Media interviews are the key to really exciting coverage opportunities. However, the prospect of talking to a journalist can be a bit nerve jangling.
What will they ask you? What happens when you don’t know the answer? What if you say something you shouldn’t?
These are all valid concerns and shared by the majority of people meeting with the media for the first time, as well as seasoned professionals.
While there are certainly horror stories of share prices savaged and brand reputations destroyed, the reality is the majority of your media engagements are likely to be positive experiences that deliver the coverage you’re hoping for.
The worst thing that you can do is squander the opportunity.
Here are 10 golden rules to keep you on the straight and narrow and help you get the most out of your media interviews.
1. The ‘Be Prepared’ Rule
Like anything in life, the better prepared you are, the better the outcome. When you don’t prepare for your media interviews, you risk wasting this golden opportunity. Don’t try and wing it. The better prepared you are, the better the interview will be and the better the resulting coverage.
Rehearse your key messages. Prepare for obvious questions and prepare for difficult questions. Be clear of the issues you can talk about and the ones that you can’t. Identify red flags and ensure you have a strategy that enables you to avoid getting drawn into discussions that could be detrimental to your image and to that of your company.
2. The ‘Rule of 3’
Science tells us that people are only able to retain and recall three things from any interaction. Journalists are no different. Identify the three most important things that you want to get across during the briefing and refer back to them constantly.
To paraphrase Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People – ‘Tell them, tell them what you told them and then tell them again.’
3. The ‘Attention Span’ Rule
We are all time deprived, journalists more than most. They have obscene workloads and work to extremely tight deadlines. They don’t have time to shoot the breeze or suffer waffle. To get the most out of a journalist be clear and concise in your message, steer clear of jargon and try not to be over technical.
Keep it simple and straightforward.
4. The ‘Me Me Me’ Rule
While engaging with the media is an excellent way of raising the profile of your business, you are not the primary concern of the journalist. They have accepted the interview because they believe that you have something to say that will benefit their readers, viewers or listeners (depending on the style of interview you are engaged in).
When talking about your company and what it does, talk in terms of the problems that you help your customers overcome and the goals you enable them to achieve. It will give both the journalist and their audience a frame of reference for understanding what you do and why they should take notice.
5. The ‘Bold Claims’ Rule
It’s our fault really.
In an attempt to make our clients look and feel important PR people use language that they believe will turn the heads of journalists. So now it seems that every company is a leading this or a leading that. Journalists have had enough and phrases like ‘industry leading’ are at best ignored or worst annoy.
If you are going to make any kind of claim, you need to be able to back it up with some sort of evidence.
6. The ‘Font of All Knowledge’ Rule
Do you remember when you were at school and the teacher asked you a question that you couldn’t answer? How did it make you feel? What did you do?
Most of us likely tried to give some sort of answer feeling it was far better to get a titter from the rest of the kids for giving a stupid response, than suffering the shame of not answering at all.
This is not a good strategy for media interviews. What you say in an interview is not going to be tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapper. It will live forever online.
You are not expected to know everything. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Let the journalist know that the question is an important one and that you will come back to them with the answer later.
This strategy works just as well for TV and radio interviews as it does for press interviews. The media can always provide the answer to their viewers and listeners on their website following the aired interview.
7. The ‘Take a Breath’ Rule
Earlier I said that journalists don’t have a lot of time and this is true. However, this does not mean that you have to rush to get your answers out.
The best interviewees are not those that can answer the quickest but those who come across as considered and knowledgeable. In fact the most powerful way of showing someone that their question is important to you is to take the time to think about the answer you are going to give.
8. The ‘Off the Record’ Rule
Do you remember when you were a kid playing ‘It’ in the playground? You’d give yourself a make believe injection to give you immunity from being ‘Itted’.
Many believe that saying off the record has a similar effect. That there’s some sort of media code, which makes the information you are about to impart confidential. Unfortunately this is not the case. Anything you say to a journalist can and will be used.
Nothing is ever off the record. Not ever. Never!
9. The ‘Silence is Golden’ Rule
Nobody likes a gap in a conversation. It makes us feel uncomfortable and so most of us feel compelled to fill it.
Journalists know this and use it to get information out of the interviewee that they wouldn’t normally get. Don’t get sucked in. Once you’ve answered a question to your satisfaction, remain quiet until the journalist has asked their next question.
Let the journalist fill a silence.
10. The ‘Bridging’ Rule
Just because you are asked a question doesn’t mean that you have to answer it. There are times when you legitimately can’t go into a subject brought up by a journalist, e.g. confidentiality, competitive information, when something is still being investigated, etc.
Bridging is a technique that allows you to avoid answering the question you’ve been asked and restate a key message. You are well within your rights to say something like,‘I’m not able to talk about that issue at this time but what I can say is…’