A media interview offers a great opportunity to tell your company’s story but it’s not just another speaking engagement. It is a demanding exercise and for most professionals, it can be unnerving.
Four words that strike fear in the heart of anyone who has been tapped as a company spokesperson are, “A reporter is calling.” This is especially true for professionals who have had no formal media training and are going into the interview cold.
It’s not that reporters are scary, it’s just that in agreeing to be interviewed you can’t help but feel out of your element — and that you may be putting yourself or your company at risk.
After all, it’s called the “mass media,” so masses of people will hear, read or see what you said.
What if you say something you shouldn’t? What exactly are they looking for? If it’s a TV interview, where do you look or what do you wear? Are there any ground rules that govern an interview, and if yes, what are they? And can you take it back?
Embrace the opportunity
For good or bad, media interviews are a fact of life for businesses. Either you are reaching out to reporters and editors asking them to cover something, or they are coming to you looking for a story. In fact, if your business has a public relations division or has hired outside PR consultants, someone is out there proactively seeking media interviews for you and your colleagues.
However an interview opportunity arises, you need to know the ground rules for using that interaction strategically, and most executives have never received even one hour of media interview training.
A media interview offers a great opportunity to tell your company’s story but it’s not just another speaking engagement. It is a demanding exercise that defies all the rules of basic human interaction, provides a ridiculously short amount of time to get across even the most complicated ideas and the only thing you control is what you say or do. Everything else is out of your hands. For most professionals, that is unnerving, if not untenable.
Here are the nine things you should know before talking with a reporter:
1. The success of your interview depends on you. By knowing what to expect going in, learn how to communicate your key messages regardless of the circumstances.
2. Don’t go into an interview planning simply to answer questions. Reporters are looking for context, so tell your story, but learn how to tell it your way.
3. Reporters are justifiably unconcerned about your image, your company’s image, sales or profits, or if what you said is what you meant to say. It’s not their job.
4. Don’t ask a reporter to review a story before it airs or goes to press.
5. Don’t expect a reporter to interpret and report what you meant to say but didn’t.
6. There’s no such thing as “off the record.” The camera is always rolling, the mic is always on. (Just ask any elected official).
7. Keep your answers short. Learn how to think and talk in sound bites.
8. Most interview disasters are the result of something interviewees did or didn’t do. And most can be traced back to misunderstanding the rules of a media interview.
9. Most so-called misquotes are not actually inaccuracies. They are, in fact, the result of what I call “speaker’s remorse” — saying something you wish you hadn’t or in a way you wish you hadn’t.
These skills aren’t rocket science. But they are a departure from what a professional (athlete, government official, doctor, lawyer, widget maker) does all day. And most professionals have learned to succeed by controlling as much as they can in their world. People seeking to play in the media’s sandbox would be wise to get a little training in how to do it well.