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Make The Most of Your Next Media Interview

by Jennifer McNeil

As business owners we know that getting coverage in the media can be a great way to spread the word about our companies. We also know, however, that media exposure can be a double-edged sword if we don't go about it wisely.

Whether you enjoy being a media darling, or would rather have a root canal then participate in an interview, here are some practical steps you can take to put your best foot forward.

Think Preparation, Focus and Follow-up!

The Power of Preparation

Have strong messages and Q&A that you feel comfortable delivering

  • Create and commit to paper 3 -5 key messages that you want to get across and keep them brief, memorable and quotable.
  • Avoid using "corporate speak" or industry jargon, and be able to back up your claims with data & customer testimonials.
  • Think through questions that you'd dread being asked and then create a Q&A that will prepare you to provide credible and consistent responses.

Go into the interview, as you would any business meeting, with clear objectives

Ask yourself…

  • Do I want to provide education on a particular trend or issue?
  • Am I trying to differentiate my product, service or viewpoint from a specific competitor?
  • Do I need to address a misconception about my company or industry?

Do some homework on the media outlet you are interviewing with, and know the journalist's goals and expectations going in

  • Visit the outlet's website, do internet research, and check out an edition or show in advance to get smarter. Look for the types of stories they run, the format and tone of their outlet, the audience they are trying to reach, and how they have covered similar topics or issues in the past.
  • It is absolutely appropriate to ask the reporter the focus and mission of their story and the types of questions you can expect in advance.

Let Focus Be Your Interview Guide

Stay on message and stick with what you know

  • As the old adage says … tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell then what you just told them. This doesn't mean being inflexible or wooden in interviews, but rather using your key messages as a strong starting and ending point for your discussion.
  • If you're uncomfortable with your level of knowledge on a topic or question indicate that it is not your area of expertise and offer to connect the reporter with your PR person, a colleague, or alternative source as appropriate.

Don't feel obliged to answer every question or go "off the record"

  • An interview shouldn't be an inquisition and you are not required to answer every question posed. If you are unable or unwilling to answer, decline politely … indicating that this is an area that is not appropriate for you to discuss. Next, move to a related point or insight that you do feel comfortable in sharing so they feel like you've listened and made an effort to respond.
  • Avoid saying "No Comment" as this is what they may end up quoting you on and it sounds curt and defensive.
  • Remember that nothing is ever "off the record" – even if you are in an informal setting like an event reception or in the restroom. Remember if you say it… they have the right to print it!

Take The High Road

  • Always provide accurate information and if you think you've mistakenly given out unclear or incorrect information, circle back and clarify it on the spot and then confirm their understanding.
  • Never argue or become combative – even if the reporter or line of questioning is overbearing or rude.
  • Don't criticize the competition or another company or service – it's fine to differentiate what you are offering but keep it positive and factual.

It Ain't Over Til' The Follow-up Sings

Continue to be a resource to the reporter as they prepare to file their story

  • Know their deadline constraints and make yourself available for post-interview requests like customer references, photographs, product or service descriptions, copies of studies you reference etc.

Have realistic expectations but don't be afraid to point out true inaccuracies

  • It is very rare that a reporter will ask you to read or fact check their article/your quote before it appears – don't expect it, or ask to do so.
  • News cycles and big happenings may affect when and if your piece appears e.g. if we go to war, have an economic shift, or get 3 feet of snow that will become the "story" for the next several weeks or even months and your story may get tabled. You should also expect that you may become a small part of a larger article once it hits the editors' desk.
  • If there is a factual or statistical error in the piece that runs, pursue a correction or at least bring it to the attention of the reporter. Despite what many people think, very few reporters want to run a factually incorrect story just to sell papers.

Stay in touch

  • Developing ongoing, long-term relationships with reporters and their outlets is one of the best ways to create quality results so keep an updated list of reporters and editors you've worked with so you can continue to share important news and developments about you and your company.
  • If you know the reporter is hot on a particular topic or issue and you come across an interesting new study or data point, drop the reporter an informal line-this helps establish you as an expert source. [This is a tactic that should be used sparingly and wisely.]
  • Find out if an outlet you're interested in publishes an editorial calendar on upcoming themes and then keep and eye on it and proactively pitch ideas or angles where you might be able to add value.

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