Media Interviews: Where Patience Meets Savvy

There’s nothing worse than being interviewed by a journalist only to forget who you’re speaking to and that everything Reporter&Manyou say is “on the record”, unless you say otherwise, and then seeing a quote or story that completely took what you said out of context.

These kinds of snafus by political figures, celebrities and some business people quickly become fodder for “The Daily Show” and late night comics.  Although most media don’t seek out the opportunity to “turn your words around”, you can learn from these people to create a solid PR opportunity for your business.

Media interviews always make people a bit jittery but you have to remember that in a majority of cases the journalist wants to paint a positive picture of your business.  To do so provides them with a story that is of interest to their readers and is a win for you.  By answering their questions directly and thoroughly, you provide them with content that they can use to create an informational and factual story on your business.

Here are 10 things to remember before and during a media interview:

1. Always remember that you are speaking to a journalist. No matter how friendly the conversation becomes, unless you say otherwise, everything you say can be considered “on the record”.

2. Being fully prepared for the interview and listen! I’ve worked with people in the past who were so concerned about getting their company’s key messages out that they completely failed to answer the question being asked of them, sometimes forcing the journalist to ask it again.  Practice makes perfect to conquer nerves and listening ensures that you will answer the question before you.

3. Put yourself at ease: Practicing in a mirror or with someone you trust to ask questions and provide constructive feedback will help put you at ease.  Having a full understanding of how the interview will go will also help.  Doing the interview by phone is much easier because you can have your notes in front of you.  However, if you’re going to be on TV you should familiarize yourself to the set up of the studio and run through your notes beforehand to refresh your thoughts.  If you really feel nervous, I suggest working out that morning to release some of the energy and clear your mind.  Sometimes, if you ask, a TV producer will provide the questions you’ll be asked up front.  Again, it benefits them, as well, to make you look good, comfortable and speak well about your business.

4. Know who you are talking to: Researching the person you are speaking to can be one of the most valuable things you can do prior to an interview.  Sifting through past stories online can give you a feel for how the journalist approaches the interview.  When in-studio for TV you should never talk to the camera, but to the interviewer.

5. Take product/samples for face-to-face interviews: Taking your product to an interview or meeting with a journalist will give you something to “handle” and will remind you of the key messages you want to deliver.  Television is always looking for samples or video because they don’t want just a “talking head”.  They want to show their viewers something tangible, examples, how it works, action.

6. Be prepared for anything:  Journalists often have a predetermined idea of where they want their story to go, but being prepared for anything may allow you the opportunity to give them an angle they haven’t considered.   I’ve had clients do this, quite successfully, turning what might have been just a quote in a trend piece into an entire section of the story.

7. Learn the art of segue: One of the best skills you can learn is that of segueing. Think of your interview as a conversation on your business.  You are actively following the journalist’s lead, but there is a time when you need to steer the conversation to meet your needs; to stick in some messaging on your business or key points you want people to know.  There are wrong and right ways to do this.  I advise that by listening intently you will find those opportunities to do it correctly and, more importantly, when it doesn’t sound contrived or rehearsed.  You want to appear natural.

8. Dress for success: It’s no doubt that the psychological affects of clothing are pretty powerful.  If you’re going to be on television clothing is obviously key (no stripes or crazy patterns, for the most part stay away from white), but why not take that same concept to a phone interview?  Let it lift you to the professional place you want to be perceived in and you will come off with that same expertise and confidence.  However, always dress comfortably.  Television studios include lights and heat.  If you’re nervous, you will sweat more which can divert your listening skills and thoughts during the interview.  And don’t drink a ton of coffee beforehand.  You don’t want to doing “the dance” during your interview.

9. Eat for brain power: I always say that prior to a media interview that you should eat like you’re preparing for the ACT.  A good meal with fruits, veggies and almonds (particularly good brain food), foods which will keep you alert and help you think clearly.

10. Make sure you use your time wisely: There is real freedom in a phone interview or having questions emailed to you to answer.  However, broadcast media have time constraints of which they must stick to.  This means that you can’t go over, you could be canceled and re-booked and you have to be conversational enough to cover the two to three-minute interview.  Being prepared will help you transition yourself when the producer tells you that they are running over and now only have two minutes rather than three and half for the interview.  It doesn’t seem like much time until you’re in the hot seat.  And when it’s over, it’s over.  That was your one shot.  So, make sure you’ve made the most of it!

Jennifer Fortney, Cascade Communications and SmallBizPRMadeEasy.com

Follow me on Twitter @SmallBizPRXpert

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