Our agency conducts hundreds of media trainings each year and we’ve seen it all from the good—to the bad—to the ugly. Media interviews are the icing on any successful public relations campaign. However, when not handled correctly, they can lead to misunderstandings, like terrible pull away quotes, and leave you feeling unsatisfied in the way you positioned your company. Here are several quick tips to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward during your next media interview.
1. Do Your Research. Avoid Panic.
One of the biggest challenges we see with C-level executives is their tendency to be overly confident and not prepping before interviews. It’s imperative to do your homework in advance by setting aside time to research the media outlet and reporter you will be speaking with, as well as familiarizing yourself with their recent articles. This includes looking over and following their social media accounts (pre-following the reporter’s accounts makes it easier to tweet them a thank you afterwards—see below.) Lastly, take a walk in the reporter’s shoes and Google yourself and your company—what’s out there for the world to find? You don’t want to be caught off-guard by any recent coverage of your company (or you).
2. Practice Makes Perfect.
You wouldn’t go into a business meeting without having a firm grasp on what you’re planning to discuss, so why would you treat an interview the same way? We see it time and time again, and the old adage holds true: practice really does make perfect. This is your chance to plug your company’s key messaging—take the time to nail your elevator pitch—if you can’t clearly explain what your company does in 10 words or less, it’s time to cut it down. You want to leave reporters asking for more, not giving them the whole enchilada in the first 30 seconds of a meeting.
The majority of reporter questions can be simple to predict, especially when the focus of the interview has already been established. Ironically, the questions that tend to trip people up most often are the most commonly asked questions: “Tell me about yourself/ your company”, “Who are your competitors?”, “Where do you see the industry headed in the next five years?”. Having your answers down to these basics will ensure a smooth transition into the real focus of the interview.
3. Ditch the Sales Lingo.
There’s a time and place for sales and marketing language. The boardroom? Yes. During an interview with Forbes? No way. It’s a natural inclination to be sales-y when describing your company, if that’s what you’re used to, but try to look at your story from the reporter’s perspective and channel what their audience will find interesting. What isn’t commonly known? What is provocative? Focus on one or two aspects of your company that will resonate.
4. Be Prompt.
Life happens. Interviews sneak up in the hustle of busy days but nothing screams, “I am more important than you” like running late for an interview with a reporter. I’m not talking about the occasional lateness—I am talking to the routinely late for everything /9:00 means 9:15 type of people—you know who you are. Don’t let meetings surprise you—be sure to keep your calendar up-to-date. A best practice is to review your calendar at the end of each day and again first thing in the morning so you have time to prepare both mentally and physically. There’s a lot of background work that goes into securing an interview so please be respectful of the reporter’s time and be prompt to avoid embarrassment.
5. Avoid “No Comment”.
More often than not, it is best to answer a reporter’s question in one form or another. The answer of “no comment” makes you look guilty, everyone thinks of OJ Simpson (side note: in case you have been living under a rock, I highly recommend checking out The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story). Leaving a question unanswered turns the interview into a game of fill-in-the-blank—“What is the worst possible scenario I can plug in here instead?” For most companies, the question that is going to prompt you to want to say “no comment” is one of revenue.
Reporter: “What were your revenue numbers for 2015?”
You: “No comment.”
“No comment” makes it look like your company is broke. The reality is, you’re privately held, you’re not sharing revenue numbers, whatever it may be, but the public assumption is always going to be the worst-case scenario.
The best way to avoid “no comment” is to learn to pivot. Sticking with the revenue example you could say instead, “ We don’t share that information publicly but what I can tell you is throughout 2015 we saw a growth of 200% and signed ABC and DEF partners”. This way you aren’t shutting the reporter down; you are giving them something to report on without putting yourself or the company in jeopardy.
We recommend that all clients practice their pivots to any question their gut reaction is going to be to answer “no comment.” Need assistance? We are here to help!
6. Sharing is Caring.
Congrats—you nailed your interview! Once the story runs, the best “thank you” a reporter can receive is for you to share the story on your social media channels. It not only gives the reporter affirmation for their work but also increases story views.
As excited as you may be, avoid sending a gift. It makes the reporter feel like their work is transactional and makes for an awkward relationship.
If you have an interesting interview story— good or bad — we’d love to hear it!