invited to speak with an editorial board? Follow these rules of thumb to avoid pitfalls:
Many politicians, civic leaders, CEOs and others eagerly agree to meet with a newsroom editorial board and then wonder, “What have I walked into?”
Often it’s a room with editors and reporters clamoring for headline news. If their guest slips up in some way, all the better. There’s a delicate balance here, involving mutual respect. The interviewee wants to get across certain points and stay on message, but the paper’s goal is to elicit something exclusive.
Consider these real-life scenarios:
- A politician says he doesn’t need the political machine to get elected, and loses votes when those he insulted work against him.
- A corporate executive, upset with a newspaper’s editorial on his industry, demands an audience to try to cut the editors down a notch but instead gets bludgeoned with facts.
- A local elected official reveals prematurely that he plans to run for governor because he hesitates and laughs nervously when someone asks about the rumor.
An editorial board can be a cordial give-and-take, but handled badly, it can turn into a bashing. Don’t assume that your guest status tips the balance in your favor. Sure, someone will welcome you and the reporters will listen to your pitch – but their questions might wander from polite to aggressive out of hunger for a good story, or just for sport.
Here are some tips to help manage your editorial board visit:
Arrive on time and stay longer than scheduled, if asked. Make a good impression with a genuine smile and strong handshake. This meeting doesn’t have to be contentious. You’re all assembled here with a common goal of imparting information to people. Speak candidly.
Bring someone with you, to track what’s said or to do quick online research for you. Bring documents; reporters like fact sheets, statistics, schematics, or other “proof” supporting your words. Before you arrive, review any notes an aide prepared for you; practice what you want to say.
Stay calm, relax
Be cognizant of your expressions and body language; act confident. Holding a pen can occupy your hands if you’re nervous. Taking a drink of water allows you to pause and reflect on what to say. Remember, no one expects you to be perfect.
Feed the beast
The editors control the line of questioning; make sure you control the message. Emphasize your important points and anticipate questions. Know your stuff, so that you don’t appear vulnerable. Don’t let the pack get “hangry.” You’re the expert whose information feeds their need.