Tips for Local Leaders Speaking to the Local Media

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Mid adult Caucasian man is raising his hand to ask a question during a speech at city council meeting or local political rally. Speaker is pointing at him from podium.

Local elected and appointed officials play a key role in keeping citizens informed and building confidence in the community’s ability to recover and build back stronger. Work with incident command’s chief Public Information Officer (PIO) and use these tips to maximize the effectiveness of your messages to impacted residents.

Communicate the efforts that are being made and resources being used.

  • Constituents want to see tangible efforts being taken by the local government; it is your job to keep them updated on the city, town and county resources being made available.

Provide care and concern.

  • The community wants to hear empathy and compassion from their local elected officials; leave the logistics and details of recovery to incident command.

Stick to the facts.

  • Be prepared for questions from the media that ask you to speculate on the situation as it unfolds.
  • Avoid speculation; if you don’t know an answer, stick to the facts of what you do know.
  • Inform them that you will provide answers as information comes in.

Make sure community members are aware of the hazards.

  • Remind community members who want to volunteer that you are grateful for their efforts, but that they need to be safe themselves.

Set something up early and regular.

  • Work with incident command to schedule regular press conferences and make an effort to schedule them in time for local media to meet their deadlines for the 10 p.m. news. Staying ahead of the media prevents them from seeking information from less reliable sources.

Establish an approval process for press releases. 

  • All information released to the media should be vetted to through the local elected or appointed official. Coordinate with agencies who will be releasing material to the media to establish press release guidelines and a submission process for approval.

Practice with your Public Information Officer.

  • Hold a dry run of what you will say during a press conference with incident command’s chief PIO.
  • Practice speaking in 5- to 8-second soundbites; this is how the media typically clips their video.

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