For any PR agency team, a major media interview for a company spokesperson is a solid win. Nothing is quite as rewarding as securing that one big interview, or even a series of them, if there’s high-profile news to share. At the same time, having a terrific media spokesperson who can nail the messaging, handle tough questions and make business or technical language accessible isn’t always easy.
While some executives are born to be media resources, and they’re every PR person’s dream. Less experienced leaders may need media training or informal coaching to showcase their subject-matter expertise and serve as an organization’s face and voice. They’re unlikely to be included in sites listing the worst interviews of all time, but most can use some help.
With that in mind, here are some tips for PR pros to help encourage a stellar media interview performance.
Know the reporter and outlet
Always start with the basics. It’s essential to research the media outlet and their audience, of course. Then move on to the journalist’s goals for the interview, their track record, and personality. Read about the reporters’ background, reporting beats, and previous stories to understand their approach and style. Study their social media to get a feel for personal opinions on issues, followers, and interests. If there are some commonalities between the reporter and the executive, it never hurts to reference them to break the ice. But don’t mistake a media interview for a social discussion. The reporter likely has one thing in mind – a good story.
Think through some interview questions.. but don’t count on them
Once the interview topic and duration are determined, spend time anticipating the questions the reporter will ask. While some may share general interview questions beforehand, don’t count on it. Bear in mind that despite what a reporter or producer tells you, questions might change during the course of the interview — especially if it’s about breaking industry news. Besides the specific topic, the PR team should always be mindful of prepping the execs about any hot-buttons or pressing industry questions to carve thoughtful insights and reinforce expertise. The PR team should also review past interviews with the spokesperson and be aware of all on-the-record comments, since those could come up again in a different context.
Stay on message and be concise
After gathering all possible details, it’s critical to prepare a comprehensive briefing doc, clearly laying out the key three to four messaging points for an executive spokesperson to reiterate and weave into their responses. We recommend that leadership set aside some time with their PR team to go over the messaging, rehearse the responses, identify any red flags and revise responses if needed. Reporters will have a hard time following if the overarching messaging is filled with complex or technical jargon. Maintain brevity and keep them simple, straight, and easy to understand. Long-winded responses typically fail to deliver the main point and lose everyone’s interest. Additionally, to make the story compelling, back it with supporting facts and data points.
A good example can help liven up any interview, particularly one about an abstract or technical topic, and a good story is worth a thousand words of jargon. But make sure the example is well prepared, relevant to the interview, and brief. It’s risky to launch into a story that hasn’t been road-tested before an audience.
Advise execs to be natural and not rush through the interview
Be it a print, digital or broadcast interview, PR pros should explain that an interview is a conversation between two people – something which is engaging and relaxed, yet professional and informative. Hence, the spokesperson should be succinct without losing attributes that make them unique and natural. Messaging and talking points should only be referenced to guide the interview response, not treated as scripted responses. The executive should be able to connect with the reporter, take a pause occasionally and check in to ask if they’re following through. Most journalists will do their own research ahead of time, but not everyone is an expert on the topic at hand. Expect them to ask questions that may require some extra explanation.
It’s okay not to know everything
No matter how prepared you are, sometimes reporters pose questions that don’t have ready answers. In that case, it’s fine to say, “I don’t have that information, but we’ll try to get back to you.” A good PR advisor will never let a spokesperson guess when it comes to facts or data. On the other hand, an informed opinion about a relevant business issue is always welcome.
Reflect and offer constructive feedback
Usually, a PR team member accompanies execs to interviews or staffs every client media interview. This is helpful for identifying areas where additional information is needed as well as constructive but candid feedback. Such measures are imperative to help solidify their position as industry experts and strengthen the client-agency relationship.
Plan for technical glitches in the virtual world
Yes, we still aren’t back in the pre-pandemic world and interviews continue to be scheduled virtually. It’s therefore important to be flexible and prepared for any technical glitches. Make sure to check your lighting, test your computer’s camera and sound quality, disable notifications, maintain proper eye contact, and dress the part, among other do’s and don’ts.
PR people act as the facilitators and counselors, and with their help executives can take full control of a media interview. With proper planning and execution, it will elevate the company’s positioning, demonstrate leadership, and increase any executive’s chances of being quoted in future stories.