It doesn’t matter whether your interview is with the Wall Street Journal or a tiny vertical publication with a niche audience. You, the company representative, the thought leader, really do set the tone for the the interview. You control first impressions; you influence the tone and nature of the interview, and you set the stage for a fantastic interview or a deadly one. PR is like building a suit. There are 500 ways to screw it up. This post is part of a series on how to screw up PR. There are literally thousands of thing not to do in a media interview. So, let’s discuss 4 ways to screw up a media interview.
1. Be Unresponsive to the Interviewer’s Time
Journalists are under more pressure than ever today. The average journalist covers 4 beats, up 25% from last year, and 21% say layoffs or furloughs contribute to an increasing workload. More journalists are freelance, meaning they work for many publications and don’t get receive benefits, like paid time off, or even health insurance. From scheduling your time with a journalist to sending follow-up information like headshots, or company stats, journalists need you to do what you say you’ll do, and they need you to do it fast.
Many people think because so much content is digital, there are no deadlines. We indeed deal with PRINT deadlines less, but more than ever, there are deadlines. The pace of content creation that publishers and editors must keep up with necessitates deadlines.
So when you’re working with a journalist, it’s just good practice to be ultra helpful and responsive. Doing so might be the difference of getting in the story or not.
2. Treat the Press Like the Enemy
The press needs an angle, a story, something that people want to read. That’s what they really need. That every person in the press is out to get you, personally, is overblown. There are very specific circumstances where an investigative journalist has a job to do. If you’re in that situation, then you need crisis comm, not interviews. It’s unlikely that a journalist is approaching their conversation as a “gotcha.”
Now, that doesn’t mean you can drop your guard, it means you come to the table playing offense, not defense. Respect the interviewer’s time, give them a reason to be glad they showed up. Treat a media interview with the same level of professionalism you would treat an important meeting with an investor or a dream client, and you will probably be just fine.
A journalist is another human with a job to do. That’s all. Treat your interviewer like a human, and you will probably get the same professional courtesies back. Or you could screw up your media interview by treating them like the enemy and receive the same professional courtesies back.
3. Act Like the Journalist is Working for You
Let’s be clear: Aside from an accurate representation of your quotes and conversation, a journalist owes you nothing. They don’t owe you approval of the article; they don’t owe you a link to your website. They don’t owe you any. thing. They do not even owe you a retraction of an embarrassing statement. If you actually said it, you own it, don’t ask for a retraction or edit unless the quote is just wrong. This is not a paid placement, it’s not an ad. You do not have editorial control.
For example, during an occasion where we secured a magazine cover for the most prestigious cannabis industry magazine. The CEO went on a full-throated campaign to art direct the cover and the entire photo shoot, a photo shoot the magazine was paying for. He insisted on making the photographer come to his difficult-to-get-to home, for an outside location shoot even though outside shoots are harder on the photographer, and despite being told that studio shoots present better on magazine covers. The photo journalist was lovely and gracious and in touch with our team, but there was little we could do from a distance since the CEO declined to have a representative at the shoot.
When the publication came out, the cover disappointed the CEO. And I had to agree with him. It wasn’t the most flattering photo I’d ever seen. I’m sure there were better photos, but in a situation like this, the editor has full editorial control and I’m also sure the photojournalist had had enough with the prima donna he was throughout the entire process. So while the photojournalist was incredibly professional to our team and on-site, she felt completely disrespected and her work reflected her feelings.
When you’re working with photojournalists and journalists, be gracious. Take your cues from them. Make their jobs easier, not harder.
4. Be Unprepared
Remember the recommendation to treat your interview like you would a meeting with an investor? Would you go to an investor meeting unprepared? Of course not, so don’t screw up a media interview because you didn’t prepare.
Do your homework, because the journalist has. According to MuckRack’s State of Journalism, 77% of journalists say Twitter is their most valuable social platform, and LinkedIn is a distant second. Jump on Twitter and see what they’re talking about, and while you’re at it, take a sharp eye to your own Twitter and LinkedIn to make sure it’s your best self.
Read a few recent articles by the journalist and get a sense of their style and beats. As a bonus, you’ll also get a look at some of the other publications they write for and you may create interest in another angle for another publication.
What are your must airs? Decide ahead of time how you will answer the likely questions, and what’s most important for you to say what are your “must airs”? Also, decide in advance how you will handle the tough questions. Be purposeful, strategic, and planned.
Know your facts. You need to be able to cite the facts and the source, and you need to be confident when you do it. If you don’t have your facts straight, you will lose the confidence of the interviewer, or worse, the audience.
If your meeting is on Zoom, dress for the moment and make sure your lighting is on point. If you’ll be on TV, brush up on what does and doesn’t look good on TV.
A really great media interview is a skill. It takes practice. But you CAN have a successful interview if you simply give yourself the best chance by being empathetic to the journalist, respecting their job and being prepared.
If you’re looking to brush up your media skills or develop a strategic thought leadership program, take a look at our stand-alone thought leadership offering.