7 pro tips to ace media interviews

Help your clients demonstrate expertise, temper personal anecdotes with data, employ humor and learn to appreciate the power of ‘I’ll get back to you.’

Nothing in public relations is quite as rewarding as securing an important interview for a client.

Once you land an interview, however, that’s not the time to relax. For some, it can require an intensive media training session. For others, a simple review of the interviewer’s background and expectations is all that’s necessary.

We can’t all represent stars like Jeff Bezos. Many clients are more like Anthony Scaramucci, but either way, we can help generate opportunities that serve their interests well.

Here are seven tips we’ve gleaned over the years:

1. Always accompany clients to interviews.

Anna Mariotti, public information coordinator at WSP USA, stresses the importance of clients’ having a media liaison or PR person sit in on the interview. She reasons:

It adds a layer of accountability and an extra set of ears. A PR rep can speak up in a conversational manner if necessary to clarify any statements made by the interviewee that may be vague, unclear or open to interpretation.

You’ll inevitably learn something new whenever you accompany a senior client executive to an interview.

2. Make judicious use of personal anecdotes and data.

Most PR people agree that the inclusion of relevant data in an interview is as important as sprinkling in personal anecdotes.

Today’s audiences are looking for authentic, emotionally connecting stories backed up by newsworthy data.

Jim Curtis, president of Remedy Health Media, tells reporters how patients with various conditions benefit from the emotional storytelling on his company’s site. These personal stories serve as a conduit to the broader business success story.

Try to strike a sensible balance between too much data and over-the-top emotion.

3. Demonstrate expertise.

Today’s executives must come across as industry experts. It’s important to reference trends and current events that pertain to your business.

Be prepared with several interesting or unexpected nuggets of information and, where possible, offer compelling insight or a unique angle. We also recommend making the interview a conversation; feel free to ask the reporter a thought-provoking question.

Any executive sitting for an interview should be able to provide more than just what’s happening in his or her company. Top interviewees should be fluent in what’s happening in the industry—and the world—and how it relates to any number of newsworthy topics.

4. Use humor.

This tip came from a former client who liked to joke a bit with a journalist before starting an interview. Even if the subject matter was serious, he found that breaking the ice with humor helped put both parties at ease and made for a more productive session.

Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, a comedy enthusiast, was famous for putting even the toughest audience at ease with humor. Of course, CEOs aren’t always natural comedians—and you can’t force it—but interviewees can usually inject some measure of innocuous humor into interview situations.

However, don’t ever get too comfortable with interviewers. Remember that they are there to do a job, not to be your buddy.

5. Remember the power of ‘I’ll have to get back to you.’

In our media prep sessions, we advise spokespeople to realize they might not have all the answers. There’s no shame in saying, “I don’t know off the top of my head, but I’ll get back to you.”

This is in no way meant to stonewall. It’s completely legitimate to want to provide the most accurate response to a serious question. A delayed response is far better than taking a guess and having to correct an error after the interview runs.

Following up with a reporter provides another opportunity for positive interaction, which could lead to future interviews.

6. Record and review.

Going over interviews provides an opportunity to learn from mistakes, which can prove helpful in future media encounters. We recommend looking at how the interviewee does the following:

  • Takes control of the interview
  • Delivers the key messages
  • Incorporates appropriate body language
  • Speaks articulately and naturally (not too fast or slow)
  • Maintains credibility

We also look at how a person takes command of each kind of interview scenario, including “hardball,” “softball” or the dreaded “unprepared” (a rambling or disorganized interviewer).

7. Keep social media in mind.

Veteran crisis PR strategist Susan Tellem cautions against having executives agree to an interview that arises from something negative on social media, such as an errant tweet or a comment taken out of context. She says:

It’s imperative to have a spokesperson fluent in social media. It’s also important to ensure you have dedicated resources monitoring and preparing to respond and comment if necessary.

Tellem adds that if you don’t feel confident that your spokesperson can handle the conversation, then “get another spokesperson who can.”

A version of this post first appeared on the Crenshaw Communications blog.

Topics: PR


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