To promote professional expertise and build visibility, it helps to be a media resource – that’s what keeps PR agencies in business. It’s also why it hurts when, after investing in researching and shaping a potential story, an interview doesn’t make its way past the initial phone call. How can subject-matter experts maximize their chances of success?
Understand the opportunity
All media opportunities aren’t alike. One interview opp may be for a quick comment on a breaking story in your industry, which means a short, colorful observation is in order. A different one would be for an in-depth feature or segment, where you’ll need to prepare a richer story featuring statistics and examples. It’s important to know and understand the planned story, the reporter’s beat, context, and deadlines involved. This is where having a PR agency or internal expert comes in handy.
Someone said that 90% of life is showing up. It’s not the sole factor in PR success, but it’s astonishing how much of getting in the news comes down to being available at the right time. Yes, I know you’re busy and important and you don’t want to seem too eager. But today’s reporters work against hourly deadlines, and sometimes the first three qualified people to return their calls are those who make it into the story. So if an interview opportunity is important, you’ll need to prioritize your availability, even on short notice.
Of course, being available on short notice and being prepared for an interview don’t go together. Yet this is why subject-matter experts are in demand, so they can share expertise unique to them or their profession. The good news is that you don’t typically need to learn something new (if you do, it’s probably the wrong interview opportunity), but only how to shape and deliver a quote, recount an example, or offer an informed opinion. It also helps to use visual and colorful language, as per the next point.
Use visual language
One of the most powerful things you can do in a media interview is use a visual metaphor. I was told this by media and leadership coach Don Rheem, and it holds up well. 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 infrastructure “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.
To be quotable, you must have an opinion or point of view. If that view contradicts prevailing wisdom, that’s okay. In fact, it can be an asset. Just be prepared to explain your opinion and offer evidence to support it. Or make a bold prediction about the future. Think about filling a hole; what’s missing or overlooked in the industry conversation? If there’s no good advice to share, a vivid depiction of a situation or challenge can also work. Think about visual comparisons to unrelated but analogous activities, like landing a plane or looking for “a polar bear in a snowstorm.”
Another way to score in a press interview, particularly with print or digital media, is to offer something of value. Occasionally clients worry that they’ll reveal proprietary information or 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.
Be an authority
That’s why you’re being interviewed, of course. So, it’s important to reference your authority in a casual way and to convey it in the insights, data, and/or examples you cite.