The University of Waikato's Media Policy governs interactions between staff and the media. The guidelines set out in this appendix to the policy provide additional information to assist staff to maintain and develop effective relations with media.
Contacting marketing and Communications division
The Head of Marketing and Communications is responsible for media relations at the University, and manages this through the Marketing and Communications Division. Initial contact with the Marketing and Communications Division can be made through the receptionist (ext 4007) who will direct the call as appropriate. In urgent matters, any member of Marketing and Communications will be able to take the initial contact. Staff names and telephone numbers are listed in the online telephone directory.
The role of marketing and Communications
The Marketing and Communications Division co-ordinates ongoing information-sharing processes between all areas of the University about issues affecting or potentially affecting the University's media and public relations.
Our media experts are available to help staff manage and co-ordinate the University's media relations. The office is also a resource staff can draw upon to assist them to make media statements, give interviews and deal with media inquiries, as a way of building media profile for University activities and areas of expertise. Our media experts are also available to provide staff with media training. Training can be tailored to meet the needs of the individuals or groups involved.
The role of the university's communications staff
The University's Communications Group provides the University forum for coordinating longer term strategy on media relations. The Marketing and Communications Division will liaise with relevant communications staff in response to serious media issues or crises. Schools/Faculty and divisions should identify a person or people responsible for media relations and ensure that the Marketing and Communications Division is provided with their up-to-date contact details.
Interacting with the Media
Should you interact?
Both academic and general staff may only make statements to the media on matters related to the University if they have been given explicit authority to do so by the Marketing and Communications Division or by the Vice-Chancellor. Academic staff are encouraged to interact with the media over matters relating to their areas of academic expertise and do not need to seek approval to do so.
When preparing a media strategy, getting ready for an interview or producing information for media, decide what are the main points or "key messages" that you want to get across.
The process of developing key messages helps you to focus on what is important. It can also help you to decide on how best to explain or get across these key messages simply, particularly if the journalist you are speaking to is in a hurry and/or does not have a good understanding of the area you are talking about.
A useful practice is to write down your key messages and supporting notes beside them that explain the points. Using these to develop media statements or oral comment is preferable to simply supplying a journalist with a large amount of information and hoping they will highlight what you think is important.
For newspaper or radio interviews, it is recommended you have your key messages written down in front of you, along with supporting information. These notes give you something to refer to if your mind goes off track during an interview. However, it is best not to refer to notes during television interviews. So, for TV interviews in particular, it is very useful to do a practice run through with a colleague. (When a radio or TV interview is pre-recorded for a small segment of it to be included in a news story, for example, it is generally fine to stop and start your answer again.)
The more frequently you say something during an interview the better the chance it will be reported, so keep repeating the key messages where appropriate. The journalist may not have heard them properly the first time.
It is also a very good idea to anticipate what 'difficult' questions may be asked during the course of an interview and what your response will be. Don't assume media will want to stick to your 'agenda' during the course of an interview.
Media are more inclined to write a story that best reflects the University's position if they get a response within a reasonable time. That way the journalist concerned has more time to incorporate your views into an article. If they get your response at the last minute they may only have time and space to include a small bit of what you say. However, don't be pressured into hasty responses. Journalists usually understand it will not always be possible to get the requested response or information within their time frame if the reason is explained to them.
When talking to media, the following guidelines can be useful for staff:
- Always make sure who the journalist is and where he or she is from. This information will help you to understand the likely media treatment of the issue. It may also help you to decide whether or not to give the interview.
- Before you answer questions find out what they want to know, why they want to know it, who they've spoken to already and what others have said, whether they plan to speak to anyone else, when their deadline is and when the story/item will appear. If the journalist objects to all the questions, explain politely that you're doing your job and ask whether answering the questions is a problem.
- Don't feel obliged to respond immediately. Unless you're sure of your facts, ask for a bit of time to check out/think about the matter and say you'll get back to the reporter by an agreed time. This response enables you to consult with the Marketing and Communications Division or school/faculty communication staff if necessary, gather your thoughts and/or clarify information, decide what you will say and what your key messages are. Ask a support person to rehearse you before you call back if you think this will help.
- Refer on any questions that are outside your area of academic expertise unless you have been authorized to make statements on the issue/event by the Marketing and Communications Division or by the Vice-Chancellor. If in doubt consult the Marketing and Communications Division or your school/faculty communication staff.
- Providing 'off the record' comment is very risky. Different journalists have different understandings of what 'off the record' means. A useful thought to bear in mind is that if you don't want something reported, don't say it. However, the Marketing and Communications Division or school/faculty communication staff can be useful sources of advice if you think giving the journalist 'off the record' comment may be useful.
- Saying 'no comment' may give the impression that individuals or the University are not being accountable or not prepared to engage on matters of public interest. But there may be legal or commercial issues, for example, that prevent comment being made now. An example of saying no comment in a helpful way is: "We can't comment in detail on that specific issue at the moment for commercial confidentiality reasons, but we will look to make an announcement once discussions are concluded. We're committed to keeping the public informed of developments as soon as possible."
- Don't assume media know anything about your work. Explain things as simply as possible. It can often be difficult to put complex subjects into simple language. But explaining things in clear words, without resorting to jargon, is the most effective way of ensuring that media clearly understand what you are telling them and that you receive good coverage of your views.
- If you accidentally give out too much information or say something you later think is inappropriate, the Marketing and Communications Division or school communications staff can be used as a source of advice about what to do.
Proactively managing bad news
When we know 'bad news' is coming up, it can be best to:
- Announce it ourselves in a way we control.
- Develop a strategy for what we will say once the news becomes public.
- Be ready to acknowledge fault or say sorry and spell out what, if anything, we will do to correct the situation/make amends.
The Marketing and Communications Division and school/faculty communication staff are available to help develop proactive or reactive media strategies.
The Marketing and Communications Division will provide staff training in media relations from time to time. Notice of these training sessions will be provided in the Official Circular.