Although the Great Recession is over, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the PR budgets of most organizations. Like other areas of business, many of us are being asked to do more with less. This means making sacrifices and focusing on what is absolutely essential to success. One thing that is often put on the “nice to have” rather than the “must do” list is formal media training. For most organizations, that probably makes sense, but that doesn’t mean that it should be ignored all together. Brand PR professionals and agency staff should still make the effort to ensure that spokespeople have basic media skills. Even if you have to do the training yourself, make sure that anyone who will participate in an interview has a good grasp of these fundamentals.
Prepare and Practice
A press interview should never be a “wing it” kind of situation. It is important, in advance, to do due diligence on the reporter, their publication and their audience. A list of expected questions should be compiled ahead of time and the interviewee should practice answering them.
Outline Key Messages
Never forget that the interview is being done because you believe that it will benefit the brand, not as a favor to the reporter. With that in mind, take the time to develop the key messages that you want to make it into the final story. Choose three or four important points and develop easily quoted soundbites to communicate them.
Check the News
You never want to get blindsided by a question about breaking news related to your industry or your company. Before an interview, be sure to check your media dashboard so that you will be ready to answer questions about recent events.
Assume You Are on Record
Go in with the understanding that every single word you say might be made public. Former president, George H.W. Bush, understood this all too well. Speaking about the dangers of open microphones in 1991, he advised Arnold Schwarzenegger, “These, they're very dangerous. They trap you. Especially these furry ones...it's these furry guys that get you in real trouble. They can reach out and listen to something so keep it respectful here.” Carefully stick to your key message and never speculate. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Instead, offer to find out the correct answer and follow up later.
Don’t Be Defensive
You want to come across as confident and competent, not defensive or arrogant. If negative questions are asked, don’t restate the negative in the answer. Instead, reframe it with a positive point of view. This is tricky, so it deserves some practice.
Even if the reporter speaks the language of your industry, their audience might not. By avoiding the use of industry lingo, acronyms and jargon, you increase the chances that the general public will understand your key messages.
At the conclusion of the interview, reiterate any follow up items, such as a head shot, company background or unanswered questions that you owe the reporter and follow up quickly.
Earned media is an important part of your PR strategy. Even if formal media training didn’t make the budget, be sure to make the effort to get the most out of every interview by walking each spokesperson through this abbreviated version.