The Interview – What You Need to Know
So, you got a reporter to agree to write a story about you? That’s great! Media coverage in respected publications and programs can make a huge impact on awareness of your company. But just because you’ve gotten the story, that doesn’t mean the work is over…the interview is the most important part! Yes, you will be talking about your company and/or yourself, a topic you are extremely familiar with. But just because you know your subject matter doesn’t necessarily mean you know the best way to present it.
At Obsidian, a major part of what we do is preparing clients and their representatives for interviews, whether it’s a live in-studio TV or radio interview, a taped TV interview or a phone interview. Several of our clients have very media-savvy CEOs who have a lot of interview experience; in those cases, our media prep may be limited to sending a list of potential questions the interviewer might ask. In many cases, though, especially with representatives who have less media experience, we go much more in-depth. For the kinds of interviewing advice we dispense to our clients, read on.
- Prepare. Have any statistics, testimonials and other data handy so you can refer to it and give the reporter meaningful information to support your argument(s). Consider what kinds of questions the reporter might ask and practice your responses to those. Have someone you trust give you a mock interview to give you feedback on your answers and delivery.
- If you don’t know the answer, do NOT guess. It’s OK if you are doing an interview about a local hunger initiative and you don’t know how many people worldwide go hungry. But be honest about that and don’t guess the number—you never know who might repeat that number and use it again. In a case like this one, respond this way, “I’m actually not sure about the global hunger statistics, but what I can tell you is that one in four people in our community are uncertain where their next meal is coming from.” Remember that “what I can tell you” phrase. It will become a powerful tool in your interviewing arsenal.
- Keep the interview on track. Especially in a live interview, the line of questioning can go off the rails quickly. Yes, it is the interviewer’s job to stay on topic, but you must share that burden if you want your message to be heard. You have secured precious and valuable time with a reporter—do NOT let it be squandered by going off topic. The first step in this piece of advice is to make sure that you pitch the reporter or producer accurately and honestly (don’t sell the reporter on one thing and expect to bait-and-switch her into writing about something else). If the interviewer at some point goes off topic, that’s when you pull out your “what I can tell you” trick! Respond to an off-topic question with this phrase, “I don’t know about that, but what I can tell you is that…”
- Speak only for yourself and your organization. There are very few scenarios in which you should talk about any other organization, and certainly you should never bad-mouth another organization. Don’t fall into the “what do you think” trap. “What do you think about Competitor X’s announcement that they’re cutting jobs in Tennessee?” or “What do you think about Competitor X’s new product?” Don’t feel that you HAVE to answer questions that make you uncomfortable, but know that “no comment” is not the right way to handle these types of questions. I would counsel my client to respond with something like, “I can’t speak for Competitor X, but what I can tell you (there it is again!) is that we have created 24 new jobs in the Memphis area in the past year.” Bring the attention away from other organizations and back to your company.
- Use positive language, and in your response, avoid repeating any negative language that may be in a reporter’s question.
- Don’t use jargon unless you are interviewing with a reporter who works only in your industry. For example, if you’re in logistics, a writer for Logistics Business, a trade magazine. Otherwise, speak in layman’s terms.
- Channel your mother’s voice in your head, and sit up straight, use positive body language and be aware of your facial expressions. For TV interviews, I tell clients, “Sit up so straight you feel stupid, and smile almost to the point of feeling stupid.” For most of us who are not on TV all the time, having perfect posture and smiling constantly do not feel natural. But when you watch your interview back later, you’ll be glad if you sat up straight and smiled, and probably not like the way you looked if you slouched and frowned or had a neutral face. The exception to this rule would be any controversial or serious topic. Your facial expressions should be appropriate to the content.
Remember, every interview or scenario is different. The first piece of advice I gave is the most important one: prepare. Whether you do that with a colleague, friend or a trusted PR partner, you will never regret investing an hour into your company’s reputation.