Media Tips: 10 Tips to Kill Your Next Media Interview
So you have a reporter that is ready to do an interview. Now is the time to shine, but you can’t just be smart, nor knowledgeable about the topic, you need to be so much more because you will have one chance to share your message and that’s it. You have to make this interview count! You have to give your best performance, your best media interview. Here are tips to help you enhance your skills, but if you want to do great on this and future interviews, work with a public relations professional.
“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” -Little Black Book
Be Prepared: Be sure to read up about the reporter! Do you know what type of questions they like to ask? Do they like anecdotes, or are they all about the numbers? Is this a long-form interview for a TV station that will run more than 3-minutes or do you have a minute at most? Is this a feature article in a trade publication? The more you know in advance, the better you will perform when it comes time to give the interview.
Don’t be like Ricky Bobby, know what you’re doing before you give the interview.
Ask Questions of the Interview in Advance. You can never have too much information before actually giving the interview, so be sure to get as much background information as you can. For instance:
- Will the interview be live or recorded? Or is the interview for a newspaper, blog, or magazine? If your spokesperson has confidence, a live interview provides a better opportunity to get your key message across and control the content! The reason is simple; if you allow a reporter to edit, they can make mistakes and edit the video that compromises your message.
- Who else will the reporter be interviewing? Will it be a competitor and analyst, maybe an unhappy customer or someone suing you. The more you know about where the story might go, the better you can prepare. You can ask, who referred you to me? Or, who else are you talking with?
- Ask what the story is about? You may have an idea in your head, but if they heard something different from what you think, you may be in for a big surprise. You want to know their angle. Whom are they defending? Who is the little guy? What compliment or complaint motivated the story? These questions all make it easier to prepare those answers, and it only takes seconds to ask these easy questions.
- Where will the interview be held? If the reporter is coming to see you, be sure to consider the environment that you work within. Who will be in the office visiting that day? If it is a negative story, make sure your logo isn’t in the background. Ask yourself if there is anyone or anything that could happen at the office that might detract from the interview. Likewise, if you go to a station or off-site location, make sure you put your best foot forward. Look behind you to make sure there are no garbage cans or other ugly things. If you know that you look better on the left side, show your best side. Unless you are will a very friendly reporter, you should do your best to make it happen, rather than asking for them to interview that side (you don’t want to look too pompous)
Write Your Messages Down: It doesn’t matter who you are; you need to write your messages down to ensure that you know them. The only exception, kind of, is if this is the 20th interview on the same subject, then you know your messages and are out there pushing them left and right. Remember your brand message; your mission, vision, and goals. If the interview goes sideways, which they often do in times of crisis, you can use your mission, vision, values, or recent positive anecdote to bridge away from the harder questions.
This initial research will help you anticipate the questions that the reporter might ask, and even more importantly, it will help you prepare responses. Now here is the hard part, you have a message that you want to get out, maybe as many as three. It’s your job to deliver your messages no matter what questions are asked.
Most reporters will allow you to have an opening statement before they begin with their questioning, so use it and make sure you have two or three minutes filled with your messages to shape the ensuing interview. At the end, when they ask do you have anything you would like to add, make sure you remind them, “I think the most important this is…”
Practice, Practice, Practice: Unless you give an interview or multiple every week, you need more practice! After you write your messages, write down all the questions that they might ask, now think about what the worst questions could be, now ask someone else to do the same thing and compare. Once you have your messages and the questions, you can practice them. Ask a staff member to play a reporter. Record the interview and see how you did. Now if you want to be good at it, ask a media expert to help you. That’s right find a reporter or PR guy that works specifically with people to nail their best interviews.
The only way to ever be good at doing media interviews is to practice. The most important tip of all is to practice over and over again. No don’t practice with an actual reporter; use your own staff resources or again find a PR pro to help you do your training.
Its Game Time
Be Concise: If you find yourself going on and on about how you determined the best color for your house and you just pulled out your color wheel to explain, you are long-winded! Be concise. Silence in the interview is not death. Think about the question and then, in a brief way, answer it to the best you can. If the reporter wants more detail they can ask. If you are long-winded, even if you actually say your message, what are the chances the reporter will have heard it well enough to include it on air or in the story?
Prove Yourself: So you think you’re ready to deliver those concise answers? Time yourself and see how it works out. Have someone ask you the question and have them use the timer. Now guess how long your response was. If your response was more than 45 seconds, you missed the point of be concise. Most interviews today have a soundbite of 10 seconds or less. If you can, try to be complete and brief for each question. If the answer is long, just let the reporter know upfront, this is complicated and break it into segments. Similar to this article, just break it down to categories, first came the number 1, followed by number 2…
Be Real: That’s right; after all that practice, you have to represent yourself and the company in the best light. So be real, if you are simply regurgitating your messages, you aren’t having a conversation, and it shows. If you are giving good news, but you just stubbed your toe, ask for a couple of minutes to walk it off. The audience on TV won’t understand why you look like you just cried when you are telling them about your terrific year over year profits. If the news is sad, say because someone died, you need to show that you’re sad. I can’t tell you how to show that you just can’t pull out the British stiff upper lip and get through it, you have to be in that moment and show that you care.
Negative Reinforcement: Sometimes, a reporter, whether on purpose or not, will ask a question in the negative, but here’s the thing, most of the time, the audience doesn’t hear the question, they only hear the answer, so don’t repeat the negative words. Answer the question by using encouraging or positive words to describe the situation. If you say, “My mother isn’t ugly…” because the reporter asked, “Why is your mother so ugly?” they are more likely to say in their story or worse in their headline, “Ugly Mother…” In opposition, you can say, “My Mom is beautiful inside and out!”
Don’t Say It; “No Comment:” My goodness if you have to read all this way to realize that I’m going to nail you to the wall if you say no comment, we got problems. Journalists hate it because they aren’t getting the answers, so why not put it on TV. They did their job; they asked the question. You were just a moron and said, “No comment.” If for some reason, you can’t answer, you can say things like I don’t know, or I will need to get back to you. If you do know, but you can’t answer because your boss said so, then you need to be ready to segway on to another topic.
Off The Record: What does off the record mean? If you share some juicy piece of information off the record, you are asking for trouble. Reporters can and do report anything that they hear, see or feel in the course of doing their job. They are not here to protect you, they are here to tell a story, hopefully fairly. It happens that reporters will misunderstand that you were off the record for this piece, but not that. If they ask for something off the record, politely write or say, I don’t feel right about going off the record, or I don’t have anything further to share, or I won’t go off the record.
10 O’Clock News
Measure Your Results: Once your story comes out, check to see what made it into the piece. If you hear your main message, congratulations, you killed it. If you only hear your third point, you probably have more work to do. If you’re not in the story, you need to get a professionals help to improve your messages, delivery, and relationships with the media.
In The End:
Do the research and preparation, the more you do, the better your interview outcomes. It’s our job as the folks who want to earn the media coverage to understand the needs of the reporter and the content that their audience demands. The better you can anticipate what will engage the outlets’ audience, the better the story outcome. Always try to make the reporter’s job easier, because, in the end, they are the ones that are helping you get your message delivered.
By Brian Murnahan