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Letters to LLLI:
In the Public Eye

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35 No. 5, October-November 1999, pp. 117-118

Dear LLLI,

I enjoyed the article "Lights, Camera, Action" in the October-November 1998 issue of LEAVEN which reminded me of an experience I had about a year ago.

During a baby fair a woman from a local radio station came to our LLL booth and asked if someone from LLL could be interviewed immediately. I was the only Leader present and I felt a bit terrified by the idea. However, I didn't want to miss this opportunity to help mothers in our community learn about LLL. So I went along and did the interview with barely the time to take a deep breath! Perhaps I should have refused to be interviewed, considering my lack of preparation and limited experience with the media.

Afterward I thought how helpful it would be for Leaders to have tips on giving interviews, possible questions and suggested answers, to be somewhat prepared for such unexpected situations. Do such materials exist within LLL and what is LLLI policy on Leaders doing media interviews?

Christine DeSchepper
Wéris, Belgium

Dear Christine,

Thank you for your letter about handling interviews with the media. Opportunities like yours are wonderful for acquainting others with La Leche League and with the importance of breastfeeding. Sometimes Leaders are not comfortable with this type of publicity. Congratulations for overcoming your fears and taking the chance!

Here are some guidelines for Leaders who are in contact with the media. For an impromptu interview like yours, there is no chance to notify any support people, but, whenever possible, Leaders should remember to notify their Area Coordinator of Leaders before giving interviews. It is also a good idea to notify the Area Professional Liaison, as she will probably have information that will be helpful in preparing for the interview. According to the LEADER'S HANDBOOK (1998), reporters should never be invited to regular Series Meetings (pp 73-74). Areas and Affiliates may have additional guidelines, so Leaders will want to check on these as well.

When asked to do an interview, a Leader should consider whether she is the best person for the interview. For example, if she is being asked to comment on a new study, it might be a better idea to put the reporter in touch with a Professional Liaison Leader. If information is requested on the history of LLL in your Area, perhaps a long-time Leader is the best person. There are also instances where LLL would be better served if the Leader refuses the interview altogether.

Here are some tips for Leaders preparing for an interview courtesy of Cynthia Sherar and Betty Crase, LLLI Board of Directors, and Kim Cavaliero and Mary Lofton, from the LLLI Public Relations Department.

  • Respond with the same sensitivity as if you were talking to a pregnant mother at her first meeting who is not sure if she is going to breastfeed.

  • Ask for a list of interview questions ahead of time. Explain that you can provide better or more in-depth information for their audience if you know which topics will be of most interest.

  • Keep their audience in mind. Are they expectant mothers? Working mothers? Health care providers? Others? Gear your discussion toward that audience in length and depth of material.

  • Avoid the use of words like "success," absolutes like "always" or "never" or phrases such as "all mothers can breastfeed." These can be easily taken out of context.

  • Recognize that breastfeeding is an emotional subject for many people. You may be asked to comment on a current "hot" issue. Acknowledging concerns and responding in a positive manner will be more effective than ignoring or refuting these concerns.

  • Realize that interviewers may not know what to ask. Be prepared to lead them in a favorable direction if this appears to be the case. Have a specific agenda in mind, take the lead, tell LLL's story.

  • Do some background study, but don't let it overwhelm you. Read the pertinent material and then condense into a few crucial points that you can plan to include in your response.

  • State health benefits of breastfeeding succinctly. It's tempting to go on and on when a few well-stated facts can have more impact.

  • Put your best foot forward with attention to dress, grooming and attitude.

  • Consider whether your baby or toddler will be present and how that will be received by those interviewing and those in the audience.

  • Clarify the role of a La Leche League Leader and what services you offer.

  • Promote the public image of LLL by having appropriate resource names and phone numbers ready.

  • Go to an interview or health fair prepared with up-to-date information or statistics that might be requested, such as the number of Leaders or Groups in your Area.

  • Know the difference between your personal parenting and breastfeeding choices and LLLI philosophy, policies and procedures.

  • Share only what truly reflects the LLLI position and collective experience.

  • Quote directly from THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK, Facts About Breastfeeding, or other LLLI publications.

  • Instead of responding directly to questions such as, "How long did you nurse your baby?" it is better to say something such as "LLL recognizes that each nursing relationship is different and we encourage mothers to look for signs the baby is ready for solids or weaning," or "LLL encourages mothers to look at weaning, not as an event, but as a process that begins with the introduction of that first solid food and continues until the baby outgrows the need."

  • Rephrase as many times as necessary. If the reporter is really insistent, you may have to be more blunt, "We prefer not to share our own experience because we don't want mothers to feel they have to measure up to specific standards. Any amount of breastfeeding is a good start for a baby."

  • If you are unsure of the subject matter, feel "funny" about the questions being asked, or just aren't feeling confident, refer the reporter to a more experienced Leader. If it's a controversial issue, refer to the LLLI Public Relations Department, who will, in turn, work with or refer the questions to the Center for Breastfeeding Information, as appropriate.

  • Suggest that, in return for the interview, the journalist provide local contact information so the audience can reach LLL. Insist politely.

  • Set limits before the interview. For example, "LLL has no official position on the family bed, but I can explain a variety of ways parents handle nighttime feedings." Or "I'd be happy to do this interview, but I'd rather meet you at the restaurant than do it in my home."

  • Avoid conversations with reporters "off the record." Your comments may be used in their introduction to the piece or may be brought up by the reporter once the interview starts.

  • If you don't know the answer to a question, don't say "no comment." Say that you don't have the answer but that LLL has many resources and you can get back to them or suggest that mothers with a similar question contact an LLL representative who will have her resource materials at hand.

  • If you are asked to comment on a specific statement by another person or organization, check with that source before you respond. Don't assume the reporter is giving you accurate information about the subject in question or someone else's statement.

  • Invite the reporter to contact you when the article is written to verify any quotes they are going to attribute to you. They may or may not do it.

  • Don't insist on editorial control. It is rarely granted. Newspapers are under very tight deadlines. They will most likely consider this an unreasonable request and choose not to do the piece.

  • Smile!

Rule of thumb: Don't talk yourself out of it! Most interviewers want basic information and you know your stuff!

Judy Minami, US Western Division Professional Liaison Editorial Advisor, suggests that Leaders may also wish to read the following articles from LEAVEN: "Meet the Public: Tips for Giving LLL Interviews," Jul/Aug 1986, "Making Public Relations Work for You," Sep/Oct 1991, and "Sounding Off," Feb/Mar 1997, and "Who, Me? Speak in Public?," Dec 1997/Jan 1998. The first of these articles, "Meet the Public" contains several potential questions along with suggestions for responding to them. "Sample Radio Announcements" on page 289 of the LEADER'S HANDBOOK also includes some succinct statements that might be handy in an impromptu interview situation. These articles and pertinent pages from the LEADER'S HANDBOOK would also be useful for a Leader or A/CLA to share with a Leader Applicant when discussing outreach or explaining the role of the Professional Liaison Department or LLLI Public Relations Department.

I hope that these suggestions have given you some ideas to prepare for interviews. Best wishes and good luck with future public relations!

Anne Easterday
LLLI Board of directors

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