Succeeding at Your Next Media Interview
For many businesses, a surefire way to build thought leadership and brand awareness among target audiences is through coverage in key media outlets. Landing a hit in an article is an effective, organic way to reach audiences by having them ‘stumble upon’ your ideas in their normal news consumption, rather than forced upon them in an advertisement.
But, like growing produce, organic does not mean easy; it takes hard work. Convincing a reporter of your expertise is only half the battle. The winning formula comes when a skilled spokesperson delivers meaningful messages at the right time, in the right manner. To aid your efforts, we’ve provided a few tips to help your next interview.
• Selecting a spokesperson: Pick someone who is engaging, confident, and speaks both clearly and confidently. Reporters often prefer higher-ranking individuals within a company. Additionally, subject matter experts (SMEs) can be a great resource, though they should be careful to avoid the curse of knowledge. Meaning, they know too much and aren’t able to boil answers and advice to easily digestible nuggets of information.
• Always use “we”: Representatives speaking on behalf of the company should use collective pronouns. It gives that person credibility with the power of a team behind them. Phrases like, “What we’re seeing …,” instead of “What I’m seeing…” carry greater weight and gravitas. Also, speaking on behalf of clients, the industry or other audiences is oftentimes appropriate. For example, “The number one concern that we’re hearing in the industry is...,” or “What most of our clients are saying is…”
• Don’t forget to answer the question: In interviews, it can be easy to start talking in circles, particularly if you’re nervous. Nothing aggravates reporters more than not giving a satisfactory answer to their question. That being said, when tough questions come up, there are ways to answer the question without giving incriminating information; meaning, answering the question without answering the question.
• Know what you know and say what you don’t: While interviews are all about being the expert, it’s okay to not have every answer. Instead of fumbling for an answer, the best thing to do when you’re not sure is to just say so. Reporters appreciate an honest answer. The best thing to do is to say that you’ll look into their question and will follow up with the answer. Plus, it’s an excuse to get in touch with them again.
• Aim to be quotable: Often, the reason you were, or were not, included in an article after you were interviewed is because of how you said it, not what you said. The majority of media sources are experts in their domain. The use of a few catchy phrases and quotable sentences can spell the difference between getting left on the editing floor or named in the article.
• Keep it simple: We work with many businesses in complex industries. As a result, the interview topics are often a bit technical: the latest trends in the ETF managed portfolio industry or the pros and cons of bundled payments, for example. Naturally, the topics and language can get pretty complex as well. Yet, even if a topic is complex, good interviewees have a skill of conveying their thoughts in a simple and direct language. Jargon and insider language can be off-putting to both reporters and readers. Save it for an industry cocktail party.
• Be positive (avoid negatives): In general, try to speak in the positives, both about your company, and more broadly. If a reporter asks you about something negative, don’t repeat the negative. Respond by rephrasing their question in a positive light. Replace any negative words with positive ones like replacing what “didn’t happen” with what “did happen,” or talking about a “problem” as an “opportunity.”
• Keep calm: A reporter’s job is to get a good story. In most cases, that means just getting valuable and helpful information from you, but sometimes it means asking tough questions. If you face a question that seems instigative, don’t take it personally. Always respond to the content, not the delivery.
And above all, to quote Allen Iverson, it’s all about practice.