Getting the best out of media interviews

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I’ve sat in on many interviews between journalists and executives over the years and seen the way some executives take full advantage of the opportunity to the benefit of their organisation, while others don’t – and some end up by creating problems for themselves.

While the type of media dictates rules and approaches (for example, an on-air interview does not usually have the opportunity for backgrounding or general discussion once you’re in the studio) print media can be more conversational.

Even so there are some simple rules every executive should keep in mind even with the most relaxed discussion with a print journalist or on-line blogger.

Prepare

It’s the same with any meetings – a little preparation can go a long way.  Know what it is you want to say and look for opportunities to introduce those messages into the conversation.

On the other hand, be flexible.  It might be that the journalist has an idea for a story that can be useful for your company so you need to be aware of opportunities that come up in the conversation.

Issues not products

Sitting there talking about how good your product is, and making unsubstantiated claims about it being a market leader, isn’t going to excite the journalist into writing a story.

Talking about issues facing the industry, and the sorts of products or services (including yours) that can help manage such issues, is a much better approach.  Try to frame things so it’s interesting to others, not just to you and your organisation.

Not listening

Don’t talk at the journalist all the time: have a conversation and from time to time ask questions like ‘do you follow what I mean?’  Encourage the journalist’s involvement and feedback to make sure they understand where you’re coming from.  Discuss rather than lecture.

Don’t try too hard

The journalist is there and wants a story so you don’t have to try to impress him or her with your importance.  Focus on building relationships showing expertise and knowledge in a modest, matter-of-fact way that delivers any key messages.

Drop the jargon

This is part of trying too hard.  Keep your language simple; if you do, it makes better quotes and you’re less likely to be misunderstood.  Explain things as if you’re talking to a friend or relative.

Don’t inflict deadlines on yourself

It can be tempting to talk about a product that’s in development and then responding to a question ‘when will it be available’ to give an absolute deadline that may or may not be feasible.  It is always better to be a little vague by saying ‘in two or three months’ rather than giving an absolute date.

Don’t scoop yourself

A rider to the above point is that interviewees should be very cautious when talking about future events.  Journalists are very good at following up interesting information with questions that result in interviewees saying far more than they wanted to.

Another result from this type of mistake is that the journalist may go away thinking that they will be given an exclusive when the announcement is made when a wider release would be more effective.

Don’t patronise or beg

Often executives seem to talk down to journalists in a way they don’t with other people.  I think it’s a sign of nerves that they are trying to show how important they are.

Others try to butter up journalists and appear to be very needy, asking when an article will appear and whether the journalist will send it on to them.  This is very awkward and degrades the relationship.

Know who you are talking to

A journalist has every right to expect someone they are interviewing to be familiar with their publication and that they read it regularly.  Showing ignorance about this suggests that the interview isn’t really very important to you, or that you think you’re too important for the publication.

Avoiding these mistakes will help make media contact more rewarding, and even enjoyable!

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