Four Tips to Help You Own Your Next Media Interview
Company spokespeople have one common goal: wanting to tell their organization’s story in a way that resonates with their customers. Done correctly, media interviews can be an ideal vehicle for achieving that goal.
Unfortunately, they’re not always done correctly. I’ve run into more than one person who feels that the reporter they just spoke with had an agenda, or was trying to trap them, or even had a bias against their organization. In many cases, however, the tone of those interviews was not set by the reporter, but by the spokesperson. They may have been unprepared, or overly promotional when the reporter needed a subject matter expert. Sometimes they’d get flustered when the reporter asked them a question they did not know how to answer. I’ve even had instances where spokespeople responded to questions with one-word “yes” or “no” answers, without any additional context (very uncomfortable!).
Reporters are, by and large, decent people who are just trying to do their jobs. Those jobs involve coming up with unique angles or story ideas that help inform their readers about a particular topic. Then, they interview spokespeople to support their stories. They’re not out to play “gotcha!” In fact, most are genuinely interested in the products, services, and perspectives their interviewees have to offer, as long as they’re of interest to their readership.
Therefore, the media should not be viewed with antipathy, but as a conduit of opportunity. Interviews provide a chance for spokespeople to get their thoughts and messages out in a very unbiased way that can help win business.
However, it’s up to you – the spokesperson – to take steps to make sure that the interview is effective and goes the way you want it to go. Because, at the end of the day, you can control the exchange that takes place between you and the reporter – and the message that results from that exchange.
Here are some tips to help make that happen:
1. Do your homework
Prior to any interview, REQ account teams supply their clients with a host of information to help them prepare for their conversations with reporters. These typically take the form of briefing sheets that include all the information you’ll need to get ready to drive the conversation. They include everything from the reporter’s background, to the pitch that got them interested, to sample stories that the reporter has recently published. These sheets will also likely include suggested key messages to focus on during the interview.
Read this information carefully. Take the time to digest it. Get a feel for where the reporter is coming from. In short, do your homework before you get on the call, so you can be well prepared to manage the conversation.
2. Steer the interview
I once worked with a media trainer who kept talking about “islands.” He wasn’t referring to a vacation destination; he was talking about the key messages you want to focus on during your interview.
These messages – the things you really want to drive home to your customers – are your islands. Whenever you feel the reporter or yourself getting off course, go back to your islands. If the reporter asks you something that seems too far afield from what you want to say, by all means, answer the question – but, if possible, find a way to tie it back to your messages. Don’t get flustered or off track. Instead, steer the conversation back to your islands. Use those safe places to control the interview.
3. Be informative
Although the goal behind most interviews is to promote your company or a new product or service, it never hurts to offer some insightful industry commentary and personal perspective. It can help build your credibility in the eyes of the reporter, and make them more likely to go back to you in the future if they need an expert opinion on a particular topic.
Be careful, though. First, do not say anything that you do want to see appear online, and remember the golden rule: there’s no such thing as “off the record.” Second, try to tie your opinions back to your messages. This shows that you’re informed and trusted without going too far astray from the main intent of the interview.
4. Drive home your main message
At the conclusion of the interview, most reporters will often ask, “Is there anything else you want to cover that I haven’t asked about?” It’s easy to get stumped here, but your approach should actually be pretty simple.
This is where you can really drive home your primary message. Think of it as the closing statement in an article or white paper. It’s the big wrap-up, the one point you want your customers to take home with them. Even if it’s a point you’ve already covered, use this opening as a chance to cover it again. And if it hasn’t yet come up during the conversation, definitely bring it up now. It’s your last and best chance to reinforce to the reporter and their readers the main thing you want them to know.
With that, I’ll leave you with my main point. Don’t approach an interview with trepidation or an axe to grind, and don’t be defensive. Instead, focus on the opportunity at hand – a unique and effective way to reach your customers.