Six Ideas for Successful Media Interviews

When Matt Lauer interviewed General Stanley Chrystal on the Today Show recently, I felt sorry for this accomplished leader. The General seemed uncomfortable and arguably unprepared for this important interview about his new book My Share of The Task. This isn’t a commentary on the General or his military record, but a piece about assuring that your spokesperson succeeds with any media interview. As such, I would recommend these six ideas for Media success:

  1. Evaluate the Gain From Participation – Unless your company is the story, and an interview or media engagement is necessary (e.g. crisis); step away and evaluate what you will gain from participating in an interview. Beyond awareness, consider gains like – promoting category expertise and leadership, countering wrongful impressions about your industry, building company or brand credibility or energizing your company or brand. If these aren’t clearly achievable, you might decline participation. To avoid offending a reporter, you can direct him to a more appropriate and perhaps more knowledgeable spokesperson. Sometimes that can be a trade or industry association leader.
  2. Train Your SpokespersonsPardon the statement of the obvious, but your spokesperson will benefit from media training. In fact, your entire leadership and PR team that will engage reporters will benefit from media training. After all, this is where the rubber meets the road in creating positive coverage. A skilled media trainer promotes ideas presented here and offers advice on managing combative interviews, establishing message control, handling live interviews, how to dress and even body language.
  3. Know and Understand the Reporter and His AngleResearch the types of stories the reporter has published. You can even survey your colleagues about a reporter’s style, approach and resulting stories. Brief you spokesperson on the results of your research, especially what is driving a reporter’s interest in the interview. That interest should be the basis for your talking points and messaging.
  4. Prepare Your Spokesperson with Key Messages and Talking Points Please don’t let your spokesperson wave off this key step. Some feel that no one knows the subject better than them. If they do, they miss the chance for consistency and control of the messages and their delivery. Draft bullet points that summarize no more than three key points that pertain to every interview. If the interview isn’t in person, you can write notes to the spokesperson during the interview to keep him on message. I have even texted them to a spokesperson.
  5. Teach Bridging and Refocusing Skills – These can be some of the most valuable tactics. Sorry, but politicians are the pros with these tactics. Bridging is about answering the reporter’s question but as a way to return the interview to your spokesperson’s key messages. If a reporter asks: “You said consumers could expect no performance issues with this product. So why now are you introducing product upgrades?” A bridging answer might be — “Our team, especially our R&D team, is focused on the best and most advanced product benefits for our customers. When we discovered this increased benefit with an upgrade, we wanted to get it to our valued customers as soon as possible.”  In refocus, a spokesperson answers a question, but not really the reporter’s question. A refocus could sound like — “Smart question. Actually, we thought it was important to get the original product to consumers immediately. It offers genuine breakthrough benefits. Initial market response shows we met that consumer’s need and interest. When our engineers found a major improvement through this upgrade, we decided to accelerate its introduction to our valued customers.” No one likes it when people dodge a question. A spokesperson can lose his credibility and even control of an interview. However, sometimes it’s the only way to handle rough questions. But as presented below the best approach is having an answer.
  6. Expect the Rough Questions and Prepare AnswersOf course, you never want your spokesperson saying “I can’t answer that question,” “I need to get back to you with an answer,” or especially “no comment.” So create a list of the most probable questions, and focus on the roughest ones. Note I call them “rough” questions because chances are your spokesperson (CEO) isn’t accustomed to or ready for rough treatment. Review all public information about your company (website, news reports, Google searches, etc.) and put yourself in the reporter’s mindset – he wants to look and sound like a sophisticated, informed expert. So think like him. Concentrate on any negative reports that might exist.  What is the best answer a spokesperson can offer? It is the answer you want to hear or read in subsequent media coverage.

You and your company and brand have too much at stake not to train your spokesperson. So, as you consider any spokesperson, please consider these six ideas for Media success.