Landing Your Message When You Land An Interview
Facing a camera with a microphone (or two) recording your every word can be daunting for even the most seasoned spokesperson. But for those who aren’t used to the media spotlight, an interview with a reporter can be downright scary.
Communicating with your stakeholders through media interviews remains one of your most effective public relations channels, and you definitely don’t want to waste the opportunity… or the investment your company has made in the effort.
So how do you make the most of an interview with a reporter? You do it through the effective delivery of key messages that constitute news.
What You Need to Know
Your key messages are the most important points you want to make in an interview. They are the most clear and most concise expression of your purpose. A good way to determine your key messages is to ask yourself, “If I only had seven seconds, what would I want to make sure my audience knows?” When you can answer that question succinctly, you will have identified your messages. However, if your key messages are simply facts you want to tout about yourself, take out an ad. A reporter’s job is to report news, so you must prepare to communicate company and product information inside a news paradigm.
Before beginning any media encounter, you must know and be able to confidently state your key messages for they will be the foundation of your interview. Once you have clarity about the priority messages yourself, you must determine how those messages fit inside trends, industry issues and other impactful news such that your messages are relevant to the conversation of the day.
In preparing your newsworthy key messages, you also should consider:
- Why you are doing the interview in the first place? What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to raise awareness about your company or distinguish yourself as a subject matter expert? Are you announcing a new product? Are you reacting to something? Trying to influence opinion, drive behaviors? Having a clear objective will put you in the proper frame of mind for accomplishing your goal.
- Who is doing the interview? Before opening your mouth, you need to know much more than the name of the person asking the questions. What is the reporter’s usual beat? Are you speaking to someone who already has a familiarity with the subject matter or someone who will need a bit of education? Is anything known about the reporter’s style? Is he or she an investigative journalist? If so, should you be prepared for possible confrontation? What recent stories has the reporter published? Will the interview air live or be taped? Will it be used in print or on TV or radio? If you are not certain, or such preparation isn’t the highest and best use of your time, an experienced media/public relations professional can provide you with this type of insight and help prepare you to perform the spokesperson role effectively.
- What is the big picture environment? Every story is viewed within the context of what is going on in the world and in your local community, and a peppy interview about your new product will seem out of place on a day a disaster is making headlines. Or worse, you do not want to be an interview source that is clueless about what’s in the news and be caught off guard live on camera unable to answer a question about a news story playing out on the world stage. The last thing you want to do is come across as uninformed, oblivious or even uncaring. Consume news voraciously. Be aware of what is going on around you, be ready to be interviewed at a moment’s notice, and prepare your comments appropriately.
Build a Bridge to Your Key Message
Let’s be clear here. Your goal in any interview situation is to deliver your key messages. Yes, you want to help the reporter tell an interesting and compelling story, but your focus should remain on conveying the information you want to convey to your stakeholders.
Doing that can be achieved using three simple steps.
• Step One: Address the reporter’s question, no matter what it may be
It would appear the basic format for an interview is quite simple and fairly universal. Question asked. Question answered. Right? Well, not exactly.
First, you must effectively answer a direct question directly. We all have seen interviews in which the interviewee completely ignores the question asked. Typically, such disrespect (often unintended by a nervous spokesperson) only serves to make a tense situation worse, or turn an amicable exchange into an antagonistic one. Additionally, the individual avoiding the question usually loses credibility with the audience as it appears to be hedging or an indication of guilt or wrongdoing.
A direct answer to a direct question does not mean you are obliged to give information a reporter is seeking. In many interview situations, you will be asked one or two questions you cannot or should not answer. The questions may require you to speculate, violate employment law, or speak on a topic for which you are unprepared. They may involve proprietary information or be completely off topic.
In agreeing to do the interview, you have agreed to respond to the reporter’s questions. If it’s appropriate to directly and clearly answer the question, do so. If it isn’t appropriate to answer it, explain why you can’t. Use phrases such as “I don’t have that information at this time,” “I am not at liberty to discuss that as it involves a personnel matter,” “While my competitors would love the answer to your question, for competitive reasons, I decline to reveal our strategy,” or “I am not the right person to talk about that topic.” Above all, don’t ignore the question. Address it in some way.
• Step Two: Bridge to Your Key Message
Now, back to the Question, Answer formula that seemed obvious. A well trained and highly effective spokesperson exhibits a skill called bridging. In our 24 years in business, Ward has trained hundreds of spokespeople to hear a mantra in their heads: Question, Answer…Opportunity. An opportunity bridge is a conversational device to transition naturally and logically from one point to another … which happens to be your key message. Remember, you cannot count on or wait for the perfect question to come that fits your messages. You must lead to it, and bridging is one of many techniques to help you bring a key message to the reporter’s attention.
Bridges can be simple or complex. A few examples are:
- “What’s important is that …”
- “What I’m really excited about is …”
- “However …”
- “What we’re focused on is…”
- “I’d also like to add that …”
Using bridges in an interview allows you to deftly refocus or redirect the flow of the dialogue onto a track which helps you educate reporters about the real issues and news value, and allows you to deliver and reinforce your key messages.
• Step Three: Deliver Your Key Message
After you address the reporter’s question and bridge to the topics you intended to discuss, it’s time to deliver your key message. Be concise and clear, and don’t be afraid to repeat your messages multiple times during the course of the interview. Unless it is live, the interview will be edited for the final story. You substantially increase the probability your messages will end up in the final piece by repeating them because the reporter is working hard to get the information in a quotable way. Repeating is helpful, as it helps them get their notes right, gives them options on quotes to use, and helps them remember what’s important.
When you put all three steps together your interview will sound a little like this.
Q: How has the downturn in your industry affected your business?
A: (Step 1) Certainly, the economy has been challenging for many industries, and we have had to push ourselves to be more innovative than ever. (Step 2) One game-changing outcome of the economic pressure for our company is (Step 3) our just launched technology which makes manufacturing operations 80 percent safer and 50 percent more cost effective, which helps customers solve a pressing issue faced by everyone in the industry.
As with many things, becoming proficient at successfully crafting and delivering your message-in-a-news-bottle during an interview becomes easier with training and practice. Whether one-on-one coaching or group training, Ward frequently works with clients to help them elevate these techniques and prepare for encounters with the news media. After all, the PR department can only hike the ball for you. You must get it across the finish line, lest you undermine the company’s entire PR investment. But, no pressure, really.
Think you might score better on your next interview with a solid team on the field with you? Contact Ward and let us help you from huddle to championship.