Communicating Your Brand’s Story
Enhancing your company’s image around positive messages is an important element of brand building. It’s an opportunity to tell your company’s story, generate positive community engagement, build employee satisfaction and attract loyal customers.
Telling stories also encompasses more than press coverage—it’s about projecting the message that you want to convey about your business. Stories will be written about your business, whether online or in print, so it’s up to you to control the narrative.
Think about how building a media outreach program can benefit your company in several ways:
You may consider contracting with a public relations professional or agency. Although they may know the best tools of the trade, they often don’t know the intimate details/day-to-day operations of your business. So, even if you contract your company’s public relations work, you should remain engaged by developing a media outreach plan, both in terms of educating the agency about your company and identifying and preparing your company’s spokesperson.
If you don’t have the resources for a public relations firm, consider working with a local community college or university. Most have journalism students who crave real-world experience. Think about contacting the school to see what kinds of programs you can develop. This is also the age group most familiar with new techniques for digital communications and integrating social media campaigns. These students may also become your biggest advocates and influencers.
- Build Consumer Recognition
A favorable mention for your business in the news can provide more value than buying an advertisement. This can increase consumer awareness of your company’s name, mission, unique offer and retail locations.
- Improve Employee Satisfaction
Show your employees that you value their contributions and let prospective job seekers know that your company is an excellent place to work. Tell the media about promotions, your participation in local charity events and educational accomplishments like scholarship programs and donating to local schools. Also, allow employees to share their pride in your business.
- Help Generate Positive Coverage for Your Industry
Your media-relations efforts can help the entire convenience store industry by generating positive coverage of its people, its accomplishments and its contributions to the economy.
There is a world of difference between sending out press releases and conducting interviews with reporters. By developing the messaging building blocks, you will have most of the tools that you need to succeed.
It is important to note that most interviews will take place over the phone or online via Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom, for example (see more on virtual interviews below). Rarely will interviews take place onsite at a store or in a TV studio. Over the past 15-plus years, NACS has conducted more than 5,000 media interviews but only 100 or so have been in a TV studio.
Here are steps to consider when prepping for an interview:
- Develop Messages: These are the soundbites, or talking points, that amplify something positive about your business. Ask yourself: What do you want the reporter to take away from the interview and communicate to readers/viewers? Develop concise messages that get your points across.
- Develop Proof Points: The facts and stories that back up your messages. Sometime the most effective proof points are stories, whether personal or business-related stories that convey your central message.
- Learn Bridging Techniques: This is the central skill that spokespeople all learn: how to guide a conversation back to what you want to talk about. Bridging techniques allow you to move away from the way a question has been raised to the way that you want to answer something. It can move you away from the yes/no questions, etc.
Sample bridging phrases are, “I think the real issues here is...,” “It’s important to note that…,” etc. The next step is to practice, either aloud or in your head, how you might respond to questions posed. One approach is to use time that is otherwise underused (driving to work, exercising, etc.) and play through various scenarios that you might encounter. Is your reasoning and explanation sound? Can you poke holes in it? If you were the reporter, how might you call “BS” and push back on your messages? It’s always better that you or someone on your team is questioning your message, because reporters are trained to ask thoughtful questions that may test your message’s validity.
- Ask About Logistics: There’s other questions you may want to ask before agreeing to an interview: Will they be talking to others? When will the piece print or air? What is the deadline? If it’s a print piece, ask if you can review your spokesperson’s quotes before the piece goes to press. Can you provide supporting charts or graphics?
Now that you’re prepared, here are some other tips to consider during the interview:
- If you don’t know the answer to a reporter’s question, it’s okay to say that you don’t know and will get them the correct answer in a timely manner.
- Use facts to tell your story. If you cite figures, be prepared to back them up.
- Be in control and answer the question the way you want. Many polished spokespeople jokingly say that it doesn’t matter what question is asked, because you should answer the question that you wanted to be asked. If you get off track, guide the conversation back to your messages.
- While there is the temptation to check emails or something else while you are on the phone or at your computer, don’t do it. Focus on your interview. One tip is to stand up during your conversation. It helps you maintain focus and adds energy. Sometimes the words you say aren’t enough, so having more energy helps the reporter understand your passion about a topic.
- Avoid giving blunt answers to open-ended or hypothetical questions. Don’t be drawn into generalizing. Instead, simply restate the reporter’s question in the context of your business and your message. (“Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but at our stores…”)
- If you don’t want something repeated, don’t say it. While you may be able to talk to a reporter “on background” and provide details without attribution, it is something that you need to only do after careful consideration. There are scores of seasoned media professionals who have lost jobs by unsuccessfully navigating this process. Carefully think about what you want to say. It may be that you decide that your best approach is to only say things that you are 100% comfortable seeing repeated.
- Beware of the “hot” mic. If you have a microphone on you, there’s a chance you could be recorded or have your words picked up, even when you’re not live or on air.
- Sometimes reporters will ask if there’s “anything else” at the end of an interview. Take this as an opportunity to restate your key messages. Yes, you may have already stated them, but restating demonstrates to reporters that there are important facts to share in the story. You may even say it better the second time around, and that may be the quote that is ultimately published.
Above all, embrace this opportunity. There will be times where you will wish you had done better, or the wrong quotes were used. Sometimes you could have controlled the situation better, and sometimes the story will be one that probably was going to be lousy even before you were involved. But the key is to learn from any missed opportunities and improve your communications. Stories will continue to be told, and your business will benefit if your company’s voice is included.
This year accelerated the virtual interview trend. Whether through Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other equivalent platforms, virtual interviews allow television outlets to more quickly and affordably obtain video interviews. Preparing is like an in-person interview with one major difference: You are the interviewee and the camera operator.
Here are some tips for creating a professional interview setup:
- Choose a quiet space: Whether at home or in the office, find a place where you will not be interrupted. Close the door and put a sign on the door indicating that you are not to be disturbed.
- Choose an interesting background: It’s best to avoid a plain, bare wall as a background. Try to set up in a room that can be “staged” by bringing in a few decorations, plants, books or other items to make the background on each side of you more interesting.
- Set up lighting: The classic staged interview features an array of lights behind the camera operator. Use that same principal by setting up an area where you can put some light in front of you—even if it’s just a window or small lamp. Be mindful of the time so you aren’t looking at the sun out the window and avoid lighting from behind so you don’t appear as a silhouette.
- Set the camera at eye level: Align your laptop or smartphone camera with your eyes based on how you are sitting in front of the laptop. Use hardcover books or something sturdy—anything that will ensure your laptop won’t tilt or shake.
And here are some tips for conducting a virtual interview:
- Prepare: Take the time to set up your area for the interview with the tips above so you can focus on the interview.
- Look at the camera lens: During virtual interviews, always look into the camera lens and try to avoid the temptation of looking down at the screen and at the person asking questions.
- Sound is important: Be prepared to use earbuds if there is an echo or something else that inhibits the sound during your test. Also, turn off sound notifications for e-mails or meeting requests and shut down unnecessary programs. If you’re at home, be aware of potentially loud neighborhood activities when scheduling the interview, like landscaping or trash pickups.
- Do-overs are more acceptable: Unlike in-person interviews, virtual interviews are seldom live. This means that you will most likely be asked to speak in complete sentences for a segment that will be recorded and edited. Also, you may be able to re-do an answer if you feel like you stumbled. But always ask first what the expectations are in the interview. Is it live, “live to tape” (meaning that it will be recorded as if it is live and largely broadcast that way) or recorded and edited?
Virtual interviews will likely look less polished than in-person interviews, but that’s okay because viewers are now used to seeing virtual interviews in lieu of live, in-studio discussions.