Every time I hear an executive or company representative slip up when speaking with the media, I cringe. We live in a world where a short quote or video clip of a CEO misspeaking (intentionally or otherwise) can damage that company’s reputation for years. We’ve seen unprepared responses, like the one from The Wiggles when asked about the firing of a colleague during a Today Show Australia segment. We’ve also witnessed slip-ups, stumbles and rambles from people who interview often, including Mitt Romney and Mark Zuckerberg.
Even if your client’s less-than-perfect interview doesn’t go “viral,” it still lives on the Internet and is searchable for all. As the news media shrinks and becomes more overwhelmed with breaking news stories, planned feature assignments and inbound PR pitches, it’s crucial for PR pros to use their time with the media to their advantage. After all, you don’t know the next time a reporter will have the time or interest to speak with your client again.
Here are some best practices to make the most out of a media opportunity and ensure your client doesn’t go viral for the wrong reasons:
- Messaging – If your clients are unsure of their messaging or if you don’t think it will resonate with the media (i.e. too confusing or too many buzzwords), then fix it and work with your clients to come up with what works best for them. This might mean some meeting in the middle; but do everything you can to ensure their messaging makes sense and their spokespeople know it in and out.
- Media Training – Anyone who may speak with the media should be trained to do so. Give them tips for broadcast (such as what to wear), how to respond to sensitive or tricky questions and general advice on speaking slowly, clearly and pausing so the interviewer can ask questions. Mock interviews are very helpful too, so you can provide on-the-spot feedback to your client.
- Briefing Materials – Once again, it’s all about the preparation. If there is time before each media interview, provide your client with background on the reporter, media outlet and its audience, the topic of the interview, any history with this reporter or outlet that would be good to know, recent articles by this reporter, and of course, a few suggested talking points. Urge your client to review these materials so there won’t be any surprises at the time of the interview and he/she will know how to direct the conversation.
- Due Diligence – As the PR advisor, make sure to research the outlet, reporter and recent articles in depth. Maybe this reporter has written a lot of investigative stories lately, and that’s something your client should be aware of. Does this reporter have a history of changing the focus of interviews? Check with your colleagues. Triple confirm the date, time and location of the interview and arrive or dial-in early.
- Honest Feedback – With all of this preparation, one would hope that everything goes smoothly. But in case it doesn’t, or there are any missteps, be sure to give your client feedback after the interview. Highlight where he/she succeeded (provided hard examples to explain a point or articulated the company’s messaging well), but also provide critiques where necessary. Maybe your client didn’t pause enough and spoke over the reporter or needed to provide more succinct responses. In a case where he or she might have shared confidential or vague information, you can always follow up with the reporter to clarify things or ask them not to publish something; however, once it is on the record, it’s on the record and you’ll just have to cross your fingers and do some more media training – so it’s best to prepare in advance to avoid these situations.
As PR people, we’re not the ones being interviewed, but it is up to us to prepare our clients as best we can and help them improve with each briefing. And the more interviews they do, the more practice they get…so we better get going on securing some media opportunities!