My first instruction about the media came three years ago at the first Robert Dover Horsemastership Week. Mary Phelps of Dressage Daily told us about some of the potential strengths and weaknesses we might have when dealing with the media. Some of the advice seemed straightforward. She said to always smile, give basic information like your name and your horse’s name. We practiced doing some interview questions. I was really excited by the idea that someday I might get to experience being asked questions by a journalists. One of the things I took to heart that first year was when Mary said to be interesting. She said that journalist hear the same things over and over, “I love my horse.” “He did a great job.” Yes, you want to be gracious and thankful but also give them something to write about. It is hard to come up with new and interesting articles and topics. However, I can tell you from experience that being ‘interesting’can work both for you and against you! Do not be too interesting! This I have been told is one of my problems. I tend to over share or wander off topic. I am a very open person and I like to talk. This is a benefit sometimes because it helps me to meet people and learn new things. It also means I sometimes talk too much! I noticed this tendency the most when my best friend Genay and I did a recent interview together. She is very good at answering questions. She leaned forward, she made eye contact. She thought through her answers and was to the point. I was leaning back in my chair or leaning forward and using my hands to gesture in an animated way. I sometimes got into a story and forgot what the question was that led me to the story. But my style has its strengths too, it makes me very personable and relatable. I need to rein in more and maybe Genay can relax more. (That is another great thing about making such great friends at this event. You learn from each other.)
Another way to see what to do or not to do in interviews is to watch some of them. They interview all the NAJYRC Gold Medal winners so there are lots of examples on youtube. There are even ones of multiple riders together which gives you good contrast on styles. Watch them. See the strengths and weaknesses of all the interviewees. The youtube fun chat with Devon, Jamie and I after the Young Rider award ceremony is a really good example. One thing I was embarrassed about right away is none of us knew our regions! So I learned after that question to be prepared! Know your stuff. Know your region, your city, your horse and even the city you are competing in. I was once asked in a radio show what I liked to do outside of the KHP in Lexington. I hadn’t really been anywhere or seen anything so I tried to wing it. It turned out ok but it could have been better! I said seeing the caves because there was a small cave at the place we rented. I commented I didn’t know Kentucky had caves. Well most of you know they have many giant famous caves! So I sounded a little silly on that one.
Another problem I have encountered is in not thinking about how things might sound to others. I might joke about how I would starve to death in a pile of my own dirty laundry if it wasn’t for my grandmother. To my grandmother and I this is a personal inside joke and lets her know how much I appreciate her living with me. To others it might seem like I am lazy or inept. I do laundry. I know how. It is just a joke but things might not seem the same to others. So be careful. If you think a question might be tricky or you need to think about your answer; take a second. Adjust your mic. Drink your water. Take off your gloves. Do something that gives you time to think before you speak again.
Don’t be upset if you get misquoted. It happens all the time. Also don’t get upset if they don’t tell that little anecdote you told or they didn’t list your sponsors. Journalists don’t have space to write your thank you list. Lists of sponsors are boring and not news. They have a job and they need to makeinteresting articles that draw attention. Make sure you mention your sponsors in your interview but don’t expect to control what gets printed. You can try to get sponsors in with photos. For example, ask to have the interview at the barn. Have the banner on the stall door, the hat on your head and feed the cookie to your horse as you talk about why they are his favorite. Another way is to try to include your sponsor as part of the exciting story. I remember the only time I think my sponsor’s name got in an article was when I was asked what was going through my head after my first gold medal win as a Junior. My answer was that I was thinking “Thanks mom, Thanks Dad, Thanks Schleese!” These types of quotes might get printed because they are part of the story.
Another thing I have been told to work on this last year is to try to turn to the conversation to the points I want to make. I need to learn to not be passive in my interviews. Use the questions to state your points or agenda. For example, I need more horses to ride. So whenever I can work that into the question, I need to. Like when I am asked about my long term or short term goals. The media is there to do a job but they also love our industry and they want to support us so they are also a tool to help us.
This year at the RDHMW Ken Braddick of Dressage News spoke to our group. He gave us some very practical advice about the media. Again it seemed to be very straight forward. They have a job to do. They love our sport and are not paid a lot, if any money to do that job. Be respectful. Be open and courteous. If they ask for an interview or a quote work with them. It might not be the best time as you are heading in to the warm up but don’t be rude. Give them alternatives. I can’t talk now but let’s do lunch Friday. We have to see the media as a positive tool to help us build our industry and our careers. They are not the enemy. They can be invaluable friends. I can tell you even before the clinic this year I realized this. I try to stay in touch and show the media my gratitude. I send them emails, notes and even Christmas cards. I sometimes send them stories I have written that they might use. I try to always be grateful and receptive and when something is really amazing and well written, I let them know. Everyone likes to be noticed for doing a great job. We like the pats on the back for our 70s. They like “Hey, well written. I really enjoyed the piece.”
Finally, Ken noted that in comparison to Europe and other place we often don’t treat the media well. (I think this might be true of how we treat judges too!). We make them stand in the long lines to get food; we don’t give them special seats or a spot in the shade. We make it difficult to get passes to get in to talk to riders. This, Ken argued, was not the best advice to help to grow our sport in the US. The journalists have 100’s of thousands of readers. The more we can interest a broader audience in our sport and our riders the better off we all are. So the next time you are at a show and you see a member of the press or a judge, be kind. Smile. Ask if they need anything. Show them how much we appreciate their work and efforts!