"Have you considered how being at ease with the media could be very positive for your institution and for you professionally?"
Former school head of department, broadcaster and now media relations trainer, Roger Crisp, asks if school leaders are prepared for dealing with the media.
As an education leader how would you explain your case regarding whether private independent schools are socially divisive, or whether Brexit has serious consequences for education?
Addressing an individual parent is very different from explaining the same thing to the board of governors, a magazine reader, or to a TV or radio audience.
On TV or radio. for example, you only have about 15 seconds to keep the attention of the interviewer and of the audience so, you must start with your conclusion.
Being wary of the media is natural. Yet, have you considered how being at ease with the media could be very positive for your institution and for you professionally?
If you, as a leader, know that dealing with the media isn't your strong point, you have two choices: train someone in your team to deal effectively with the media, or learn for yourself. You'll need to understand the media and develop a positive relationship by taking the initiative.
These five steps will help you: - Before the interview know your media contract. - What do the media want? Know your Q&A document. - During the interview start with your conclusion; take control. - In radio and TV interviews know your key message. - What do you want from the media? Offer them your expertise.
These steps are not about dealing with a crisis - that's more advanced media training. This is about developing a positive relationship with the media. Crises tend to get the attention when thinking of the media - a bomb threat; a suspected case of the Zika virus; pupils hurt in a school activity. Dealing with the crisis effectively comes from understanding the media long before any crisis comes along. This too is about leadership.
The University of Buckingham is concerned about the quality of education leaders and has inaugurated the Buckingham Institute of School Leadership (BISL). I learned about this whilst researching a talk for an education conference.
I wanted to know how well prepared UK education leaders were in dealing effectively with the media (TV, radio, press, social media). A second strand was to compare this with other industry sectors where I do such preparation and training work.
Many schools and colleges seemed to have little or no preparation in place (at most a general incident response document). Only one or two were as highly prepared as other industry sectors (with a full Q&A, interview training and crisis management scenario events).
Many schools didn't reply, which leaves their preparedness open to question.
Despite having a PR department, or external agency, or indeed a specialist such as me on hand, it will usually be you, the leader, who faces the reporters, or responds to social media.
Here are just three steps you can take to start developing a positive relationship with the media:
Develop and update a Q&A document The Q&A grows organically. Add current affairs education questions. Prepare good, clear answers on a regular basis. Use this material. Speak at meetings, conferences, and to the media. Find out what works, and what doesn't.
Local Media Would the local newspaper, local radio or TV like to have you on hand for interviews about education current affairs? Offer to be their education expert, in other words. Your Q&A again will help you enormously.
Social Media Send out a monthly or termly, leader's newsletter and use Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. to keep in touch with alumni. Know which social media each generation of school leavers is using. Familiarity with these media is useful for occasions when you might really need them.
This article started with one Q&A question. There are always more in the news. It is up to you to take the initiative with the media. Having inside experience of how the media operate will pay dividends should they come calling during difficult times.