Just because your CEO or top-level management players are industry experts does not mean they have the skills necessary to prepare for and master an interview or top-tier media coverage. Whether your interview is designed to promote an upcoming event or launch your newest product, or the result of a crisis, the way the interviewees appear, sound, respond and behave during the interview make a big impact on viewers and followers.
This is why we always recommend working with a professional PR team – even if it’s only a one-time, interview training consult basis. The professional tips you will glean, and the opportunity to have practice runs are vital to the impression you make on the audience.
Train For A Media Interview In Five Steps
Our PR firm has worked with entrepreneurs, company management teams, and leading social media influencers, preparing them for media interviews and other public coverage. While we always believe authenticity is best, we also know that learning to control voice modulation, to breathe deep before delivering a passionate response, and practicing to answer questions succinctly is essential to making a good impression.
It’s also as essential to know what not to answer as it is to answer questions well. And, never underestimate how important it is to make a good impression, even if it is in the middle of a crisis. Confidence, honesty, composure, integrity – even in the worst of situations – all go a long way towards earning respect from followers, customers, and prospects.
Research the publication/channel and the interviewer
You should never say, “Yes,” to an interview until you’ve completed this first step. It is important that you are very familiar with the media outlet, as well as the interviewer or journalist(s), so you know what to expect. You should watch or read as many previous interviews from the interviewer as you can. If the interviewer is also a journalist, you’ll want to read a fair amount of articles they have written.
Opting into an interview that is designed to be controversial or to intentionally put you on the spot is never a good idea if you are new to this. While big names and corporations may have the occasional, anecdotal idea that “even bad press is good press,” that is almost never the case for small and medium-sized businesses. You want your top-tier mentions and presence to have a positive impact – the majority of the time.
In addition to familiarizing yourself with the voice, angle, and points-of-view an interviewer or media personality is most likely to take with you, your knowledge of their work makes a positive impression. That can reap bonus points down the road – like having an immediate “in” the next time you’d like to gain an interview to promote a product, service, or event.
On the flip side, knowing who you are dealing with may cause you to wisely bow out with a, “no thank you,” to their interview or guest spot invitation; or can help you to prepare stats, figures, and statements if you sense there may be a bit of a clash ahead.
Ask for the list of questions ahead of time
Interviewers plan ahead because, like you, they want to appear prepared, organized, and confident to their audience members. They should be able to provide you with a list of questions they plan to cover, although the wording may vary a bit from the paper to the personality. Keep in mind, however, that knowing the questions ahead of time is not a fail-safe plan.
Of the hundreds of professionals and celebrities we have coached for interviews over the years, we can count on two hands the number of interviews that only included the questions provided for preparation. In other words, be very prepared for the interview to go “off book.” Some of our team of all-star PR pros were journalists and interviewers in our previous career lives, so we understand exactly how enticing going “off book” is as it gets your interviewee out of the rehearsed routine and into the realm of unplanned, unscripted, and unedited.
That said, the combination of a prepared list of questions, your research on the media outlet, and the journalist or influencer who plans to interview you, and your sense of the audience (see #3 next) will be plenty to guide your practice responses. You may also determine that Your Research + Their List of Potential Questions = A “No Thanks: we’ll pass on the interview,” because the potential drama or fallout is already written on the wall.
Feel free to ask them more about the interview or the “bigger picture” aim and the point of your time together before you formalize your yes or no RSVP. For example:
- What is the story about and how does it relate to your company?
- Where will the interview take place? Your office? Theirs? Off-site? Or Zoom? This is especially important now with COVID-19, but it also helps you to prepare. For example, if the interview or media coverage is taking place on your turf, in response to a crisis, you don’t want your logo in the background.
- Is the interview live or pre-recorded? If it’s pre-recorded, be prepared for the editing reality of a long interview being recapped or reframed into a short clip.
- Will anyone else be interviewed? For example a disgruntled customer or employee? A competitor? A pressure group’s rep? That will help to frame your tone.
Get a clear sense of the media channel’s audience
You have to intimately understand the needs, wants, and concerns of your brand’s target audience. You will need to do your homework about who the media outlet’s audience members are: age, demographics, opinions/leanings, and pain points. Watch, listen, and read a fair amount of materials they produce or publish. Their social media channels are also an excellent place to glean audience/follower information.
Having a sense of who your interviewer’s audience members are will help you strike the right tone and “energy” when you speak, to gauge your language, and to avoid topics or statements that could be inflammatory, offensive, or a trigger to a notable percentage of the audience. This is not at all to be confused with being fake or acting like you are something that you’re not. In the bigger-picture plan where you may garner future followers or customers from the positive impression you make, the audience members will encounter you again. If you aren’t consistent in who you are, they’ll notice and it will compromise your brand’s authenticity.
Being truthful and authentic – albeit wisely nuanced – is important in the long-term. While certain politicians or stars may get away with bold-faced lies, most brand representatives are offloaded by their companies pretty quickly when they’re caught being dishonest or unethical.
Know how to answer the tough or off-limit questions
The minute you are triggered or uncomfortable about a question, it will show on your face, in your nervous stutter, and resulting body language/fidgeting. For this reason, you must train yourself and your employees on how to respond to what you consider “off-limit questions,” or the questions that are unable to be answered by yourself or the delegated interviewee.
Responses to these questions begin something like:
- I’m not able to answer that, but what I will tell you is…
- I’m the (Job Title) and that question would need to be directed to our (appropriate Job Title)
- You’ve touched on a confidential matter and I’m not at liberty to answer that…
- I wish I could answer that directly but we don’t have all of the facts yet…
- While I’m not qualified to respond to that, you should speak to (qualified expert they could ask…)
Also, be extremely cautious about what you share “off the record.” If the journalist asks to go “off-record,” politely decline. If they make small talk before the interview or during breaks, know that anything you say can be brought into the interview or used at a different time. Pleasant neutrality is the theme of any and all “off-record” conversations.
Practice makes comfortable when it comes to your upcoming media interview
One of the main reasons we recommend consulting with a PR agency to prepare for a media interview is that repeat, educated, and informed practice makes comfortable – if not perfect. Even if you handle your company’s PR in-house, for now, the ROI of investing in professional media interview training and practice is invaluable. In some cases, it can transform the trajectory of your brand’s reputation.
In addition to expanding on all-of-the-above, your PR consultants will practice with you, spinning potential interview directions and helping you develop a comfortable “on-camera/mic/page” persona that may not come naturally if you haven’t had experience in the media limelight.
Contact Segal Communications to begin preparing for your upcoming media coverage. We’ve got your back and will make sure your brand puts its best foot, voice, face, and impressions forward.