6 PR Tips For Staffing A Media Briefing

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.

Be personable

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.

Follow up 

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.

8 Media Interview Mistakes To Avoid

In the PR agency world, after weeks of fine-tuning messaging, crafting stories and pitching reporters, there’s no better feeling than landing a top media interview for a client. It signals that the overall public relations strategy is on the right track. Most importantly, of course, a media interview will lead to positive coverage – assuming it goes well.
Nailing the interview, however, isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to technology PR opportunities. Even with advance preparation, executives can fumble or leave opportunities on the table. With that in mind, here are eight seemingly small media interview mistakes every spokesperson should avoid, regardless of whether the interview is in person or over the phone.

Showing up late

Here I’m not talking about live television segments, which obviously must happen on time and for which we routinely build in a generous cushion. But for any type of interview, being punctual conveys respect and sets the tone for the conversation. Still, I’ve seen several executives arrive more than a few minutes late to a media sit-down. It’s also easy to run a few minutes late for a phone interview, but that’s even worse, because a phoner is typically squeezed into the journalist’s daily schedule, and he may not have decided whether to do a story. Lateness can annoy the journalist, and in general, it pays to get as much time as possible with a key media contact. The more time, the better the chance of a story, particularly in situations where technical details must be highlighted.

Being unprepared   

Every PR person has been on an interview where the client calls the reporter by the wrong name or confuses their publication with another one. It’s cringeworthy – and easily prevented. In advance of an interview, it’s critical for clients to read or even study the briefing materials their PR team has prepared. A briefing document includes basic information about a journalist as well as deeper insights on their point of view, relevant stories, and more. It ensures clients are prepared and don’t make unforced errors. Outside of a formal media training, every good PR agency team will take an experienced spokesperson through anticipated questions to prepare him for the conversation. It simply takes that extra time commitment.

Referring to other media interviews

For some reason, many executives will tell a reporter that they’re seeing “lots of interest” from the media about a story, or that they’re “speaking to the media to get the story out.” Some will even name the outlets where they’ve had interviews. None of this is helpful. For any media interview, it’s important to treat the interviewer like they’re the only one in the world hearing that perspective. If they feel like the story is being covered by other outlets or that it’s being shopped around, they may choose to take a pass on the story.

Steamrolling the interviewer   

Ideally, an interview should be a back-and-forth, with participation from both sides. Sometimes a journalist’s interview style might be more passive. Yet it’s better for the executive to pause as he or she shares information, particularly when it comes to technology stories. This allows the journalist to absorb the spokesperson’s point of view and areas of expertise and interject questions. I sometimes recommend that the executive pause and ask the interviewer if what they’ve just outlined is clear. That way, they have more cues about how well the journalist if following the conversation and how compelling it is to him.

Having a passive PR host

This one may be controversial, but my clients will tell you that I frequently jump in during interviews. I’ll chime in to communicate a key message or theme, to clarify a point, or to share background. A media interview’s PR host – and every interview should have a PR host, if possible – should not necessarily be a passive participant during an interview. They should be looking for opportunities to support the client where appropriate. Too many PR pros simply “listen in” but fail to direct the conversation. In my view, that helps no one.

“You can email me”

This is another point where professional communicators can disagree, but I discourage direct contact between media and client spokespersons. By the end of an interview, a client may invite the interviewer to email them, but this is risky. It’s the PR team who should be the point of contact for any follow-ups. PR professionals serve several functions, but one of the most important is as “buffer” between client and journalist. If a journalist has a tough question, why should they be able to reach out to an executive directly? I see our role as ensuring that our client addresses the question appropriately, or can avoid it if that’s recommended.

Vomiting marketing jargon.

A media interview is an opportunity for a journalist to get substantive information to support a story. While it’s critical to weave in key themes and messages, speaking like a marketing robot that regurgitates jargon from a messaging document or website will turn off the interviewer. Clients should speak naturally and show their expertise about the topic at hand. This is easier for some than for others, but it’s always possible with advance preparation.

“Is there anything else I should know?”

At the end of every interview, the reporter will ask, “Is there anything else I should know?” While some view this as a formality, for the interviewee, it’s really an opportunity to summarize key points, take stock of what was said and to plug any gaps from the conversation. Too many clients will respond to the “is there anything else” question with, “Nope, that’s it.” Take 30 seconds to end the call as effectively as possible.
These are just a few common media interview missteps or lost opportunities we’ve seen. What are others interviewees should avoid?

PR Tips On Being Quoted In The Media

As public relations professionals know, there are many different types of media interviews. Some are features based on in-depth contact with company representatives. Others involve a chance to comment about a breaking news story or issue. In the latter case, we sometimes experience disappointment. We work to generate a quick opportunity for a client or colleague, only to have it fizzle when the finished story fails to include their remarks.

How can we avoid the heartbreak of ending on the cutting room floor – figuratively speaking? Here are our best tips for getting quoted in a media interview, and staying in the picture.

Be accessible

Yes, I know you’re busy and important and you don’t want to seem too eager or available. But today’s reporters work against hourly deadlines, and sometimes the first three people who return their calls and have something noteworthy to say are the ones who make it into the story. So if an interview opportunity is important, you’ll need to make an effort to be available on short notice.

Don’t wing it

Even casual conversations about a breaking news event require a bit of preparation, which is hard to fit in if you’re making yourself accessible with little notice. But unless you know the subject matter cold (or it’s a background interview not intended for publication), it pays to invest some quick preparation time to develop concise, memorable quotes and well-informed, affirmative opinions. Reporters don’t want a mealy-mouthed interview, and they don’t have time to tell you what everyone else has said. They want something they can use to bracket the story or illustrate a key point about its impact.

Use colorful language

One of the most powerful things you can do in a media interview is use a visual metaphor. I was taught this by media and leadership coach Don Rheem, and it has proven true. A visual image almost always sticks in the mind – and stays in the final story. Don’t just refer to the congressional investigation; condemn it as a “political strip search.” Don’t spend precious seconds explaining why the bridge repair is hard; instead, call it the city’s “open-heart surgery.” In adtech, we advised a client to criticize the opaque or “black-box” solutions of competitors and brag about its own “glass box” technology. Each evokes a mental image and is far more likely to be used by a journalist or producer and remembered by readers or viewers.

Be declarative

I often get calls from journalists wanting a quick opinion about a company in a crisis situation. These can be difficult opportunities, because most crises are complicated, and in the real world, PR and reputation advice may be very nuanced. But I’ve learned to segue to more generalized advice or insights to be simpler and more declarative in these conversations. To be quotable, you must have an opinion. It helps to be clear and affirmative. If there’s no good advice to share, a vivid description of the dilemma can also work. Think about analogies to unrelated activities, like bronco-riding or surfing, for example.

Be surprising

If that opinion legitimately runs counter to the prevailing wisdom, so much the better. Just be prepared to explain the point of view being expressed or to offer evidence to support it. Or make a bold prediction about the future. Even if your opinion isn’t completely contrarian, point out what is missing or overlooked in the public conversation. Media love conflict.

Be helpful

Another way  to score in a media interview is to offer something of value. Occasionally clients worry that they’ll give away insights that their customers pay for, or that they may tip their hand to competitors. That’s unlikely in a short interview, and if you sound smart and authoritative, people will seek you out. Look to offer advice based on expertise, practical tips, little-known “secrets,” or expert observations.

Don’t ramble

Write down two or three relevant points that you want to make, and stick to them. Offer succinct examples or statistics as support, but don’t tell lengthy anecdotes unless invited to by the reporter. Most of all,  don’t try to test the reporter’s reaction to your responses by rambling from one assertion to another. Start with a “headline” comment and back it up succinctly, referencing your own authority or experience.