In B2B public relations, one of the things we do regularly is arrange media briefings on subjects relevant to our clients’ business. Often these briefings translate directly into coverage. But even if they don’t, these meetings are important. They’re useful for relationship building and keep the dialogue going until the time when a company executive’s quotes or comments can be used for a relevant story.
PR people are nearly always involved in setting up these briefings, and at our agency, we always staff them as well. But to a less experienced PR person, this role can feel awkward. Am I in the way? A fifth wheel? Is this a waste of time when my client can handle it? The answer to these questions is no. A good PR rep should have a role in nearly any media briefing. Below are a few things we should keep in mind when staffing an interview:
Kick things off
It’s usually up to the PR representative to kick off the call and set the tone for the conversation to follow. At the start of each call or meeting, you will want to introduce the spokesperson and have them explain what their company does and what their role is there. Most journalists will do their own research ahead of an interview, but a verbal summary is a good conversation-starter. It also fulfills the important goal of giving the spokesperson a chance to reinforce their expertise on the topic at hand and to steer the interview to the story we want to share.
People run late to meetings. If you’re waiting on a conference line and the journalist is first to join, it’s good to introduce yourself and thank them for taking the time to talk. Any good PR person sets up a brief for their client ahead of an interview, but it can also be an ice-breaker when waiting for the interview to start. That’s a good time to ask about a previous article they’ve written, current events or just how their day is going. Not only do you want your spokesperson to succeed, but creating a friendly relationship with a journalist will pave the way for future pitches.
Let the interview play out, but pay attention
If on the phone or Zoom, the PR person staffing the interview should go on mute once things begin. The journalist wants to speak to the expert or executive because they’re knowledgeable about a specific topic, so don’t crowd them. A good PR rep will listen closely and take notes on key points made during the conversation. Company spokespersons often share useful information or data we might not even know during a journalist discussion that can be applied to future outreach. Especially in tech PR, journalists often request data to back up a claim and the PR staffer will of course need to take care of any follow-up. We particularly like listening to briefings with C-level executives because they typically share information freely, have strong points of view about key topics, and will often say something we haven’t heard before.
Chime in if necessary
Occasionally a PR person will need to step in and make a course-correction. It happens rarely, but sometimes a spokesperson can go for too long on a tangent where they wander away from the question. Or they may divulge information not intended to be public. (This one’s tricky and must be addressed right away.) Conversely, the journalist may stray into areas that have been agreed as off-limits for a particular conversation. If this happens, PR pros shouldn’t be afraid to chime in and get things back on track. If a lack of focus is a frequent problem for a given spokesperson, it’s worth a media training session to heighten their comfort level and preparation for future conversations.
Be sure to follow up with a journalist after the interview. Besides offering thanks, you will want to recap the major points discussed and note any specific requests for data or clarification. You will also want to know how the journalist reacted to the information and whether anything was incomplete or unclear. As PR pros we never want to be overbearing, but if you’re expecting a story to go live quickly and don’t see anything, you will need to follow up again to get a sense of timing.
Offer spokesperson feedback
It’s also important to offer feedback to the executive or expert spokesperson who participated in the interview. We like to be constructive, but candid. It may be that the exec didn’t explain his line of business fully, or that he spoke over the head of a non-expert. Or, maybe he was thorough but could have gotten to the point a little faster. Constructive feedback will strengthen the relationship and help all parties improve even a good performance.