As the saying goes, it’s the little things that kill. The little things can also derail a media interview.
Media interviews are important, because they are hard to come by these days. Many reporters—even those at trade publications—often have to publish upward of six stories per day. Some reporters publish even more. That doesn’t leave much time for an in-depth topic examination.
PR professionals who consistently blog will have a special appreciation of the demands placed on members of the media. When we PR pros earn an interview, it can strengthen or weaken our credibility in providing relevant and useful sources.
Most PR people draft a briefing sheet to help prepare executives for interviews. These briefs should include:
- The reporter, his background and links to his social media profiles
- The reporter’s angle
- Relevant or related coverage
- Questions the reporter will probably ask
- Data to answer those questions
When easy questions become hard
PR pros are especially sensitive to what might go awry in an interview. As a result, they tend to focus on the hard questions. Though it depends on the individual, executives are usually good at answering hard questions; they do it all the time with customers, leaders and employees. However, PR pros and executives often overlook the easy questions.
Here are three easy questions that can derail a media interview:
1. The vague opening question
Reporters are busy. Sure, we all are, but what’s unique about the news industry is the quick transition from one topic to the next. Maybe the reporter saw an email’s subject line and skimmed the contents to decide the story was worth pursuing, but didn’t have time to research the details. Vague opening questions might include:
- Tell me about the study.
- What’s this all about?
- What’s on your mind (with respect to a given topic)?
Interviewees tend to be better at answering specific questions and can easily stumble over their words as they gather their thoughts. It’s better to practice this question before the interview so the person can consider how to explain a given topic succinctly.
2. The personal question
News happens fast, so if the pitch or announcement is big news, probably more than one outlet will cover it. To find a different angle and tell a good story, reporters will often ask more personal questions. If PR has only prepped the executive for the tough questions, personal questions can be a bit of a surprise.
Examples might include:
- How did you get your start in the industry?
- How did you get to your current position?
- How would you characterize your management style (with respect to the topic)?
Again, an interviewee who has had a chance to think about such questions can consider what might be important to the reporter. He’ll also avoid a long-winded, rambling answer. Usually reporters are not looking for how smart or awesome the person is. They are looking for something unique that might aid in conveying a sense of understanding to their audiences.
3. The vague closing
Most reporters will close an interview with a simple question: Is there anything you’d like to add? This is a chance to reinforce your most important points.
Sometimes the interviewee will simply answer, “No, that’s about it,” which is a missed opportunity in a rare interview. Worse, it can introduce something new. It’s generally a bad idea to close a presentation this way, and the same is true with interviews. Give executives a chance to consider how they’d recap the announcement or news at the end of an interview.
Practicing these easy questions is an important part of prepping executives for a good interview. Doing little things right can make a big difference.
A version of this article originally appeared on Sword and the Script.