Use the Media to Tell Your Story

The media is a powerful tool for telling your business story, but you have to use it wisely. At the National Association of REALTORS®’ Leadership Summit in Chicago on Tuesday, Don Cunningham, managing director of global PR firm Burson-Marsteller, talked about how real estate practitioners can hone their messages and stay on point during media interviews.

“Stick to your story,” Cunningham told hundreds of REALTORS® attending the summit. “You have to be of the mind-set that I’m going to continue to talk about what I came here to talk about.” Reporters will try to steer you off course into other subjects that you may have not been prepared to talk about, he warned. Here’s Cunningham’s game plan for successfully navigating an interview:

Determine three key talking points. Before the interview, pick three items that are central to the story you want to tell — and don’t go off-topic. “The interview is not a good place for original thinking,” Cunningham said. “It’s a place where you repeat back things you have prepared.” When you have your talking points, make sure to support them with facts and figures, examples, third-party support, and “quotable language” — or powerful words that are likely to be quoted by the reporter, Cunningham said. Note: Keep it concise and on point. “You don’t win by monologue,” Cunningham said. “You win by staying focused.”

Control the interview. Cunningham suggested the technique of “bridging,” or forcing your own transitions from one subject to another, during an interview. Saying things like “let me go back to the point I was making” or “this is what I think is important” can keep the interview focused on the story you want to tell if the reporter goes off-topic. Remember why you’re giving an interview in the first place, Cunningham said. “You do it because you have the passion to tell the story, and bridging will help you focus on that story.”

Put emphasis on the most important details. Another interviewing technique Cunningham pointed out is “flagging.” This means putting particular emphasis on a talking point you want people to remember. Say something like, “If there’s one thing I want people to walk away understanding, it’s this…” You can be sure they’ll remember it, Cunningham said.

Don’t make these mistakes. There are a host of missteps you can make in an interview that have the ability to sink the message you intended to get across, Cunningham said.

Don’t speculate: “If you begin to speculate, you can end up anywhere,” Cunningham said. If you feel that a reporter is leading you into territory you’re not solid on, use bridging to steer the reporter back to your message. Most times, you won’t be met with resistance, Cunningham said.

Don’t say “no comment”: Those two words have a tendency to insinuate that the sentiment of a curveball question is true. Instead, say “that’s a better question for someone else,” or use language that doesn’t appear to shut the question down harshly.

Avoid personal opinion: As a REALTOR®, you speak for NAR, Cunningham said. Stick to messages that align with the organization’s overall goals. It will lend greater credibility to the REALTOR® brand.

Don’t repeat negative words: Cunningham used the example of a reporter who might hit a company mired in a scandal hard by asking, “Isn’t it true your products are ripping off people?” Your answer, Cunningham noted, should never begin: “No, our products are not ripping off people.” By repeating the phrase “ripping off people,” you are continuing to put the negative out there for people, even if you’re trying to defend against it.

Be yourself. Finally, Cunningham encouraged REALTORS® to simply “be somebody who knows how to freely give messages.” Don’t try to be somebody else when you’re in the spotlight. People want to hear from you.

Graham Wood

Graham Wood is a senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at

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  1. Putting emphasis on details is very important so that the message will properly be delivered. Giving out persona comments and opinions should be discouraged

  2. I am sure all these tips are great advise but seems to me one may come of a bit rehearsed and robotic. Isn’t I live speech supposed to be thought provoking and inspirational? I think personal opinions and speculation have there place. Just my opinion.

  3. Agree with Scott 100%. If you are one way pretty much just focused on what you want to hopefully get out on the table it is like reading a teleprompter. Not a two way, evolving story. It is an information with yes men nodding head yes men. The conversation, interview can stay focused but you need to answer questions from the side that build to what’s on your index cards in the blazer pocket. That show you know the topic, have passion, but like a blog post comment thread, the real story often is like an iceberg. Below in the comments posed from questions asked by the media.

    Worked in broadcasting did a lot of interviewing before this 33 year of real estate career. That’s journalism. You are hinting at a press release approach. Does no work today. The interviewer asks the questions needing to be posed, what is tweeted, their followers want for full access. Open discussion is transparency, builds trust, authority, credibility.