As a PR agency team, we know that media interviews help build connections between a reporter and a client company. Even if the conversation doesn’t result in immediate coverage, showcasing expertise often yields future opportunities. In other words, as long as it’s a productive conversation, we’ve already scored a win. But how to ensure the interview goes well?
The steps taken by the PR person before, during and after an interview play a large role in its success. And one of the most important parts is properly staffing the interview. Even seasoned PR pros often wonder if they need to be present at the meeting or on the call. If it’s just a casual call about retail trends with an executive for a major retail client, surely there’s no need to be on, right?
Wrong. A hands-off attitude can work against you. And our clients expect assistance, even if it’s just handling details. But beyond the details, most successful PR people go further. Here are the steps PR reps should take while staffing an interview.
Kick off the conversation
It’s a good idea to join the call early. This way, if there are any problems with links or dial-ins, you can address them quickly. I like to make small talk after the first person joins the call to break the ice and make things comfortable. When both the reporter and spokesperson have both joined, the PR rep should make introductions and even provide a little background. If there’s no need for a preamble, I let the reporter take the lead. In some cases, I will reiterate the goal for the discussion to make sure everything is clear.
Pay attention during the interview
PR agency staff are often busy with multiple clients, so getting other work out of the way while staffing an interview could seem tempting. Don’t do it. The most successful PR people use interviews as an opportunity to learn and gather new ideas. Even someone fluent in their client or colleague’s work can learn something new. Additionally, these interviews offer a great opening for proactive pitch angles based on insights from the conversation. Listening closely also helps ensure that any mistakes can be corrected quickly. If a spokesperson inadvertently gives a wrong fact or can’t recall a statistic, it can be supplied or amended in real time or shortly thereafter.
Don’t be afraid to speak up
The vast majority of the interviews we staff go smoothly. However, there are times, whether due to a reporter going off-topic or an unprepared spokesperson, where the interview could stray into areas that don’t make sense. At these moments, a PR person should jump in and steer the conversation back on course. If, for example, a spokesperson releases information prematurely or is groping for examples to illustrate their points, it helps to correct the situation quickly. And if a spokesperson is consistently having trouble during interviews, it’s a sign they need better prep. On the very rare occasion that things go wildly out of control – say, a reporter seems to have parachuted into the wrong interview, or the spokesperson cannot answer relevant questions – it may be best to politely end the call with a promise to reschedule when things are clearer. See these tips for navigating more common interview obstacles.
Closing out Interviews and follow-ups
As the interview nears the end, thank everyone for making the time. If there are follow-up action items, like more information or materials needed, of course, the PR person will own the coordination of it. After the interview, we like to follow up both with the reporter and spokesperson, thanking them again and in the reporter’s case, getting an idea of his next steps and the likelihood and timing of a story. It’s helpful to be clear with your questions, but not too pushy. Remember, a major goal of the interview is building a long-term relationship so the company and its spokesperson resources are top-of-mind for the reporter’s next big story.
Give honest and informative feedback
This is arguably the most crucial step of the interview process. Honest feedback for the company spokesperson is helpful on multiple levels. First, it should highlight the spokesperson’s strengths and the positive aspects of his performance, reinforcing his confidence. But unless the interview is flawless, the feedback should include areas for improvement – delivered in a respectful way, of course. This is especially important with new spokespersons, as they might not even realize where they struggle or how a journalist interview should differ from a sales opportunity, for example. Consistent and honest feedback lead to overall improvement, and they make our lives easier. Candor also reminds the spokesperson that we share the same goals and helps build client relationships and better outcomes in the long run.
Staffing an interview can feel routine, stressful, easy and insightful all at the same time. Some interviews will go perfectly while others may spike your anxiety. We can’t have perfect control over an interview, but these simple steps will improve the odds of a successful conversation.