It's flattering that the media has noticed your work – and you’d love the notoriety. But following that initial pride, your reaction might be (not necessarily in this order):
What if I blow it?
What if they ask me a hard question I can’t answer?
And, omigod, do I really need this headache when I have a business to run?
If this all sounds far too familiar, you’ve probably realized the need to be media prepared. That’s a good thing. After all, most people forget that a media interview is actually an opportunity – to say what you want to say. You just have to know how to take control.
You’ve probably noticed that some companies and spokespeople are successful with the media – and some are not. The reason? Some folks better understand how the media works and how best to work with the media.
So, what is the media interested in? news, news and more news. And what is news? Something that’s a first, a trend, unusual or unique, something populated with celebrities, kids or dogs, and oh, of course, something that has a lot of money associated with it. So, if you think like a reporter, your job becomes understanding your business in a way that you can communicate news to the media.
What do you need to know to be prepared? Well, first off, you really need to know your company, your product, your industry and your business’ success stories. Know the medium you’re talking to (TV is different from radio which is different from print and online). Know your audience. But, most of all, have three key messages. And make sure, no matter what, you communicate those three key messages.
Which group of people is a great role model when it comes to communicating key messages? Most would say “politicians. ” Politicians know that no matter what they’re asked, they’re going to communicate their key messages – and consistency is the key to success in articulating their position.
What should you never do in an interview? Never say “no comment. ” (sounds like you’re avoiding the issue); never repeat a negative question or phrase (that only reinforces the negative); never use industry jargon (people don’t understand it); never go “off the record” (nothing is ever off the record); never lie; and never attack competitors (you can always take the high road instead).
Here’s an interview checklist:
A. An interview is a basic tool of news gathering, not a conversation. Think of it as a formal debate
B. The reporter interviews a subject in search of news, not to further a company’s reputation
C. Do your homework. Read the reporter’s articles and his publication prior to the interview
D. Anticipate key questions
E. Prepare key answers
F. Identify your three key messages and make sure to deliver them no matter what!
G. Practice, practice, practice!
When should you respond to an interview? Keep in mind that media is deadline-driven, so when a reporter calls, it’s important to get back in a timely fashion. But if the reporter catches you unprepared, it’s perfectly acceptable to say you’re on the run and can you call back? Ask for the deadline and respond within the timeframe. Working with the media is all about relationship-building: once you create positive ones, you need to communicate on an ongoing basis, through good times and bad. But remember: sometimes you’ll want to participate in an interview and sometimes you won’t – and that’s OK.
So, what are the keys to a successful interview?
1. Develop and practice your three key messages
2. State your objective at the beginning of the interview
3. If asked an unrelated question, bridge to your key messages
4. Provide support for your objective
5. Summarize your thoughts
6. Stop talking!
It’s important to recognize that it takes time and experience to develop cogent and persuasive key messages. Each spokesperson needs to practice key messages continuously – that’s where media training can be extremely helpful. Getting the media interested in your message is an art, not a science. Developing helpful media contacts takes time. And developing messages is a process in and of itself.
Let’s go back to that original call from the media. Peter King (not his real name, of course) calls from the New York Times. What do you do? Peter King: Hey, Joe, it’s Peter King from the Times. Got a minute?
Joe Canoli: Actually, Peter, you’ve caught me a bad time, I’m running out the door. What’s on your mind?
Peter King: I’m doing a trend story on successful small businesses and wanted to spotlight your company.
Joe Canoli: I’d love to talk with you, what’s your deadline?
Peter King: Sometime tomorrow would be fine.
Joe Canoli: Great, Peter. I’ll get my facts together and let’s talk at 11 a. m. tomorrow?
Peter King: Good, see you then.
Congratulations! You’ve made your first media friend! And 15 minutes can stretch into a lifetime.
David Landis is President of Landis Communications Inc. (http://www.landispr.com ), a San Francisco-based public relations agency that provides a broad range of services, including: media training, public relations, media relations, community relations, special event services, positioning, messaging, media tours, promotions and internal communications.