A polished performance could enhance your reputation and boost sales, but an inept one could easily do the opposite, says John Morrison, MD of training and PR agency Morrison Media. The former Newsnight editor offers his guide to giving the perfect media interview
Boardroom attitudes to the media vary hugely, but they can be grouped into three broad categories. The owners and leaders of many businesses simply choose to avoid dealing with journalists altogether. Unaccustomed to facing questions from the media, they fear the unknown and worry about the damage that negative coverage could wreak on their brands. A lot of other directors allow themselves to be thrust into the spotlight, rarely at a time of their own choosing and often at short notice. To use a phrase I have heard frequently, they “muddle through”. Poorly prepared for the questions they receive, these uneasy interviewees are often dissatisfied with the resulting coverage. And then there are those who are very comfortable with the glare of publicity. They will actively seek opportunities to talk about their companies, products and markets. They are usually rewarded with a higher profile and positive coverage, which can ultimately boost sales.
What’s the difference between them? It’s highly likely that media training has played a significant role in helping directors in the last category to become masterful performers. It demystifies what journalists are looking for and teaches people the skills to handle the trickiest of questions. Here are six ways in which you can make your next encounter with the media a positive experience for you and your business.
When you are dealing with journalists, it’s essential to stay in charge of the situation. If you receive an interview request, it is important that you ask the journalist a number of questions to establish the key facts. The following “five Ws” are a good starting point:
Who reads the publication or watches/listens to the programme? Who will be asking the questions? Who else will be taking part?
What subjects are you expected to talk about? What format of article – feature or news; radio TV or online – will it be?
Why, if the enquiry is not specific to your company, are you being approached at this time?
Where will the interview take place: in a studio or on location; face to face or over the phone?
When will it take place? If it’s going to be a television or radio interview, will it be pre-recorded or broadcast live?
Only once you are satisfied with the answers should you should agree to participate.
Choose the firm’s most appropriate spokesperson
In the case of television and radio interviews, it’s crucial that the company selects the right individual to represent the business. Sometimes the most senior employee may not be the most appropriate person for the task. If your organisation makes use of media training, part of the feedback from the course leaders should include a recommendation as to its best performers under pressure.
Have a main message that you are able to convey succinctly
It’s vital before any interview to determine the most important point you need to make. If you are appearing on a pre-recorded television package, you will usually have only 15 seconds to get your key message across. This equates to fewer than 50 words. It’s also useful to consider how you might get back to the point should the interviewer start moving away from it.
Prepare, practiseand perform
The adage “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” certainly applies to giving a media interview. Company owners will usually seek guidance from professional advisers – eg, accountants and lawyers – before making a significant commercial decision. Before you engage with any journalist, it’s just as important to consult a media adviser.
A skilled adviser will be able to see the opportunities and threats in each potential encounter and advise you accordingly. Your preparations should include an analysis of all questions – straightforward and searching – that are likely to be asked. If you’re intent on telling only a positive story, you will not be ready for a tough examination. Practice saying your key message if it’s going to be broadcast on radio or TV. Satisfy yourself that you’re able to express it clearly under pressure. If you’re not sure that you can, change the wording.
A broadcast interview should always be conversational, but don’t be lulled into thinking that it is a conversation. It’s a performance and should be treated as such. Most of what we hear is what we see: studies indicate that a TV audience will receive seven per cent of the message from the interviewee’s words; 38 per cent from their vocal tone and 55 per cent from their body language.
Tell your own story
Companies often go on the front foot when they have good news to spread, but the reach of the traditional press release is limited. Think about embedding video clips in emails to help tell your story. Most newspapers and trade magazines have websites and social media pages that can host such footage.
Good business journalists are likely to want more information than that which is typically supplied in a press release. Before writing a story, they will need hard facts and meaningful figures from you. Remember that a journalist is neither your friend nor your enemy. They are simply focused on doing their job, often against very tight deadlines.
Relish the opportunity
If you are well enough prepared for it, a media interview is likely to prove an enjoyable and rewarding experience, which could bring huge benefits to your firm – and be one you’ll want to repeat.