The Art of the Media Interview

One of the ultimate goals of the media relations facet of PR is to become the go-to person for interviews in your space. When the media starts coming to you for comment, you know your PR efforts are really paying off.

This post will consider the two most important elements of becoming a media go-to. In my opinion these are:

  1. Being visible.
  2. Being quotable.

The benefits of media relations can be vast and, if you get your PR efforts right, they’ll go a long way in building and maintaining your reputation, demonstrating authority and credibility, and creating a buzz around your company. Done well, media relations can give you the edge over your competitors and, to this end, the power of a strong media interview is not to be underestimated.

Visibility

You can’t become a go-to spokesperson if journalists don’t know you exist. Alongside day-to-day PR and marketing activities, one of the key elements of being visible is creating a media page on your website. The hope is that if a journalist takes to Google on the prowl for a spokesperson, your organisation shows up in the search results. The page should be very easy to find from the front page of your website and should include the following information and resources:

  • Your company’s press releases.
  • A link to your blog.
  • A media contact (including phone number) should be easily visible on the page. There should also be a link to non-media contact details, to prevent your dedicated contact from getting other, general enquiries.
  • Widgets showing recent social media activity.
  • An image gallery  - including downloadable headshots of your spokespeople and company logos.
  • A form allowing journalists to automatically receive new press releases.
  • An ‘Our spokespeople’ page containing profiles for each of your experts.

An example of a quality Media Centre page

Quotability

Getting to the point where you’re being approached for media comments and interviews is all well and good, but your job doesn’t end there. Just because you’ve been invited to comment, it doesn’t mean what you say will get used. All too often I’ve seen quotes and statements dropped by journalists for being self-serving. Once you’ve been approached, it’s your job to make yourself quotable if you want to guarantee coverage.

The art of the media interview

Media ‘interviews’ are not like day-to-day encounters, they may look and feel like conversations but, ultimately, they’re performances.

It’s crucial to remember that journalists don’t exist to report what you say.  First and foremost, it’s their job to fill blank space in a way that caters to a specific audience; their readers. You need to make sure that what you say helps the journalist do their job in a meaningful way. This means that, as well as having your own agenda, you need to understand that of the journalist.

The more your agenda meets that of the person interviewing you, the more likely you are to get quoted. Self-serving messages, mission statements and marketing spiel will not meet that agenda, but that’s not to say you can’t meet half-way.

As complicated as it all sounds, your task in media interviews is actually pretty simple: Do the journalists’ job for them.

If you focus too much on your own agenda, don’t be surprised if you’re misquoted. Or not quoted at all.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

The old adage is cheesy, but true. You can’t expect to have a successful media interview off the hoof.

In the words of Richard Nixon: “It takes me two weeks to prepare an off-the-cuff speech”.

 

 It’s an extreme example that demonstrates a point well: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

You need to think carefully about who you want to speak to (your audience) and then about how you would talk to them. Consider your tone. If your target audience is mummy bloggers, you should think about using different language than if you were speaking to business executives, for example.

What to say and how to say it: Top tips.

  • Keep it simple. Identify one or two key messages. (What is the best story you can tell? The strongest claim you can make?)
  • Remember: Your quote will usually be cut to less than 100 words/a few seconds of air time.
  • It is far better for you to do as much of your own editing as possible. That way you:
    1. Minimise the potential for misreporting or being quoted out of context     
    2. Minimise the chances that a journalist will quote minor points, at the expense of your key messages
  • Make sure you can focus your key point into 15 seconds:
  • Avoid jargon at all costs

Once you’ve defined your key messages, you’ll then need to make sure you sound interesting, authoritative and engaging. Here are a few tips to help bring what you say to life:

Use forceful language

  • Use the most vivid, powerful language that you can (can you use metaphors/analogies to add colour and force?)
  • Be comfortable ‘blowing the trumpet’. An interview is no place for false modesty. (It may feel unnatural, but it’s good practice to mention the name of your company.)
  • Avoid jargon. Keep it simple.
  • Repeat your main point several times (Use phrases like ‘the key thing is’ or ‘what we mustn’t lose sight of is’.

Use statistics to illustrate your story

  • But, use sparingly. Too many can become confusing and indigestible.
  • However, a ‘killer’ statistic or two can be worth hundreds of words.
  • Very big numbers are meaningless to most people. Make them more ‘real’ (‘that’s enough people to fill London’, for example.)

Use examples and anecdotes to bring your story to life

  • People are far more interested in stories and people than theories and concepts.
  • Have examples/illustrations ready. You won’t be able to think of them on the spot.
  • Many interviews can be given entirely by means of example and anecdote.

After all this preparation, it’s not unusual to find that the journalist or interviewer is not asking you the right kinds of questions. But that’s ok. Use steering phrases to guide the interview, and your responses, in the right direction:

To get to the point quickly:

  • The absolutely vital point in all this is …
  • If I had to sum it all up in a few words, I’d say …
  • What we’re really talking about here is …
  • In a nutshell …
  • What we mustn’t lose sight of in all this is …

To step around areas of excessive complexity:

  • We haven’t got time here to go into all the reasons, but I can assure you …
  • You wouldn’t thank me for going into the details, but what it all boils down to is …
  • Well, there are a number of boring reasons that I would be happy to explain if you would like me to, but basically …
  • Without getting bogged down in all the detail, the bottom-line is …

To add colour, context and impact to otherwise dry, bare facts:

  • What is really exciting/fascinating about all this is …
  • The thing that is unique/new here is …
  • What nobody really realises is …
  • The real winners/losers from all this will be …

To avoid getting into an argument about an opposing view:

  • That’s one way of looking at it. But we believe there is a stronger argument, which says . . .
  • People are entitled to their view. The overwhelming evidence, though, indicates . . .
  • There may be some truth in that. The more important point, though, is . . .

If you follow these tips, not only will you enhance your chances of getting quoted, you’ll also work towards positioning yourself as an expert spokesperson in your industry. If you conduct a few great interviews, and present your expertise well on your site, it won’t be long before you become a go-to for interviews in your space.

The perfect media interview? Teen campaigner stays on message in challenging interview

To round- up this post, here are my top dos and don’ts for dealing with media interviews:

Do

  • Prepare your key messages and think about the most important things you want to say.
  • Think about who your audience is and adapt the language you use accordingly.
  • Be polite, even if they’re not!
  • Be as factual and descriptive as you can. Good examples, facts and figures are what the journalist is really interested in (but don’t confuse them with too many!)
  • Offer to get back to them with more information if you don’t have it to hand. Don’t feel pressured and risk giving a rubbish answer.
  • Remember – journalists are human too. At the end of the day, they’re just doing their job.
  • Don’t get caught off guard. It’s fine to say ‘I don’t know’.
  • Keep it simple. Identify one or two key messages.
  • Self-edit: it’s better for you to be as concise as possible to minimise the potential for confusion.
  • Give your conclusion upfront. Cut the preamble.

Don’t

  • Let the journalist put words in your mouth. If they say something like ‘so, would you say x or y?’ it’s ok to say no!
  • Guess. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s ok to say so.
  • Be afraid to repeat your key messages.
  • Overhype - but do ensure you do justice to the story you have to tell.
  • Go ‘off the record’. Anything you say could be printed.
  • Argue 
  • Use jargon, technical language or mission statement type speak. Be human.
  • Wait for a specific question to get your key message heard – it may never come.
  • Be over complicated or talk too much.
  • Be afraid of metaphors and analogies. They can help bring a complicated issue to life.
  • Forget your audience and don’t assume knowledge. Imagine you’re telling your friends at the pub.

Do you have any experience of being interviewed by the media? What are your top tips? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Jess Champion

Jess Champion

Originally hailing from Cornwall, Jess spent 7 years ‘up north’ where she learnt the meaning of the words “t’int in tin”. A lover of words, she once got called a ‘grammar pervert’ (and secretly liked it). After studying for a Post Graduate Diploma...   read more

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2 Comments

  1. Great tips. I am certainly going to implement them into my site and will create a better connection with my audience. Many times, SEO companies and bloggers forget that they are writing for humans. Thanks for sharing.

    reply >
  2. This is great advice and I could definitely touch up my skills as well. Thanks for the post!

    reply >

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