Some people prepare for a media interview in the same way they cram for an exam—they read up on the subject, gather every shred of information available, and try to memorize it in the hope that the questions they’re asked will fall into their range of knowledge.
You can never prepare effectively that way. Former NBC News correspondent Richard Valeriani said: “The essential purpose of an interview is to present a point of view or to deliver a set of messages. It is not merely to answer a reporter's questions.”
“Messaging” is essential in any communication with the media, whether it be a news release, statement via e-mail, or an interview. It gives DPAs the opportunity to shape a deeper discussion.
A successful interaction with the press should not be measured in column inches or the length of a television news story. Instead, it should be measured by whether or not it captured your key messages.
Messaging Case Study
Let’s take a look at how effective messaging can change a conversation about the Church. During Mitt Romney’s presidential run there were thousands of articles being written about Mormonism, many of them with erroneous information about the Church’s doctrine and beliefs. It was challenging for political journalists, who were not familiar with religious faiths, to try to boil down what Mormons believed in a paragraph or a 10-second sound bite.
Instead of being asked what Mormons believed, Public Affairs found itself in the unenviable position of repeatedly commenting on what members of the Church did not believe. Consequently, the resulting articles did little to foster understanding about our faith.
Public Affairs realized it was important to help journalists understand from their own perspective how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fits into the religious mosaic.
Public Affairs started with determining what Mormonism had in common with other Christian faiths and then focused on important differences. The following messages were intended to help foster understanding of Church doctrine and beliefs. Notice the focus on Jesus Christ, the Bible, humanitarian service, the Restoration, and the Book of Mormon—all foundational principles for Church members.
Common ground with other Christian churches:
- We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and our personal Savior.
- We try to model our lives on His teachings.
- We commemorate Christ’s sacrifice in our Sunday worship services—equivalent to communion in other churches.
- We embrace as fellow Christians all who believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and the Savior of all mankind, regardless of doctrinal differences.
- We believe in the Holy Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.
- We regularly join with people of many faiths to address humanitarian and other needs in the United States and around the world.
Differences from other Christian churches:
- The Church is not Catholic or Protestant, but holds a unique place in the Christian world as restored New Testament Christianity. The “latter-day” Church, like the original Church in Christ’s day, is also led by apostles, served by a lay ministry, and emphasizes service and good works.
- Along with the Bible, we use other scriptures, including the “Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” which serves as an additional witness to the ministry of Christ and His divinity.
- The Book of Mormon and our other scriptures add to our understanding of God and His plan of salvation for His children. We believe the family is eternal and that we will return to live together with our Father in Heaven. We believe that we will return to live with Him and continue to grow and progress after we leave this life.
Meet our people
- One of the best ways to understand what Latter-day Saints are about is to get to know them. You’ll see how faith influences our lives and how we embrace values and beliefs that are familiar to other people of faith.
- Our weekly Sunday services in tens of thousands of church buildings worldwide are open to everyone, regardless of whether they are members of the Church and without any obligation.
- Visitors find much that is familiar and comfortable in our Sunday worship services. (Briefly review lay ministry; hymns, including some traditional Christian versions; men, women, and teenagers speaking from the pulpit; how the sacrament—analogous to communion—is prepared and passed; and the extemporaneous nature of our prayers. Point out the absence of elaborate ornamentation and icons, no kneeling as a congregation. and no congregational recitals or repetition common to other faiths.)
- It’s in the everyday lives of Latter-day Saints where you can see firsthand the way in which their values are reinforced—honesty, integrity, care for the needy, and strong marriages and families in which love, trust, nurturing, and personal growth for parents and children flow from mutual commitment and acceptance.
Every time Public Affairs received an inquiry about Church beliefs, journalists were referred to these messages on newsroom.lds.org, giving media a foundation from which to ask questions about the Church. This allowed Public Affairs to be proactive and accurately inform journalists about Church beliefs in a positive way rather than simply react to misinformation being reported by others.
Crafting Key Messages
Every message should link back to the core belief that we follow Jesus Christ. For example, if asked why the Church engages in humanitarian efforts, a key message could be: “We follow the example of Jesus Christ in reaching out to those in need.” If asked why the Church conducts missionary work, the key message could be: “We are motivated to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to bring peace and happiness to others.”
Additional key messages can and should relate to the specific inquiry from a reporter. Let’s say a reporter is calling about the dedication of a new temple. Before information is given or an interview takes place, consider what your primary objective is. (see Interview Prep List) A sample objective might be to educate the general public about the purpose of the temple. Then ask yourself what headline you would like to see related to your story. A desired headline might be “New temple is dedicated as the House of the Lord.” This becomes your headline message that can be bridged to during media interviews (see Media Interviews).
Three secondary key messages can also be identified to support the headline message. These could be as follows:
- Latter-day Saint temples provide a place where Church members make formal promises and commitments to God.
- Temples are places where the highest sacraments of the faith occur—the marriage of couples and the “sealing” of families for eternity.
- Temples point Latter-day Saints to Jesus Christ and their eventual life with Him and their Heavenly Father, and with their family members on the condition of faithfulness to Christ’s teachings.
These messages should take center stage in any subsequent communication or interview with media concerning the new temple.
In addition to identifying key messages, DPAs should also make a list of anticipated questions the reporter might ask. Journalists will likely ask a wide range of questions, from those about the angel Moroni to why the temple is open only to members of the Church after its dedication. It’s important for your priesthood leader or other designated spokesperson to know how to positively answer these questions and inject key messages in the process.
Part of anticipating what a reporter will ask includes considering controversial issues and how they might be addressed. In the context of a new temple being dedicated, spokespeople should be prepared to answer a wide variety of issues in a positive way (see Responses to Controversial Issues).
For example, if asked why the Church is often perceived as secretive because of its temples, a good response might be as follows:
- Latter-day Saints welcome people of other faiths, and many attend Church services with them. Millions visit chapels and other Church facilities every year. We want to share our faith.
- A temple is different. Not even all Mormons enter the temple. These are the most sacred places on earth for Church members. They are reserved for the highest sacraments of the Church and are entered only by members of the Church who are fully engaged in the sacramental activities of the faith.
If asked about the purpose of proxy baptism, a positive answer might be as follows:
- For nearly 180 years, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have performed baptisms in Church temples on behalf of deceased relatives. The practice is rooted in the belief that certain sacred sacraments, such as baptism, are required to enter the kingdom of heaven and that a just God will give everyone who ever lived a fair opportunity to receive them, whether in this life or the next.
- Church members who perform temple baptisms for their deceased relatives are motivated by love and sincere concern for the welfare of all of God’s children. According to Church doctrine, a departed soul in the afterlife is completely free to accept or reject such a baptism—the offering is freely given and must be freely received.
Preparing properly for each media interaction by creating key messages, anticipating questions, and identifying negative issues will, in most cases, result in a positive outcome. The primary goal is to promote understanding and accurately reflect the Church and its teachings.
The Proper Title of the Church
Over the years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has carried many erroneous titles, such as LDS Church, Mormon Church and Latter-day Saints Church. However, as the exposure of the Church grows, it will become increasingly important to use the Church’s proper name when handling all matters relating to public affairs work. In a 2001 letter directed to priesthood leaders and members around the world, the First Presidency instructed, “As the Church grows across boundaries, cultures and languages, the use of the revealed name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is increasingly important in our responsibility to proclaim the name of the of the Savior throughout the world.” Other acceptable names are “the Church” or “the Church of Jesus Christ” as second references.
When speaking of members of the Church, the First Presidency asked that we first and foremost use the title “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and “Latter-day Saints” as a shortened version of the title. The term “Mormon” is acceptable but not preferred. This is only when referring to members of the Church and not the Church itself.
So, why is using the name “Mormon” such an issue when referring to the title of the Church? While it is what the general population recognizes, it does not represent us or our truest beliefs. As Christ Himself instructed, “How be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church … but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:8).
Using the name of Jesus Christ in the title of our Church and when speaking of its members is a declaration to those not of our faith that we follow Christ and seek to live His gospel teachings in all that we do. Please use the proper name of the Church when handling all Church business and in all public settings including media interviews, interfaith relations and community settings.