The Spin Sucks ultimate guide to media interviews
Editor's Note: Need a refresher on pitching the media and preparing for interviews? Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich and author of Spin Sucks, gives you just that in this all-encompassing guide to media training/relations. This post originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog. For the full version of the post, with even more tips on body language and quick tips for pitching the media, check out the post on Spin Sucks.
In a past life, I did a ton of media training.
I mean, a ton.
It’s kind of funny that that service is rarely requested anymore.
Sure, we’ll prep clients for media interviews with an agenda or a list of anticipated questions, but it’s rare to do the two-day, cameras on kind of media training anymore.
I credit that to the evolution of social media and to owned content.
Today, journalists are just as keen to receive contributed content as they are to interview someone for a story.
And, of course, social media has made the need for us to be transparent so critical, the age-old messaging a PR professional would do is almost extinct.
That said, there are still some things you should keep in mind when doing media interviews, both to maintain your professionalism and to get your point across.
Following are several pages taken right from The Arment Dietrich “How to Conduct Media Interviews” Manual.
How to Manage Difficult or Irrelevant Questions
While most media interviews have your best interest at heart, there are some cynical or jaded journalists who will try to “get you.”
This could happen if there are rumors your company is going public, if an executive was caught doing something bad, there are potential layoffs looming, or there was a recent company crisis.
There are many things you just aren’t able to comment on. Here is how you handle those types of questions.
- Keep your answers brief and simply phrased. Think about the podcasts you listen to and people who put you to sleep. It’s likely because they don’t know when to stop talking.
- Substantiate your position with easily understood examples, facts, and figures.
- If you are uncertain about your facts, say so in answer to a legitimate question.
- If you must own up to unfavorable information, be prepared to acknowledge it in a gracious, fair manner.
- When using technical terms or definitions, assume your audience has limited knowledge, and simplify the explanations when possible.
- Avoid jargon and strive for clarity.
- Use questions as springboards to emphasize your objectives.
- Avoid using the editorial “we” and time-wasting phrases such as “that’s a good question” or “I’m glad you asked that.” (You’ll notice a lot of people do these things, now that I’ve pointed it out.)
- Think of your response in terms of a news item. First give the headline and then more information. The headline is usually what gets used, particularly in TV pieces.
- Never say, “no comment” without providing a valid reason for doing so (attorneys are preventing it, you don’t have the information).
- Try to state things in terms of the public’s interests.
- Tell the truth, but don’t exaggerate.
- It is better to admit that perhaps in the past errors have occurred (“… and these are the steps we are taking to correct …”), rather than hedging the truth.
- If there is a live audience, direct answers to them, rather than just the interviewer.
- Be aware of the journalist’s audience. When writing their stories, most reporters answer the basic question their average reader brings to a story: “What does this mean to me?” Help them answer that.
- Be certain the interviewer knows where he/she can reach you while producing the story, so you can answer any new questions that come up. If you are unreachable, make sure the interviewer has a source for additional information (someone on your team or a PR professional).
- Never ask that a comment remain “off the record;” there is no such thing.
The Interview, Itself
Of course, you also have to think about not only what you say, but how you present yourself, from the moment you walk in the door until the moment you leave the building.
- Be honest. A lie to the media can be very damaging. You must decide how candid you will be. Erroneous information will ruin your credibility with the public and with the media. If you don’t know, say so.
- Be prompt. Arrive early, especially for an interview. This allows you to talk to the producer or interviewer ahead of time. As Lindsay Bell says, “If you’re on time, you’re late.”
- Be believable. Credibility is vital to getting your message across.
- Be personal. Use the interviewer’s name once or twice in the course of the interview and look at him/her.
- Be conversational. Anecdotes play well on radio and television; if you have a good story that makes a good point, tell it.
- Be concise. Remember that a 10-minute interview may wind up being 20 seconds on the air or three lines in a newspaper. It is essential to crystallize your thoughts in a few hard-hitting sentences. Plan what message you want to send.
- Stay cool. Remember that the interviewer may try to unnerve you so you will divulge proprietary or unrelated information.
- Be smart. The interview does not stop just because the cameras stop rolling or the tape recorder is put away. Even small talk with a journalist can be fodder for a story. Be smart about you say to them, at all times.
- Listen. Bill Clinton was the master at this. Even though he likely knew what the journalist was going to ask before the question finished coming out of their mouths, he always listened intently, paused for a moment to think, and then answered the question. I practice this skill every day—from team meetings to interviews.
The Dos and Don’ts of Media Interviews
- DO “flag” key points with phrases such as, “The most important thing is …” or “I think the bottom line is …”
- DO speak in easily understandable terms—avoid jargon and bureaucratese if simpler words will do.
- DO use facts and figures as appropriate to support your points.
- DO use illustrations and anecdotes to humanize and explain your topic.
- DO be sensitive to the interviewer’s deadlines.
- DO be engaging, likeable, and enthusiastic.
- DO be yourself.
- DO think in sound bites.
- DON’T over answer—don’t keep talking to fill the silence (pay attention to how many people do this).
- DON’T ever say, “no comment!”
- DON’T ever say, “off the record.”
- DON’T be afraid to pause.
- DON’T allow yourself to be provoked.
- DON’T fake an answer if you don’t know it.
- DON’T assume the interviewer knows more about your area than you do.
- DON’T assume the microphone, camera, or tape recorder is off immediately before or after an interview.
- DON’T lie to an interviewer–ever.
Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.
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