The 2014 Essential Media Interview Guide

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Fleur Revell’s Essential Media Interview Guide

In this article media training specialist Fleur Revell details her essential guide to ensuring your success in almost any media interview…

According to former journalist Fleur Revell, the lure of a bit of free publicity can see business executives or owners excitedly jump at a media opportunity only to realise later they were ill-prepared and have either missed the chance to promote their products or services in the best way possible, or worse still impacted negatively on their brand.

It is for this reason Fleur always suggest to clients they consider a number of criteria to evaluate where or not participating in an interview is in their best interests and what key messages they wish to convey as part of the process.

What the journalist wants

A journalist has a goal in mind, he or she needs your comment to complete a story in a timely manner so they can get it filed first and make the paper, online or television or radio broadcast before one of their peer’s stories beats them to it.

Once you know this, it makes your job a lot easier. You can use this knowledge to establish yourself as a key contact for this reporter, one who knows they can rely on you to give them a witty, acerbic, entertaining or well-informed quote in a timely manner.

In most cases journalists are in a hurry as outlined above, they need to get their story filed quickly and if you are not available they will simply move onto the next person in their contact books to get an appropriate quote.

There is a temptation here to immediately respond (usually on the phone) and do the interview at once. Don’t. This is where businesses fall into the land of missed opportunity, where you simply respond to the journalists questions and do not present your key messages which have been developed as part of your public relations plan.

Ask the journalist for the angle of the story and whom else they are seeking commentary from, is this a business rival, an industry spokesperson with an opposing viewpoint to your own etc.

Tell the journalist you are in the middle of something right now but you will call them back in ten to fifteen minutes with your comments.

Revell recommends that clients then do the following:

1) If they have PR representation call them and discuss the opportunity

2) Prepare the key messages they wish to communicate as part of the interview

Before you say “Yes!”

Ask yourself why has this opportunity come my way? What has already gone out into the media, or is currently a talking point for this journalist to be contacting me? What do I think the interviewer hopes to achieve from this interview? What will he or she want to focus on? What don’t I want to talk about? Can I tell the truth?

Before you hear yourself saying yes to the chance of a bit of free publicity make sure you have considered the above points, and better still if you have PR counsel talk to them.

Once you have established you are willing to go ahead with the interview, you have clearly in your head the key messages you wish to communicate, and are confident you can respond appropriately to the questions you are less keen on responding too and you know who your audience you may be ready to do an interview.

Media Interviews Are Not Created Equal

It pays also to be aware of the type of media outlet where your interview will be posted. For example is it a radio interview, is it live or pre-recorded? Live means there is no editing, so you’d better be sure you know your subject well.

It’s also important to check how long the interview will be, if the interviewer wants a quick comment (usually around 30 seconds) then there is no sense in giving them a rambling two minute answer.

It is essential when embarking on any interview you know who your audience will be and you’re able to target your responses in a way that will resonate and seem relevant to them. This means a regional newspaper, radio or television interview will have a local audience so content must be targeted and emphasis placed on what is relevant to them; for example what this means to the people in Cambridge is…

Seniority does not always make for the best interviewee

Another fateful move that many business owners/ executives make says Revell is to think that they are the best person to appear on camera, on air or in a media interview. Just because you are the area manager, owner, most experienced technical person doesn’t mean you are the best person to tell the rest of the country about your product or service.

You can know the subject inside out but if you can’t convey that information in an interesting and entertaining way, then you are not the person to deliver it. Fleur Revell says its important to make sure that whomever is the public face of the company is well media trained and can talk about the interview topic in an informed, insightful and importantly entertaining way. If they are boring the audience will be turned off and the journalist is unlikely to come back for further commentary at a later date.

When to say No to an interview

You should always say no to an interview if you are not well versed in the topic, do not want to be part of an on-air debate, know the interviewer has a particular axe to grind with your business or you cannot tell the truth.

Revell says there is nothing worse than listening to an interview as the subject bumbles through responses, and does not have a full grasp of the subject he is being questioned on.

This often happens when it comes to a new piece of technology, so an engineer who has spent years developing a piece of equipment is going to be able to answer a tricky question about a product specification over the media trained marketing manager who has been put forward for the opportunity. It is for that reason Revell recommends several key personnel receive media training so the appropriate person can be put forward for each particular opportunity. This also means there is less likelihood of media fatigue, that is there is a fresh-face presenting new material as your business continues to grow and innovate.

What is a key message?

Revell says a key message is simply that, a key message. It is not pages of paragraphs and sentences which contain every nuance of your business.

A key message is a statement about your company, product or service that you wish to convey to your key audiences, these messages need to be succinct so that they are easy for you to communicate and easy for your viewers, readers or listeners to understand.

Before any interview it is worth ensuring you have distilled the main points you wish to make into several key messages. Revell says you must also prioritise there into the most important message you wish to convey first, incase you get cut-off and the interview ends abruptly before you’ve had the chance to leverage the interview to your advantage.

When to Make Notes

Revell says notes can be a welcome safety net for novice interviewees but only if conducting radio or print phone interviews. Again these should be limited to two or three key messages and must not ever be read, rather they are a guide to help you stay on track and remember to at least try and weave them into the interview.

What Not to Do!

Over preparation is the killer of an interesting, engaging and informative interview.

Revell says if the journalist wanted to interview a robot they would have, they do not want to be lectured at or be forced to listen to the complexities of a particular new piece of manufacturing equipment (unless it’s for a technology feature!).

Revell says business owners need to use the interview to communicate their product benefits in a lively and interesting way.

They need to be excited about what their product or service has to offer the New Zealand consumer, that is why it’s imperative they do not try and work out exactly what questions they will be asked before the interview. When this happens the interview can sound rehearsed, but worse still the subject could be thrown off guard by a question they weren’t expecting and hadn’t prepared for. Revell says interviewees should also make sure that they use simple language that is easy to understand and refrain from using too many industry or technological terms that the average New Zealander is unlikely to understand.

Radio and Television Interviews

Revell says in her experience television interviews, closely followed by life radio interviews are those her clients fear most. It is largely due to the fact in television you are seen as well as heard and this can make the interview subjects feel doubly exposed.

It is important for that reason she says that interviewees feel well-prepared because with television and radio interviews there is an element of performance required to ensure that their messages receive cut through. Television and radio interview subjects need to remember to keep their key messages short and their answers direct and to the point, there simply isn’t the time in broadcast interviews to waffle on at length and this makes it even harder for the editors to get an appropriate sound bite or grab from your interview.

Fleur Revell says the most important thing to remember when filming a television interview is not to look at the camera! This is the case for both live and pre-recorded interviews, your attention should always be on the reporter or interviewer and to try and imagine you are having a regular conversation. Revell says its important to also bring the viewer into this conversation and this can be done through injecting humour, parochialism or anecdotes that the audience may relate to.

Revell says in both radio and television interviews adrenaline is likely to kick in and there is a propensity for the interviewee to race through their answers and viewers/ listeners will find it hard to follow what they are saying. It is important they they remember to slow down and deliver their information in a considered authoritative tone, rather than sounding, rushed, panicked and overwhelmed.

Revell says some media training agencies will offer voice training to interviewees and says this is well worth investing in to ensure a smooth delivery of information during broadcast interviews. She says at a minimum interviewees should be taught basic mouth, jaw exercises and breathing techniques to ensure they get the best from their media opportunity and that their voices do not sound nervous or light, which makes them lack authority and credibility.

What to wear?

If conducting an interview outside always take off sunglasses, caps, hats or anything that creates a barrier between you and the people you are talking to at home, your audience.

Revell says for women bright patterned clothing, dangly distracting earrings and harsh bright lipsticks should all be avoided. She says if the interview is being conducted outside and it is a relatively windy day then hair should be tied back, it is hard to take what someone is saying seriously when they’re frantically trying to keep their hair under control.

In most cases men can opt for smart casual but should avoid white shirts, thinly striped shirts and quirky ties that could undermine the seriousness of the subject matter they are discussing.

And remember

This is your chance to help your company shine, every interview should be approached as if its the most important thing you’ll do that day says Revell. Media coverage provides the credible, third party endorsement that adds value to your brand that no amount of advertising spend could buy you.

Prepare your key messages and enjoy the process, your enthusiasm and passion for your products or services cannot help but be infectious if presented the right way.

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