Making Sense of the Media Blood Bath

Today is a very sad day in the business press world, as BusinessWeek laid off some of its most legendary columnists (Jon Fine, Steven Wildstrom, to name a few).

In media coaching sessions over the past year, I’ve spent some time up front talking about the “blood bath” that is the traditional press machine.  I’ve seen many a CEO feel slighted and appalled to join a call with a reporter who has done no preparation for the interview, and hardly knows who he or she is talking to.  The reality is, editorial staff cuts have been deep and pervasive, with no signs of slowing.  And the “still employed” mainstream business reporters are stretched so thin these days, it’s amazing that they are able to keep up at all.

What does this mean for spokespeople today?

First, and most obviously, your universe of mainstream reporters is shrinking.   While you may have gotten away with “winging" an interview when you had a good 20 reporters to talk to, that is no longer a workable strategy when that list of 20 has become a list of 5.  If you fail to meet the needs of a reporter, you may not get a second chance. And then you’ve wiped out a quarter of your targets.  This is why media coaching is more important than it has ever been. Shameless plug? Maybe it is. But it’s also true.

Second, you are now competing even more heavily for column space.  If a reporter calls you for commentary on breaking news for example, think twice before giving a milquetoast assessment of what went down.  If she is asking 5 “experts” the same questions, which responses will she run with? The most memorable and concise responses.  So gather your thoughts, and make sure your statements have impact and punch, and most of all, unique insight.  Sound obvious? You’d be surprised how few people actually deliver.

Lastly, have mercy.  Expect that your reporter has done little to no prep, and don’t take it personally.  Ask questions to figure out where they are in the story cycle, and how familiar they are with you/your company, and gauge your responses appropriately.  Be prepared to give your “elevator pitch” unless you are sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they know your company well.

May you be quoted accurately and often.  And to the BusinessWeek staff who lost their jobs today, you will be sorely missed.