One of the mysteries of media relations is the process whereby an interview becomes a feature story. Quality in, quality out, right? Not always. What goes in does not always come through in the final piece. And there are few things more frustrating than offering up your best insights, quotes, and experience, only to be cut out of the piece or damned with a minor mention.
As every PR professional knows, there is never a guarantee of being featured in what we call a “round-up.” Yet there are some guidelines that will maximize your chances of owning the story.
First, know the goals and direction of the interview. Is it for the reporter’s background or on the record? Even if it’s a background interview, it can still be a good use of time since journalists and bloggers tend to return to good sources. If it’s for attribution, assume you aren’t the only one being interviewed. Get your competitive juices flowing.
Be prompt. Sometimes even great interviews don’t make it into the story because they blow the editorial deadline. Make sure you know what that deadline is, and build in extra time. Journalists and bloggers work in a very dynamic environment, so being included in a story can come down to being the first to return a reporter’s call.
Be accessible. Don’t speak in buzzwords, acronyms, or technical jargon unless it’s necessary, and explain key terms succinctly as you go. If you’re being recorded for radio or TV, speak in brief sound bites and “headline” your responses by leading with the important information first, then adding details or supporting points.
Be contrarian. If it comes naturally, that is. If you feel 80 percent of the reporter’s sources will zig, consider a zag in your responses. Carve out what makes you different and deliver your point of view in a bold and confident way.
Coin a phrase. Catch phrases and analogies, on the other hand, can break through and ensure a successful quote. If you can be the first to call derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction” (Warren Buffet) or dub a self-imposed Twitter crisis a “Twimmolation” (Time’s James Poniewozik) then you’ll probably own the pull-out quote.
Be colorful. As with the above, consider pop culture references or visual metaphors to make your point. Instead of saying your product launch is successful, maybe say it’s a hit of “‘Lady Gaga’ proportions.” A training program isn’t just the best, it’s the “Navy Seals Team 6” of the category. A competitor’s mission isn’t merely difficult, it’s “changing tires while driving on two wheels.” You get the idea.
Use statistics. A single, compelling statistic, piece of research, or factoid can make a big difference in an interview, because it adds credibility. Pull out your big guns, but use them sparingly.
Go deeper. Spend an extra 10 minutes thinking a level beyond your most logical comment to a topical question or issue. If you can be prepared to share the reasons behind a development, an emerging trend, or a prediction for the future, your quote will likely stand out.
Reference your own authority. Because your remarks are often subject to editing, it’s a good idea to reference your credentials occasionally and to mention your company at least once during the first three responses. But don’t overdo it, or you will be cut.