PR Basics: Preparing for a Media Interview
So your PR efforts have paid off and you’ve landed that elusive media interview on Sky News. Congratulations. There’s nothing quite like media coverage to build visibility and credibility for your brand.
But the hard work doesn’t end there. If you’re not properly prepared for the interview, at best it could be slightly embarrassing; at worst, you could do some serious damage to your reputation.
As the Boy Scouts say, be prepared
Media interviews can be extremely daunting, even for seasoned professionals, but they’re also a priceless opportunity to get the word out about your business. When handled properly, they can be one of the most effective tools in your public relations campaign.
Here are some top tips to ensure you come out of the interview unscathed:
1. Gather the facts
Preparing for a media interview is similar to preparing for a new job opportunity, although, of course, you’re already an expert. Reach out to the journalist before the interview to clarify the topic of the story, and the angle they’re going to take. Find out the reporter’s questions in advance and see who else they’re interviewing on the topic. This will help you frame your responses.
Beyond obtaining facts about the interview, you can learn a lot about the reporter by reading his or her recent articles or watching their interviews. This will help you understand their tone and style, and help you prepare for any contentious questions or issues that may arise
2. Simplify your message
Spend time creating an outline of your key messages, but keep it to a maximum of three per interview, as the more messages you deliver, the more diluted they’ll become.
During the interview, make sure you use every question as an opportunity to articulate one of your three key points. That doesn’t mean you don’t answer the question. But never lose sight of the fact that you have something you want to say. From your perspective, that’s the whole point of the interview: it’s your chance to communicate your message
3. Never speculate
It’s human nature to give it your best shot at coming up with an answer, but in a media interview, being ‘pretty sure’ of something can harm your organisation’s reputation. If you don’t know the answer, say so, and promise to do your best to find out. Don’t speculate or guess. It’ll look a lot better on you and your company if you’re honest.
4. Don’t repeat negative phrases
Journalists sometimes use negative phrases in their questions. Interviewees often repeat the negative language back to them, even when they’re defending themselves and rebutting the accusation. For example an interviewer may say, “that’s very disappointing isn’t it? Aren’t you disappointed?” You may naturally answer: “I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing…” But you just have. The journalist’s negative language can now be attributed to you. Whether it’s broadcast or press, they now have a neat sound bite with you using their negative phrase. Avoid at all costs.
5. Don’t go off topic
Tempting though it sometimes is, you should never venture into territory you don’t fully understand, or provide an answer you’re unsure of. It’s bound to lead to trouble. Always stay focused on the topic at hand. You may consider having a subject matter expert on hand to help field technical questions, depending on the type of interview
6. Watch your body language
Finally, never forget that body language can communicate your feelings even when you’re not speaking. Wrinkled foreheads and eyebrows, and fluttering hands can communicate volumes. A friendly smile or good handshake can set the tone of an interview before it begins. Body language is even more important on live television. You want to be confident, but not arrogant. You want to appear engaged and active but never agitated or angry. You want to be passionate but not pushy.
As hard as it may be, watch your interview back or read the article afterwards. Critique yourself each time so you can learn how to improve.