I think everyone would agree that media coverage of your company is a good thing. That is, of course, unless a "60 Minutes" camera crew is waiting in your reception area to discuss rumors of illegal workplace practices.
In most instances, though, being profiled in the media provides a forum-one in which you can communicate key organizational messages- that money can't buy. Many companies are keenly aware of this. You probably have noticed some that seem to constantly be in the news. They obtain media coverage and valuable space in front of customers, prospects, investors and other important audiences because they understand how to effectively work the media.
But are they saying the right things in the interview, and are they making the most of such opportunities? This month, I'd like to focus on the interview process and how to make it work for both you and the reporter. First, you need to clearly understand the reporter's perspective.
Reporters work under constant deadline pressure. They look for exclusive information, drama and/or controversy in a story, something that will make their report stand out from their competition's. They will ask straightforward-if not blunt-questions. Most reporters value responsive, knowledgeable sources and will return to those who consistently offer good quotes and reliable background information. They value honesty and integrity. If you don't know the answer to a question, admit it or offer to get back to the reporter after you check things out. Never lie or say "no comment," either of which makes you appear that you have something to hide.
Now here are several tips to help you prepare for all types of media interviews:
Print interview tips
Newspaper or magazine interviews may take place in person or over the telephone. Key points in your preparation should include:
- Know something about the publication. Read the most recent issue and look for articles written by the interviewer so you know his or her style and can provide a positive comment to "break the ice."
- Bring notes. Have notes available with key points you want to make. Even a lengthy interview can seemingly go by quickly, and key points might not be expressed.
- Avoid rambling. If you find yourself rambling or drifting off the subject, don't try to awkwardly find your way back. Simply interrupt yourself and refocus with a phrase like, "The point I want to make is . . . ." or "What's really important here is . . . ."
Television interview tips
Television is definitely the most intimidating media source. Unless your interview is scheduled as part of a news or informational program, interviews slated for newscasts may range from a 7- to 40-second sound bite, even if you spoke to the reporter for a half-hour. So keep in mind the following:
- Keep eye contact with the reporter. Don't look up or down and don't look directly toward the camera unless the reporter is in a studio and you are in another location.
- Be concise. Try to keep each answer to 20-30 seconds.
- Be yourself. Don't be afraid to be expressive or use your hands while talking. However, watch for visible nervous reactions, such as rocking in your chair.
- Smile. Even if the show is on a sensitive issue, smile when you're introduced and when the program or your segment ends.
- Think key messages. Since most of what you say will be edited out, provide a couple of strong, positive "sound bites" to ensure that your key messages will be conveyed.
Radio interview tips
As with print and television interviews, the length may by very short for a news broadcast or longer for in-studio programs with in-depth analysis. So remember:
- Know the format. Try to listen to two or three shows before your interview. Get to know the interviewer's style and typical program content.
- Words rule. While television provides an image of you to the audience, radio provides only your voice. Avoid answering with gestures. No one, except the radio host, can see your head nodding up and down. Create an image or picture for listeners and avoid jargon.
- Admit to a disagreement. If you don't agree with a statement made by the host or reporter, say so in a polite way.
- Emphasize points. Use introductory comments like "I'd like to say this about that . . . ." or "It's important to note . . . ."
The most important thing to remember is that, while you can't control what the media say, you can always control what you say and how you appear to the reading, viewing or listening audience. Prepare, know your subject, be confident, be honest and enjoy yourself-unless it really is "60 Minutes" in your reception area.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications consulting firm. Comments and questions can be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.