It’s hard to overstate the importance of quality media-interview preparation to a successful public relations program. As most PRs know, an unprepared or ineffective spokesperson can unwittingly squander a media opportunity, while a well-prepared one can move it from mediocre to meteoric!
Here are some “must-dos” along with new tips to incorporate into your media training arsenal.
Typically PR teams prepare spokespeople for different types of media – broadcast, print, online as well as different formats. But there are some more nuanced tips for preparing for media interviews.
Prepare your spokesperson for different kinds of reporters.
Good media coaching goes beyond prepared messages; it can include on-the-spot strategizing on how to neutralize an uncertain or even negative scenario with disarming, non-defensive responses. Beyond helping a spokesperson speak effectively for a print interview vs. broadcast, we look to arm clients with intelligence on a few different types of reporters. These can include an inexperienced journalist or blogger (who may be a time suck), an adversarial reporter who already has a story in mind, or an interviewer who is skilled at drawing out more information than may be prudent to share. We show clients how to “read” reporters at the outset, and, as with any good training, the sessions include simulated interviews to prepare for each of these one-on-one scenarios.
Develop “go-to” phrases to capture important messages.
No matter how complicated the product or service may be, its story is better understood with a short and colorful turn of phrase. Much of the media prep work should be done in advance, in order to shrink a longer or more complex thought into something we all “get.” A client offering a high-quality wine selection for people who are new to wines, or who want to get out of a buying rut, is positioned as “the Rosetta Stone of wine” — a shorter, easily understandable term that helps set up the story in a quick interview.
Exercise control during the interview.
A top media coach will offer ways to politely pivot or rephrase any question that is uncomfortable or irrelevant and move toward a better response – within reason. This can be as simple as redirecting the interviewer with a transitional phrase like, “I don’t know about that, but what I can tell you is…” or “the real issue is…” This can be challenging when a reporter asks the same question in different ways to try to get that response. Politicians have mastered this type of segue, although some practice it to excess, which simply looks like they’re avoiding the issue. It’s better to behave like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand when she was recently asked several times in the same interview about possible plans to run for higher office. “I’m focused on 2018,” she repeated calmly, patiently each time. The best advice: listen closely, acknowledge the question, and choose what you’d like to answer.
Beware “fake news” reporting.
There’s always the chance that a reporter can misquote, take out of context or edit an interview in some provocative or unflattering way. This isn’t usually fake news, but more like sloppy reporting. It takes a well-prepared spokesperson to remain unruffled and poised and give thoughtful responses to interviewer questions. The particularly adept will even lead the reporter to the topics they want to cover, often resulting in a terrific showcase for the brand. However, when an interview appears and contains errors or falsehoods, the only recourse is to reach out to the reporter, cite the errors and ask for corrections.
Aim for fluency, not stilted scripting.
The best spokespersons come across as relaxed and natural, not robotic. It’s hard to be impressed by someone who sounds as if they’ve memorized message points, no matter how much authority they bring to the interview. This is why practice sessions are so important, and it’s a reason for a professional spokesperson to be involved in writing about the brand or product they represent, and to have hands-on experience with it. The greater the familiarity with the product, the more fluid and comfortable the interview will be.
Be that spokesperson who gets quoted.
Certain industry pundits are called upon again and again for their views on a particular subject, usually because they are reliably up on current events and pithy when quoted. Odds are if there’s an article on the power of online marketing and social media, Gary Vaynerchuk will likely be quoted. Is this because Vaynerchuk is that much more brilliant or knowledgeable? Maybe. But it’s also because he has packaged his expertise in a smart, accessible way and knows how to string together an interesting quote. Take this recent one referencing how to become famous through social media. “If you want to be Internet famous, you have to wrap your head around seven years, and I think most people are in seven weeks.” His advice is simple, but rooted in authentic experience. We recently offered even more advice on achieving “quotability,” in this article.