How well do you know your spokespeople?

Yes, there is always their official bio, but does that really show their best side for media?  What about that pivotal moment that helped determine their career path?  Their goals for the future of their brand or organization?  Over and over, I have found it worthwhile to invest the time in developing a media questionnaire.  Questionnaires are especially valuable when working with non-corporate spokespeople — teachers and students are two examples — who are not used to sharing their story publically and are unlikely to volunteer information on their own.

It’s a good rule of thumb that the complexity of the questionnaire should depend on the potential complexity of the story.  We ask high school students competing in a prestigious national science competition to share not just their inspiration for their science research, but thoughts about a trend or development in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) they think will have the greatest impact on humankind.  These students are future scientists and mathematicians and reporters are interested.

Well thought-out media questionnaires give our team access to more than biographical information, credentials and accomplishments; they allow us to humanize the story.  It is also true that they are labor-intensive for the recipient.  There are 25 questions on average.  Quite a few of the questions are open-ended and require longer answers.  We have to make sure that our spokespeople don’t feel overwhelmed and get the questionnaires to us filled out and on time.  Here are a few strategies I have found to work well:

  • We get the client’s buy-in – and support.  When working with a group of teachers, we asked our client (the foundation that supports these teachers with a fellowship) to distribute the questionnaires.  This helped speed up the process.
  • We are transparent about why we’re gathering the information (i.e. it could be shared with the media).
  • We encourage recipients to share opinions about the larger trends or issues that affect our client’s brand and reputation.  This way our spokespeople can take a break from the personal and focus on the topics of importance to them.

What are your best strategies when it comes to media questionnaires?  We’d love to hear.