Tips for dealing with the Media for tech startups
Media interviews will play a vital role in your business’s portrayal to the public – how you or your colleagues come across in an interview will determine how you are perceived by the public.
Partaking in media interviews will help build the profile of a business and its products and services, which will help you gain potential customers, employees, investors and build a strong reputation.
Particularly as a tech startup you will want to portray your business in a positive light.
While interviews may be challenging, it can be an opportunity to grow the profile of the business, therefore it is important that you come across well in any media interviews you are a part of. To ensure this, there are some legal factors which need to be considered.
Before the interview there are some steps you should consider taking:
- Read the company’s policy on:
- Corporate communications
- Media relations
- Continuous disclosure obligations (The obligations found under the Corporations Act, and the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) Listing Rules)
- As a tech startup, you may need to consider implementing these policies
- Do not speak to the media or a journalist without obtaining authorisation from your company first.
- If the company authorises you to speak, make sure you allow time to prepare for the interview so that you don’t disclose any confidential information.
- Don’t post on social media about the interview, or your viewpoints on issues that will be covered in the interview.
How to obtain authority?
Follow the procedure that your company has in place for authorisation.
If you are a startup business you may want to consider implementing an authorisation procedure or appointing a company spokesperson.
Consider whether you are the person most appropriate for the interview, are you the most knowledgeable on the topic? Are there any conflicts of interest? Does anyone else need to participate in the interview?
What should we do when we get a call from the media?
Make sure you have a procedure in place for media calls, and a person or department to refer the call to. Always respond politely, and if you terminate the call or fail to comply with their requirements, a story could be run without your business having responded.
Cold calls from journalists
You may find that a journalist will try to contact you directly, if this situation occurs you should:
- Refer them to the appropriate department complying with your corporate communications policy.
- Ask the journalist for time to obtain authorisation, and request a list of questions they are planning to ask you.
- If you decide to deal with the enquiry yourself, ensure that you are prepared and know that you are authorised to speak regarding the topic.
What information can be disclosed?
Under the Corporations Act, there are continuous disclosure obligations upon listed companies to disclosed price sensitive information to the ASX, and all information must be provided to the ASX before consulting with the media.
If you are a listed company you should consider implementing policies that limit your employees communication with the media, as this can prevent confidential market information from being disclosed.
You may have heard the term ‘blackout periods’ this typically occurs before earnings are announced, and is where information regarding a company’s financial performance or forecasts may not be discussed with the media, investors, shareholders or analysts. Company employees and executives who are aware of the information are restricted from buying and selling shares in the company.
What to do before agreeing to speak to the media?
Below are some points to consider before speaking to the media:
- Has there been an event that occurred, or negative media that has cause the interview request?
- Make sure you know the name of, and what type of publication it is
- Establish the context of the interview and ask the journalist for a list of questions. Be prepared for, and anticipate likely questions
- Find out if there is a deadline for the interview
- Prepare your answers to questions and particularly difficult questions
- Make sure you keep in mind the image of your company and what you wish to portray
- Find out if the interview will be recorded or live
- Find out how and where your interview will be used, and how long will it be used for
- Determine whether other people will be also be interviewed
What is the difference between ‘on the record’ and ‘off the record’?
When an interview is considered ‘on the record’, the journalist can name you as the source of information and use all of the information provided during the interview.
In comparison, when an interview is ‘off the record’ the journalist can use the information provided by you, but you specifically will not be named.
Make sure you clarify this before starting the interview, however there is no formal remedy against a journalist or publication if they treat your interview as ‘on the record’ even if you are under the impression it is ‘off the record’.
We often hear stories about someone saying something to a journalist that ends up in print, even if that wasn’t their intention. Therefore, it is best just to assume that everything you say can potentially be published by the journalist, and you be named as the source.
As a tech startup, going in with the assumption that anything you say can potentially be traced back to you is the best way to ensure that any interviews or media communications show your business in a positive light.
The interview process
Can I take back comments that were made before the interview is published?
Make sure you confirm with the journalist before starting the interview whether you can clear quotes, and then make an informed decision about whether you would like to participate.
Again, there is no formal remedy against a journalist or publication if they do not check quotes with you even if they have agreed to beforehand, therefore it is best to just assume that anything you say may be quoted.
Don’t tell a reporter anything that you do not wish to see published!
Can I ask for the interview to be embargoed?
An embargoed interview refers to sharing confidential information with the journalist, but agreeing that this will not be published until a certain date or certain situation arises.
As mentioned before, there are disclosure obligations upon public listed companies in Australia, an embargo may be useful in these situations as the information must all be disclosed at the same time and sharing the information via an embargo will ensure this occurs.
Another reason an embargo may be used is to ensure that information is published across all sources simultaneously, it will also give the journalist and publication more lead time, and allows them to prepare their stories in advance.
If the announcement you wish to make is complex and needs a great deal of explaining, putting in place an embargo may be useful.
Again there is no formal remedy against a journalist or publication if they publish information that you had agreed as embargoed.
What if the questions may impact the share price?
It is important to remember to never give information out that could have an effect on the companies share price, whether that be positive or negative. Especially in the case that the information has not been made public.
The following are examples of what must never be disclosed in advance to the media, and are considered non-public, material price-sensitive information:
- The performance of the company
- If there will potentially be a merger or acquisition
- Potential litigation
- Potential investigations
- Potential product recall
Even if you are providing an interview or information on an embargoed basis, you are not exempt from these rules.
If you are unsure whether information is considered non-public or could impact share prices, it is best to explain to the journalist that you are not authorised to answer the question and refer the question to the appropriate department.
Always keep in mind that there are numerous other topics that could indirectly impact share prices.
Can I be sued?
Defamation is something you need to consider when participating in an interview, you or your company may be able to be sued for defamation if you make damaging or derogatory statements about a person or another organisation. This applies to both written and spoken comments.
In general, how should I behave at the interview?
- Don’t promise anything or make any guarantees about the company or what they will do
- Make sure you remain friendly and polite even in the case of tough questions being asked by the journalist
- Don’t become aggressive or defensive – remain civil
- If a question has not first been approved and is not on the provided list, state that you are not authorised to speak on that topic but someone will get back to the journalist about it
- Don’t overstate even if encouraged to
- If the journalist misinterprets what you said, correct them
As a tech startup, you want your business to be seen in a positive light by potential customers, employees and investors. You also want to built a positive brand image. Media interviews and publications are definitely a way in which to do this. Remember to never say anything to a journalist that you don’t want to see in print, and just assume that anything you say will be published and traced back to you!
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