So you’ve been contacted by a media outlet who want to interview you - no quotes over email - this is the real deal. Whatever the circumstances, this is a golden opportunity to present yourself and your business directly to your target audience.
Unlike public speaking, sales pitches or webinars, you will not be in control of this conversation. The journalist will have a clear idea of what they want to ask and they will lead the interview, not you. So it’s important to get a handle on your key messages, the best way to present yourself and how to avoid the pitfalls.
Here are 10 tips for preparing for media interviews.
1. Do your homework
Start by finding out the name of the journalist who will be interviewing you. Set some time aside to read, view or listen to a selection of their previous work and try to get to grips with their interview style and areas of interest. For example, you may pick out commonly asked questions, pet hates, or issues in your industry that really bug them. Look for similar interviews with similar businesses and you may even find there’s a standard format to the questions.
2. Speak directly to your audience
Assuming the media outlet is known to you, then you should have a pretty good idea about the audience profile. Keep that end audience front of mind at all times, and try to speak directly to them. Why will they care about this interview? How expert are they likely to be and how should that affect your language and tone of voice? What can they take away from this interview that will make their lives better, smarter, enriched or more beautiful?
3. Know what you want to say
Now look at the topic of the interview and what you are able to contribute. Drill down to three or four main points that you wish to make and try to weave these through your narrative in the most natural way possible. Please don’t be robotic - think of Theresa May’s "strong and stable" and "Brexit means Brexit" for examples of how irritating this can be.
4. Remember the wider picture
De-program yourself from sales mode. I know it can be hard, but unless you are Elon Musk, then your audience is unlikely to tolerate a monologue about your product or services. Instead, widen your commentary to talk about the marketplace you represent, the issues your product/service addresses and the wider trends behind this. Where has this issue come from? What’s new today; what does the future look like? Why is this exciting?
5. Think visually
Consider peppering your narrative with working examples or metaphors to illustrate your points, particularly if the notions you are describing are complicated or likely to carve new territory for your audience. Visual clues can be easier to recall - so get creative.
6. Write your own headline
Yes, that's right! The journalist has a brief to fulfill and will be mentally scanning your comments for punchy angles, headlines and pull quotes. What is your overall position? Think of one or two snappy nuggets to throw in and you may well see them in the headline - or as soundbites on the 10 o’clock news.
7. Prepare for the tough questions
Everyone has chinks in their armour, and while the journalist may not necessarily be out to find them, you will feel more confident going into the interview if you have some robust answers prepared. Consult others in your business and make sure you are aligned - you don’t want to be caught out by a rogue response to the same topic on your company’s social media account. If all else fails, keep a handy get-out sentence up your sleeve for emergencies which enables you to hook back into your key messages. e.g. “Well, where we are today is…” or “Despite these challenges…” If you are really struggling, then consider seeking out some messaging advice from a PR consultant.
8. Don’t fudge it
If you don’t know the answer to a question or don’t have a key statistic at your fingertips, far better to say so than to fudge an answer you’ll later regret. If the interview is for press or digital then you can always offer to follow up with the journalist afterwards. And if you make a live gaff - think Boris Johnson on recent coronavirus restrictions - then consider issuing a clarifying statement afterwards and try to move on. No it’s not ideal, but it happens.
9. Tone and presentation
Speak clearly, and a fraction slower than normal. Avoid jargon and ‘business speak’ and if you’re being filmed, look directly into the eyes of the interviewer and not into the camera. Try to avoid umms and ahhs - you’ll get a lot more requests for broadcast interviews if you can eliminate verbal tics from your diction. If you want to speak off the record (non-live interviews only) then say so clearly to the journalist, but don’t be surprised if the information still emerges as ‘background’. Otherwise, you can expect everything to be used.
10. Try to enjoy it!
Most journalists you meet will be delightful and genuinely interested in creating enriching content for their audience. Try to give them what they need and relax into it - no one wants a robot performing to a corporate script and your business will come across far better if you are natural and authentic. After all, business stories are people stories too. Emily Bamber is a former journalist who has conducted countless interviews for national newspapers and trade magazines. She is now a PR consultant and the founder of EMBER PR.