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Putting Your Best Foor Forward in the Media
How to make sure the public sees what you want them to see.
Patricia Clark
Publish Date: June 9, 2008
A patient at your facility, in for surgery on his left shoulder, accidently has the wrong shoulder operated upon. A reporter from the evening news wants to interview someone from your center about how such a thing could happen.

A local talk show invites a plastic surgeon from your facility to square off with another surgeon on the topic of doing breast augmentation on teenage girls.

A newspaper reporter wants a comment about a certificate of need dispute between an area hospital and a proposed ambulatory surgery center.

In any of these situations, it is vital to know how to communicate your message as effectively as possible.

The media can be a powerful tool to get your side of the story to the public. If you don't understand the process, however, it is very easy to get burned.

This article will give you practical tips for how to best present yourself, your facility, and the medical community as a whole, when you communicate with different types of media.

What to Expect
No matter what type of media you are dealing with- be it television, radio, or print-there are universal truisms about what the interviewee can expect. Reporters seek first and foremost to get a story that they think will interest their audience. They also want to make sure their audience understands what you say. Thus, they will usually try to make you expand upon your answer by asking probing questions that are targeted to generate one of the following:

Information: "You plan to open a multi-specialty facility to compete with Doctors' Hospital. Can you provide any details?

Clarification: "You said that occasionally, unforeseen problems can arise with an anesthesia machine. What sort of problems?"

Justification: "What is the reasoning behind denying treatment to Medicare patients?"

Argument: "Critics have called your plan profit-motivated and destructive. How do you respond?"

An effective spokesperson recognizes what the reporter is after and has an objective in mind before he or she answers. A good interviewee also anticipates difficult questions ahead of time and has formulated an answer that pays attention to both the content and style of the message. Here are some tips for how to be a good interviewee.

Be prepared. Do a mock interview with a colleague to get used to hearing real questions. Answering prospective questions aloud a few times is comforting, and it allows you to hone a message. If need be, you can even prepare by taking some notes ahead of time and then practicing them aloud. Visualize your message as a box with four sides. Decide what your four main points are and relate everything you say to those objectives. Practice conveying those points within thirty seconds or less. (See sidebar for more on preparation).

Be a good listener. You may hear a pre-planned question (especially in the television talk show realm, it is fairly common practice to brief the guests on the questions that will be asked) but the interviewer may change the phrasing at the last minute. Listen very carefully and do not interrupt the questioner. Don't assume you know what the interviewer really means; your quotes may be taken out of context or they may be edited because they did not answer the question that was asked. This does not mean you should be a passive participant in the process. After the interviewer finishes the question, don't hesitate to ask for clarification.

Make sure the question is appropriate to the topic. Don't let anyone put words into your mouth. If the question is "Aren't all money-hungry doctors bad?' and you reply "No, they aren't necessarily bad doctors," you could find that, in the actual story, all it says is "Dr. Jones said that money-hungry doctors aren't necessarily bad doctors." No one ever hears the question, and it seems you chose those words. Therefore, before you answer a question, politely correct any misinformation, misstatements, or incorrect assumptions. Don't respond negatively, even if you interpret the questions as being hostile. Be personable and tactful. Treat each answer as a micromini-speech, while still answering the question you've been asked.