5 PR Tips For Managing Tricky Media Interviews

Most PR teams work hard to make sure our client media interviews go off without a hitch. Yet there are the occasional briefings that for one reason or another may require extra preparation. Maybe they revolve around a sensitive subject, or possibly the company spokesperson is inexperienced. For example, a client executive could be speaking as an external expert on a topic related to government regulation while avoiding naming their own clients or specific work experience. At other times we must prepare to navigate the rules and nuances of a funding announcement.

While most qualified media spokespeople are well-versed in what they should discuss in an interview, it is up to the PR exec to manage the conversations with a positive outcome in mind. There are even times when a PR rep must step in and course-correct. Here are some tips for ensuring a comfortable interview for all parties and avoiding real-time intervention.

Confirm specifics ahead of time

Someone wise once said, “the best defense is a good offense.” And when it comes to managing conversations with media this is certainly true. By doing the groundwork to ensure that media understand what the client spokesperson can / cannot cover well ahead of time, PR professionals can make sure that briefings suit a client’s expertise and stay focused on the agreed-upon topics. A legal or risk-management expert may be able to speak about how a new anti-money laundering regulation impacts financial institutions overall, but not how it affects a specific bank or client company, for example. Rigorous preparation will enable a conversation to go more smoothly and will help prevent awkward questions that could result in a premature end to the discussion.

Pick the right spokesperson

We sometimes need to arrange an interview within a short time, especially if it’s in response to a breaking news story. But it’s imperative that the right spokesperson — one that is both a subject-matter expert and media-savvy — is selected for each media briefing, especially for sensitive topics. For example, a CEO may be the go-to spokesperson for many questions, if a media-facing VP has more background in a given area of cybersecurity or compliance, they are likely the better option. It’s essential to take the time to work with client-side contacts about who is the best fit for a given topic area instead of defaulting to the most commonly used internal expert.

Reconfirm ground rules at the top of the call

It is always helpful — especially when it comes to “on background” and “off the record” conversations —  to confirm the framework of the conversation at the top of the call to prevent any crossed wires. If there is a misunderstanding, and a journalist would need “on the record” sources instead, simply ask to end the interview and reconvene offline in order to discuss particulars, iron out wrinkles and plan for connecting sources with the journalist on terms that may work for both. 

Role-play ahead of time

All PR teams understand the value of formal media training, and it’s often useful. But in advance of an interview about tricky topics, it’s wise to do a little role-playing in advance of a specific media conversation. It’s a good way to spot common traps, like repeating a negative in a response to an adversarial question (“No, our services are not overpriced” is a less effective answer than, “Our prices represent a good value for our expertise”” for example.)

Know when to jump in

Even with the framework of a conversation laid out and before and at the top of a call, journalists may still ask questions that stray from the planned discussion roadmap. Some argue that it’s not our place to interrupt the discussion or interfere if things take a turn. But when the stakes are high, the PR person should feel empowered to remind journalists of areas that are off-limits for discussion. If a reporter balks, ask to end the interview early and follow up offline to try to have the spokesperson meet the journalist’s needs without pushing boundaries. 

Additionally, if a client spokesperson appears to be stumbling, a good PR rep will jump in briefly to redirect the conversation by offering up a relevant messaging point, data nugget, or example that helps get the conversation back on track. If a journalist continues to push a client source off track and into sensitive territory, politely ask to conclude the interview and offer to circle back offline to discuss.

Business Leaders: PR Tips To Ace Media Interviews

For any PR agency team, a major media interview for a company spokesperson is a solid win. Nothing is quite as rewarding as securing that one big interview, or even a series of them, if there’s high-profile news to share. At the same time, having a terrific media spokesperson who can nail the messaging, handle tough questions and make business or technical language accessible isn’t always easy. 

Some executives are born to be media resources, and they’re every PR person’s dream. Less experienced leaders may need media training or informal coaching to showcase their subject-matter expertise and serve as an organization’s face and voice. They’re unlikely to be included in sites listing the worst interviews of all time, but most can use some help.

With that in mind, here are some tips for PR pros to help encourage a stellar media interview performance.

Know the reporter and outlet 

Always start with the basics. It’s essential to research the media outlet and their audience, of course. Then move on to the journalist’s goals for the interview, their track record, and personality. Read about the reporters’ background, reporting beats, and previous stories to understand their approach and style. Study their social media to get a feel for personal opinions on issues, followers, and interests. If there are some commonalities between the reporter and the executive, it never hurts to reference them to break the ice. But don’t mistake a media interview for a social discussion. The reporter likely has one thing in mind – a good story.

Think through some interview questions.. but don’t count on them

Once the interview topic and duration are determined, spend time anticipating the questions the reporter will ask. While some may share general interview questions beforehand, don’t count on it. Bear in mind that despite what a reporter or producer tells you, questions might change during the course of the interview — especially if it’s about breaking industry news. Besides the specific topic, the PR team should always be mindful of prepping the execs about any hot-buttons or pressing industry questions to carve thoughtful insights and reinforce expertise. The PR team should also review past interviews with the spokesperson and be aware of all on-the-record comments, since those could come up again in a different context. 

Stay on message and be concise

After gathering all possible details, it’s critical to prepare a comprehensive briefing doc, clearly laying out the key three to four messaging points for an executive spokesperson to reiterate and weave into their responses. We recommend that leadership set aside some time with their PR team to go over the messaging, rehearse the responses, identify any red flags and revise responses if needed. Reporters will have a hard time following if the overarching messaging is filled with complex or technical jargon. Maintain brevity and keep them simple, straight, and easy to understand. Long-winded responses typically fail to deliver the main point and lose everyone’s interest. Additionally, to make the story compelling, back it with supporting facts and data points.

Use examples

A good example can help liven up any interview, particularly one about an abstract or technical topic, and a good story is worth a thousand words of jargon. But make sure the example is well prepared, relevant to the interview, and brief. It’s risky to launch into a story that hasn’t been road-tested before an audience.  

Advise execs to be natural and not rush through the interview

Be it a print, digital or broadcast interview, PR pros should explain that an interview is a conversation between two people – something which is engaging and relaxed, yet professional and informative. Hence, the spokesperson should be succinct without losing attributes that make them unique and natural. Messaging and talking points should only be referenced to guide the interview response, not treated as scripted responses. The executive should be able to connect with the reporter, take a pause occasionally and check in to ask if they’re following through. Most journalists will do their own research ahead of time, but not everyone is an expert on the topic at hand. Expect them to ask questions that may require some extra explanation. 

It’s okay not to know everything

No matter how prepared you are, sometimes reporters pose questions that don’t have ready answers. In that case, it’s fine to say, “I don’t have that information, but we’ll try to get back to you.” A good PR advisor will never let a spokesperson guess when it comes to facts or data. On the other hand, an informed opinion about a relevant business issue is always welcome. 

Reflect and offer constructive feedback

Usually, a PR team member accompanies execs to interviews or staffs every client media interview. This is helpful for identifying areas where additional information is needed as well as constructive but candid feedback. Such measures are imperative to help solidify their position as industry experts and strengthen the client-agency relationship.

Plan for technical glitches in the virtual world

Yes, we still aren’t back in the pre-pandemic world and interviews continue to be scheduled virtually. It’s therefore important to be flexible and prepared for any technical glitches. Make sure to check your lighting, test your computer’s camera and sound quality, disable notifications, maintain proper eye contact, and dress the part, among other do’s and don’ts.

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PR people act as the facilitators and counselors, and with their help executives can take full control of a media interview. With proper planning and execution, it will elevate the company’s positioning, demonstrate leadership, and increase any executive’s chances of being quoted in future stories.

7 Ways To Prep A CEO For A Broadcast Interview

For PR pros, landing an on-air interview for a C-suite executive is a big deal. It’s a great way to position a company in front of a large audience, and it’s typically a chance to convey a point of view on a business topic or issue. But what if an executive isn’t fully prepared?

Unless they’re accustomed to giving public interviews and speaking to journalists frequently, there’s a good chance that even senior execs will need some coaching in advance of a key interview. There are several things you can do to ensure that things run smoothly. 

Ask for questions ahead of time…but don’t count on it

Media have different policies about sharing questions ahead of an interview. In general, most don’t. However, since on-air interviews are a different type of exchange, some producers are more flexible and may share the questions beforehand, and they will of course offer details about the interview’s direction. But even if you do receive some advance questions, be mindful that they can change. Broadcast interviewers are famous for pivoting in the moment to ensure their interviews are topical. If there’s a relevant breaking news story on the day of the interview, for example, it may come up. Don’t trust that the questions or even the direction you receive are set in stone, because they probably aren’t. 

Develop the interview’s messaging

Once the interview is set and you’ve provided as much information as possible, schedule a conversation to talk about the interview and to work out the messaging. If the segment is centered around breaking news, there might not be much time to link up, so it’s up to the PR pro to prep the spokesperson within a short time. It’s important not to overdo the messaging or put words in the spokesperson’s mouth. Simply spend a few minutes focusing on two or three of the most important points. The spokesperson should feel free to change any corporate-speak or buzzwords into ordinary language that reflects how normal people speak. If stuck, they can bring the interview back to the key points by flagging them with appropriate phrases like, “the key thing to remember here is…” or, if surprised by a question, “I don’t know about that, but what I can tell you is…” 

Advise them to speak slowly and naturally 

The best on-air interviews are free-flowing and relaxed, yet professional and insightful. One good rule to share is to speak as they would with a family member or friend who is attentive, but not as familiar with the issues discussed as an insider. It should feel like the interview is just two people having a conversation. The best exchanges are educational, allowing the person being questioned to impart valuable information or a relevant point of view. They should also answer without a lot of extraneous information, which can be left for a follow-up question.

Prep for the open-ended question

Sometimes a general question (“Tell me about your career”) can be tricky because the temptation may be to start at the beginning and recite a chronology of events or an overly detailed, rambling response. This is where advance coaching for reverting to a few key fact-based messages can be very helpful. Any top executive, of course, will be ready to discuss the organization and its value proposition, but it’s also helpful to rehearse responses to broad questions about the industry, the business climate, and one’s own background. Remember, topicality is key for broadcast interviewers, so they should lead with the latest and greatest.

Remind them to reference their expertise 

Typically an executive is invited to an interview because they’re seen as a subject-matter expert. It’s helpful to convey that expertise through examples and references to the interviewee’s training or experience. These might include supporting data, strong statements of fact and opinion, or references to the experience that informs their expertise, e.g. 20 years as a research scientist, or three successful startup businesses. Acting confident during the interview and providing well-researched and thought-out information will show the interviewer and folks watching that they’re a valuable information resource. 

Don’t worry about time delays

In the age of Zoom interviews, it’s natural for there to be a slight time lag between the host’s question and the interviewee’s response. It’s easy to accidentally speak over the interviewer, so if it happens, it’s no big deal. Counsel your executive to expect a few glitches, and to simply continue speaking if they happen to overlap, rather than stopping and apologizing. No host likes to interrupt their guest. 

Help them to “think in quotes”

For TV, shorter, punchier responses are strongly preferable to longer, circuitous statements. It’s best to prepare 7-8 second quotable soundbites. It’s also important to lead with the strongest quotes, since live interviews can be cut short, and editors who cut taped exchanges will sometimes grab the first usable quote they find. It’s also helpful to incorporate part of the question into the response, assuming the listener hasn’t heard the full question. Senior execs should never respond to questions with a simple “yes” or “no,” as this makes for a dull interview and doesn’t advance the organization’s story.

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Broadcast interviews are a great way to give a client exposure and credibility by weighing in on current or hot topics. The above are some measures that PR folks can take to ensure they get the most out of these opportunities, with hopes of being asked back in the future.

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.