Media relations are an essential part of running a business, yet many businesses don’t prepare as well as they could to deal with the media.
A media relations scenario
A reporter just called asking if she could interview someone from your company about the latest development or a breaking news story in your industry. Hooray or nay? One of the most exciting things that can happen to a company is to receive media coverage. Whether you are receiving media coverage for a positive story or a negative one, getting a call from a reporter asking for an interview should set in motion a number of steps to paint your company in the best possible light.
Media relations 101: You have control
Most people think they have no control over how an interview will go. WRONG. You have a great deal of control over how you prepare your spokesperson and how you answer the questions to put your best foot forward even in awkward or negative circumstances.
Here are five simple media relations tips to better prepare you for your next interview:
1. Ask the reporter what they are looking to cover. If the editor or reporter says “It’s no big deal, it’s going to be a good news story” still be aware of other events and news in the periphery of your industry your spokesperson could be asked to comment on. It is always smart to ask which specific segment of the business or organization the reporter would like to cover. Doing so will help prepare spokespeople appropriately with details and helpful information. Always ask how the interview will be used. Have a media kit with backgrounders, key bios of high profile executives, and even an annual report on hand to provide the reporter.
2. Choose spokespeople wisely. Believe it or not, not every CEO is meant to be a spokesperson. Some businesses appoint PR executives as spokespeople, and others may use a CFO or CMO depending on the topic at hand. Choose the spokesperson that can best answer the questions and give the reporter enough of a story s/he can develop.
3. Prep spokespeople. Then prep them again. If you watch any television or even read newspapers, you can tell when a spokesperson has not been prepped appropriately for an interview. They are hesitant and unfocused in their answers. They may say unsavoury things about competitors, colleagues, or the topic at hand. This is not what constitutes best practices for media relations. Any spokesperson should be coached by the PR team (not to give trite or canned answers) to anticipate the reporter’s questions and to handle pressure when a question comes out of left field to rattle a spokesperson. Role playing and knowing facts and figures about the current state of business can help alleviate gaffes in this area.
4. Talk in the language of your audience. Speak with authority and sincerity. Avoid jargon that could confuse or alienate your audience. Don’t be a robot and be stiff in an effort to stay on message. Practice your delivery so it sounds like you but still gives the proper information. Assert your position in positive terms even if the story is a negative or controversial one.
5. Know when to stop talking. This is the one tip my clients say they’ve never heard before but consider it the most important one. Most reporters are hunters—they know the Next Big Story is just waiting to jump out of an excited person’s mouth. First things first—always assume everything you say is ON the record from the time you greet the reporter until the reporter hangs up the phone or leaves the room. Do note many reporters will ask a question and simply let the spokesperson babble on long past when the appropriate answer has been given. More often than not the spokesperson will simply keep talking. Why, you ask? Because there is something unsettling about silence. We want to fill it up. And when you are being interviewed it can be nerve wracking to start talking and reach the end of your thought process, wait to hear the next question, and be met with silence. So what do spokespeople do? They keep talking. Some will simply repeat themselves but others will start to veer off in a direction the question was never meant to take and end up spilling their proverbial guts just because they found the silence deafening. We’re here to say, “SHHHH!” When you’ve said your piece—just stop and enjoy the silence. Media relations mastery.
Have you ever wished you could do an interview over? What are some of your media relations techniques for giving a great interview?