Spotlight On: Preparing for Your Next Big Media Interview

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Have you ever been in an interview with a reporter where you thought, “Damn, why didn’t I take the time to understand their interests more?” Although this happens to even the most media-savvy among us, it doesn’t have to. And here’s how to prevent this from happening to you.

Imagine this: tomorrow you have an interview with a journalist who’s writing a story for one of your A-list publications.

You think to yourself, “I got this. Why would I need to take time out of my busy day to prepare? I’ve been speaking with the media for 10 years.” Next, you’ll probably tick off your list: “Media training? Check. Developed key messages? Check. Completed a practice run? Check. Okay, I’m ready!”

These are common reactions, but even the best of the best spokespeople need to prepare for each and every interview. Do you know what the journalist’s style and personality are like? What they’ve written about lately? How about their opinions of your industry?

There’s a lot to think about before any media interview, and many times, you have only 30 minutes or less to deliver your message. Are you really ready for that next big interview?

To help ensure that you’re truly prepared, consider these tips before your next date with a journalist:

1. Know your key messages. What are your top three messages that you want to communicate? Write them down. Be direct, focused, informative and on target when delivering them. Seek out and understand the journalist’s interests, and talk to those interests, while aligning your message objectives to your business.

2. Do you know the journalist? What is their style? Personality? Will they throw those tough and tricky questions at you or are they laid-back and friendlym? Reading articles, blogs, tweets, as well as their bio will give you a better feel for their style, and they’ll appreciate hearing that you did your homework when you drop a quick “nice job on that story you wrote yesterday” email in their inbox. Knowing what makes a journalist tick isn’t always easy to pull out of their work, but having a PR team with vested relationships among your key media is certainly a benefit, as they can help guide you down the right path.

3. Anticipate the questions. Sometimes journalists will give the questions to the interviewee beforehand, but most times, they won’t. If you don’t have the questions in advance, try to anticipate the questions and develop your own Q&A to better prepare. Clearly communicating why what you’re telling them matters is a huge plus, and doing so in the beginning versus the end is a bonus.

4. Speak to your benefits. Stay confident in your answers – you are the expert, so speak with authority. Stay focused on your company’s benefits, products, and solutions, but steer clear of trash-talking your competitors. You can talk factually about how you are different from your competition, but be smart about it. At the end of the day, you’re there to talk about your company, not a competitor’s.

5. Turn the tables – ask the journalist a few questions of your own. Throw in a few general industry questions to make the discussion more interactive but steer clear of deep technical questions that could stump them; remember, you are the expert and that’s why they are seeking information from you. You’ll find that in speaking with the media, a lot of times they’re very knowledgeable about your industry, as they interview many different sources throughout the year.

6. Customers, customers, customers! Journalists love to hear the “how” when it comes to the way your product, solution or service is being used. It’s not always possible but if you can, offer up a customer example, as it creates value and lends credibility to your story.

7. Take advantage of the opportunity. Use this time with the journalist very wisely – a typical media interview lasts a mere 30 minutes or less. Be prepared and focused in your story, and don’t’ waste too much time stage-setting. As you share your important messages during your interview, take the opportunity to interject a few story ideas or trends to give them new, interesting topics to write about at a future time. This could help forge a trusted relationship and lead to other interview opportunities.

8. “Off the record” doesn’t exist. If you don’t want to see something in print, don’t say it. Period.

9. Don’t avoid the question. If a journalist asks a question that’s out of your area of expertise, offer to follow up with an answer and stick to that promise.

10. Don’t get sidetracked. If you get a question that’s off topic or starts going down a path you’d rather not take, redirect the conversation. Carefully bring it back to the intended topic and your key messages.

Follow these tips and you’ll know you’ve provided a meaningful interview, clearly communicated your key messages up front and throughout, and are on your way to developing a good media relationship. The next time you have the opportunity to speak with the media, ask yourself: “Did I make the most of my time and give the reporter quality content they can turn into a thought leading story?” Hopefully, you’ll be able to answer “Yes!” with confidence.

Tell us if these tips helped you prepare for your media interview.