Interview preparation is vital to public relations.
An unprepared or ineffective spokesperson can squander a publicity opportunity; a well-prepared representative can transform it from mediocre to meteoric.
Here are tips to incorporate into your media training arsenal:
Prepare your spokesperson for different kinds of reporters.
Good media coaching goes beyond prepared messages; it can include on-the-spot strategizing on how to neutralize an uncertain or even negative scenario with disarming, non-defensive responses. Beyond helping a spokesperson speak effectively for a print interview versus broadcast, look to arm clients with intelligence on a few different types of reporters.
These can include an inexperienced journalist or blogger (a potential time suck), an adversarial reporter who already has a story in mind, or an interviewer skilled at drawing out more information than would be prudent to share. Show clients how to “read” reporters early on. Your prep sessions should include simulated interviews to prepare for each of these one-on-one scenarios.
Develop “go-to” phrases to capture important messages.
No matter how complicated the product or service may be, its story is better understood through a short, colorful turn of phrase. Much of the media prep work should focus on condensing a longer or more complex thought into something we all can understand.
For example, a client offering a high-quality selection for people new to wine, or seeking to get out of a buying rut, is positioned as “the Rosetta Stone of wine”—which helps set up the story in a quick interview.
Exercise control during the interview.
A top coach will offer ways to pivot gracefully away from an uncomfortable or irrelevant question toward a better response. It might mean redirecting the reply with a transitional phrase such as, “I don’t know about that, but I can tell you…” or, “The real issue is…”
That can be challenging when a reporter asks the same question in different ways to try to get a desired response. Politicians have mastered this type of segue, though some overuse it, which simply suggests they’re avoiding the issue.
It’s better to respond like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand when she was asked several times in a revent interview about possibly running for higher office. “I’m focused on 2018,” she repeated calmly each time. The best advice: Listen closely, acknowledge the question, and choose what you’d like to answer.
Beware “fake news” reporting.
A reporter could misquote you, take something out of context or edit an interview in some provocative or unflattering way. That isn’t technically fake news, but it can happen. It takes a well-prepared spokesperson to remain poised and give thoughtful responses to questions.
The particularly adept will even lead the reporter to their preferred topics, often resulting in a wonderful showcase for the brand. Still, when an interview runs or airs and contains errors or falsehoods, the only recourse is to reach out to the reporter, cite the errors and ask for corrections.
Aim for fluency, not stilted scripting.
The best spokespeople come across as relaxed and natural, not robotic. Obviously memorized talking points neither impress nor persuade. That’s why practice sessions are so important, and it’s why spokespeople should write about the brand or product they represent and have hands-on experience with it. The greater the spokesperson’s familiarity with the product, the more fluid and comfortable the interview will be.
Be that spokesperson who gets quoted.
Certain industry pundits are called upon again and again, usually because they keep up on current events and offer pithy quotes. For an article about online marketing and social media, Gary Vaynerchuk will probably be quoted. Is this because Vaynerchuk is brilliant and knowledgeable? Maybe, but it’s also because he has packaged his expertise in a smart, accessible way and knows how to deliver an interesting quote.
Take this recent one referencing how to become famous through social media: “If you want to be internet famous, you have to wrap your head around seven years, and I think most people are in seven weeks.”
His advice is simple but rooted in authentic experience. That’s a high bar to aim for, but a little bit of training goes a long way.
A version of this post first appeared on the Crenshaw Communications PR Fish Bowl blog.