It’s amazing how many PIOs and senior management have trouble answering this seemingly benign question, especially when the image and reputation of your agency hang in the balance.

The key is to quickly identify your TRUE audience. The “real” audience is ultimately who you want to understand and accept what you’re saying. The reporter isn’t your true audience; the reporter is just a filter to communicate to your true audience.

The trick is “seeing” your true audience when talking to the reporter. Confused? Let’s say a 25-year-old reporter asks you about health tips for seniors.

When answering the question, “see” your grandparents, not the 25-year-old reporter. The answer you give will come out differently, and when the reporter quotes you, the older readers will hear the answer in a way they understand that appeals to them.

It’s also worth noting that you may have more than one audience. Who do you believe are the true audiences in the following scenarios?

1. You’re hosting a media event where a patient wants to thank the paramedics, EMTs and firefighters that responded to their emergency. Your agency likely has several true audiences, all of which you can talk to at the media event.

If you’re an ambulance provider that contracts with a municipality, the fire department is clearly one of your audiences. Holding the event without first asking and inviting the fire department to co-host and participate would likely create a major headache for your agency and would hurt your relationship.

Local elected officials and regulators are another set of audiences, and so are your employees. It’s rare for EMS to be recognized, so coordinating an event like this is generally viewed as a compliment and acknowledgement to all EMTs and paramedics, not just the crew who literally cared for the patient.

2. Your agency is teaching CPR to a classroom full of 8th graders.  Is your audience truly the students themselves? Is it the teachers at the school? Sometimes they are.  However, other times you perform the training because you were asked to do so by a local regulator or decision maker in the system.   For the training itself, you will talk directly to the students and teachers.  You also need to make sure your other TRUE audience knows what you did.

Identifying the true audience is even more important during a crisis or negative story. What if your agency had a poor response time that resulted in a bad outcome?  Your true audience is your regulators and elected officials, along with people in the general public that might fear you’ll have similar response time issues should they have an emergency.   Envision these key audiences, and talk to them, not the reporter.

The reporter might not like it, but they can only quote what you actually say, they can’t control how your true audience interprets your answer.

Here’s a final trick that will help.  Whenever possible, “view” someone you know when answering the question.  It’s a lot easier to talk to someone you know, than a stranger. You’ll come across more friendly and you’ll talk at the level your true audience expects.