By Julie Wright —President
Our agency meets every two weeks for in-house training and recently Practice Area Director Chance Shay shared his best media training tips in a fun session he titled “Crushing Media Interviews.” I’ve participated in or delivered many media trainings, and I liked how Chance’s presentation so concisely shared our agency’s media training tips. So, I’m sharing a recap here.
To avoid a media meltdown, follow this four-step media interview process and our best media training tips:
Step 1. Screen the Opportunity
When you see a media interview go bad like this British interview with Quentin Tarantino, the culprit is typically a lack of preparation combined with an unrealistic expectation as to how the interview was supposed to go. When things don’t go as we expect, some of us—like Tarantino—will lose our cool (which makes great, if cringe-worthy, television for the rest of us).
Screening requires basic fact finding to ensure the opportunity is a good fit for you and that you prepare appropriately.
Chance’s best media training tips started with reviewing the outlet’s and writer’s past coverage. Is this media outlet and opportunity a good fit for your business and its goals? Is it a top-tier media outlet, smaller and scrappier blog or trade media that look for advertising in exchange for editorial coverage? Will the writer do their due diligence and apply a professional code of ethics such as the Society of Professional Journalists’ code? (The established rules of journalism are not always followed or respected by many new media outlets and blogs–from pay-to-play to twisting quotes to fit a partisan political agenda.)
A blogger seeking clicks has a different goal than a long-form magazine feature writer or a local TV news reporter needing video for broadcast, video for the webs and an article for the web. Print and online journalists will often want video to accompany their stories as well.
Find out who else the reporter is interviewing for the story. Are you one of many voices or are you the only person speaking to your side of an issue. They may or may not tell you who else they’re interviewing, but it will certainly help you better prepare if you can find out.
If you’re not clear what it is that the reporter wants from you for their story, ask for more details or clarity. If their explanation doesn’t make sense to you, it is okay and often safer to politely decline.
If this is an opportunity you are interested in, it is important to get the reporter’s deadline and commit to the interview well before that time. I have seen clients hold out until the last second and, as a result, miss the opportunity. The reporter wants to complete all interviews as early as possible so that they can write the story. The longer you wait to provide a comment, the higher the likelihood others will shape the story and your quote will be placed at the very end of the article, if it gets included at all.
Step 2. Prepare for the Opportunity
Take the time to prepare yourself by drafting or reviewing your key messages and talking points.
If you don’t have these already, start by narrowing down the main points you’d want to communicate. Pick your top three. Practice them in front of a mirror or with a friend.
If you are expecting challenging questions during your interview, brainstorm all of the worst rude questions you might be asked and practice your responses to them. That way, when the nasty question arises, you’ll be relaxed and able to respond without losing your cool.
During our discussion of preparation methods, Chance was asked by a participant whether it was true that Sarah Palin had refused media training. Famously, she did and famously, it showed.
Step 3. Interview Smart
“After all of this, it’s go time,” Chance said. “If it’s an outlet that’s challenging for your client or client industry, you can still get a great win.”
During the interview, remember your ABCD’s.
- Acknowledge the question: “I’m glad that you asked that.” Or “I get asked that question a lot.”
- Bridge to key messages: “That’s a great question that I get asked a lot, but what’s really important to people is / what our customers ask is…” These phrases help you move from the interviewer’s questions to your key messages. More examples: “Let me answer that question by putting things into context…” “Let’s talk about something I’m even more familiar with…” “Well the answer is no, but what is really important here is…”
- Conclude with proof points: “… we know that because we did a customer survey and 95% said…”
- Dangle the next topic if you’re feeling lucky: “… and it’s dang cool software design” or “… and that discovery leads to a really surprising new problem to solve.”
Chance’s best media training tips included being brief. The less you say, the more poignant and quotable your points are. It also lets the interviewer be engaged so they can ask questions and leaves them wanting more. It’s easy to drone on, especially when a reporter is interviewing you by phone and taking notes. Just because the reporter hasn’t asked another question, doesn’t mean you need to fill the void with ramblings. Make your point and wait for the next question.
Avoid negatives or charged words. A “problem” is a “challenge.” You don’t “hate” something, you “prefer its alternative.” It wasn’t a “failure” but a “learning opportunity.”
Recent media research shows that the media don’t have a political bias. They have a bias for ‘negative’ angles. Conflict sells. When everything is going smoothly and harmoniously, there’s no news.
Remember during your interview that nothing is off the record and the camera is always rolling. What you say before or after the interview can be picked up by a hot mic. Chance’s best media training tips include not saying anything you don’t want to see all over the Internet.
Be conscious of your energy level and body language. Your nonverbal communication can say more than your words. Voice, gestures, posture, eye contact. Avoid eye rolls or big sighs. And if it’s an on-camera interview, dress for the part.
Step 4. Follow Up
Correct any inaccurate statements or provide more follow-up to clarify content from the interview. This could include emailing a full study or images and other links to the reporter. If you have an agency or PR department, they will often take care of the loose ends.
But you can still debrief on the final published story to look for opps to improve for next time.
Chance shared additional do’s and don’ts among his best media interview tips. It was an excellent session but it is no replacement for a full, customized media training session including on-camera practice that is based on your industry, your company’s needs and your own level of comfort in the media hot seat.