by Susan Shelby
Success! Your efforts to pitch your company as an industry resource or your project as a new design trend have final paid off. A reporter is interested in speaking with you and has requested a site visit, meeting, or conference call. You know speaking with the media is important, but now that you have your chance, you don’t know what to expect.
The most media-savvy firms view the media as a valued customer, another constituent of their marketing target audience. Just as you would research your “client personas” for marketing activities, you should know the reporters you are speaking with, the issues they write about, and the publications that cover your industry. Here are seven tips for preparing for and delivering a successful media interview.
- Preparation is key. Familiarize yourself with the publication and its target audience, and look up articles that the reporter or freelance writer has written. Do some light homework to put yourself at ease: check the publication website for writer bios and run a Google search, since many freelance writers work for a variety of publications.
- Ask questions – before the interview. Inquire about the kind of story the reporter is writing (is it a trends piece, case study, or executive profile, for example?) and what information you are being requested to provide during the interview. Many writers will cheerfully forward a list of questions or topics prior to an interview. Also, ask the writer if he/she needs background information. A smart reporter will prepare for the interview as well, and a project summary or company profile sent in advance can facilitate a more in-depth dialogue.
- Think about your key messages. Come to the interview with three strong messages that you would like to see in the article or hear on a broadcast, and hone them down to a concise sentence for each. Make them as positive as possible, and remember to repeat them more than once. Your messages should appeal to the publication’s readers. Why is the project interesting? What problems did the team solve? What are the key differentiators you hope to convey about your firm?
- Anticipate difficult questions. What are your answers to them? Pause before answering, and give yourself a moment to think before responding. Make sure you know what you want to say and then give a solid answer. Always answer truthfully and accurately. It’s reasonable to explain that some information cannot be shared, simply by saying, “I’m sorry but the client has asked us not to share project costs.” Remember “off the record” doesn’t exist, so anything you say is fair game.
- Keep your answers short. Let the reporter finish asking the question before you jump in to answer, and then keep your answers short. Shorter answers are always better than long-winded ones. Explain your story or project in a concise and interesting way, and don’t ramble. It is helpful to pause occasionally and ask the reporter, “Does that make sense to you?” to check that you are on the same page – and to give yourself a second to catch your breath. If the reporter has a follow-up question, they’ll ask. If something stated by the interviewer is slightly off, gently correct them so they don’t have to issue a correction later. If you do not know the answer to a question, admit it and offer to check on it and call back. Talk about what you do know.
- Take control of the interview. Bring the writer up-to-date on a trend or provide a snapshot of an issue. Maintain a friendly, helpful attitude regardless of the reporter’s approach. If a reporter asks you a question you feel is negative, make sure not to repeat that negative. Frame the reply with a positive, and bridge the conversation back to more comfortable topics and your key messages. Be sure to explain a project’s challenges and solutions, and what sets your firm’s approach part from others in the marketplace. Why did the client turn to your firm for help?
- Stay relaxed – it’s a conversation! Your body language and tone of voice can convey your discomfort, so remember this is not an interrogation. The reporter is genuinely interested in what you have to say – they did call you, right? – so take a deep breath and smile. And at the end of the conversation, encourage the reporter to call back if any clarification is needed.
Keep in mind that the reporter will not provide you with the article to review before it is published. Reporters rely on you to convey accurate and insightful information on topics you know, but the article is theirs to write. That is the way third-party validation of the press works. An interview that has gone well – and results in an enlightened and educated writer – will produce quality journalism that you’ll be proud to be quoted in.
Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is president and CEO of Rhino PR.