- Posted by Semaphore
- On 14/09/2017
BY STAFF WRITER:
New spokespeople often worry they’ll slip up when speaking to media – especially as journalists seem to have the home advantage. “I’m a complete novice at these interviews,” one client said, “while this is what reporters do every day!”
But in the vast majority of cases, business owners don’t have to engage in a battle of wits with antagonistic journalists – unless you’re in a controversial industry sector, have just suffered a crisis, or are suspected of dubious practices. The real challenge is to make a good impression on jaded media who are served the same trite fodder each day.
How to deal with the media
When Carte Blanche’s investigative team requests an audience with you, it’s is usually a sign of trouble. Immediately get some crisis PR and intensive media training. For everyone else, here are five tips for better and more enjoyable interviews:
- Be prepared
Find out the general direction of the interview, who else they’re interviewing, and how they will use the information. Also, what are the circumstances around the engagement (they called you? You pitched them? They digging? You selling?) This will help you set your tone.
An interview is a performance and an opportunity to demonstrate your insight into the challenges the audience faces. Don’t be passive and uncreative – think of good ways to kick off an interesting conversation. What problem does your company solve, where did it all start, what are your overarching goals? Make sure you’ve eaten something beforehand, arrive ahead of time so you can get comfortable, warm up and be discreet (don’t bad-mouth the competition). And remember, it’s work. Don’t assume you have friends in the media.
Most importantly: Never go into an interview unprepared. Buy more time, or decline the interview. The right publicity is more important than publicity per se.
- Know who you are talking to
Your audience is not the media but rather their viewer, listener or reader. Research the medium and its audience so you can offer relevant insights to their problems. Also, know your journalists – ideally have read their work and refer to it if there are salient points to discuss.
To keep the journalist’s attention, identify three key points or messages you want to get across in the interview. Stick to them, and be ‘at home’ encapsulating these.
- Give good, pithy quotes
Once you’ve got your key messages, identify hard facts to support them (statistics are cool). Have a bold but balanced opinion and offer topical ideas that run against the tide or unveils a new truth.
To give the best quote, speak in complete sentences, incorporate the question into your answer, and lead with your conclusion followed by your reasoning – that is conclusion first, then how you got there. Keep it short and simple, drop all jargon and always refer to your brand.
Even better is if you could distill your quote into a good soundbite. This is a sentence, or two, or three that captures attention, delivers a message, and do so in a way that is sufficiently dramatic or witty to remain in your memory for a while.
For example, here’s asoundbite on data backup in the days before cloud and virtualisation became widespread: “Companies often put all their resources into developing Armageddon-style data protection plans. But they are wholly unprepared for the everyday data losses like when an admin with a hangover on a Monday morning accidentally deletes an important file.”
- Practice, practice, and practice!
Set up questions you think the media will ask – the good and the bad ones. Make sure you’ve seen the negatives, and have an answer for them. Get someone to ask you the difficult questions and practice the responses.
One technique is to answer the tough question concisely. But then, build bridges to link between the question and what you want to say: “But, however, on the other hand, as a matter of fact, in addition to that, let me add, what you really should know is…”
Stop talking when you have finished saying what you need to say. Filling the gap is a potential pitfall. And never go “off the record.” If you don’t want it repeated, don’t say it.
- Do not lie, evade or have an attitude
Don’t guess. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and offer to find the information and reply by a specific time, or refer them to another expert. You’re not expected to have the answers to everything.
Don’t cop a hostile, challenging, superior or arrogant attitude when the journalist isn’t a content expert in your field. They often cover many different beats. The ideal is telling your story so well that it’s even interesting to a completely uninvolved person.
Ultimately, media just want to tell a great story that will up their profiles, by the deadline, and then go home. The star spokesperson is someone who makes their job easier. If you make a constant investment in this process, it will pay dividends over time.
If you’re concerned about a specific challenge in media interviews, why don’t you let us know and we’ll help you tackle it.