Press Interviews: 7 Tips For Great Results

Last Updated Jun 9, 2011 7:15 PM EDT

Press Interviews: 7 Tips for Great ResultsHow you perform in a media interview can help launch your career and your company or just as easily do more harm than good. No kidding. And, as with everything related to business success, getting an inside track on what really works and what doesn't will make all the difference in the outcome.

Frankly, the big hairy problem with media interviews stems primarily from the attitude of executives and leaders who think they're like falling off a log or that their personal wealth of management, corporate, or business experience is all that matters.

Not only is it dangerous to walk into a press interview with that kind of attitude and little or no training, but those same executives will be the first to freak out when the story comes out and it bears no resemblance to the result they wanted or expected. Then they'll blame the PR people. Sheesh.

Even willing executives and business leaders pay big bucks for this sort of advice and training. I'm going to give it to you quick, easy, and best of all, free. Sure, I'm not a PR guy, but that's okay; I play one on TV. Seriously, my qualifications in this area are twofold:
  • I was trained by the best PR agency in Silicon Valley and have thousands of successful interviews with just about every print and broadcast media outlet you can think of under my belt. And who better to learn the ropes from but a fellow executive?
  • Since I ran marketing for a few companies, I was responsible for the company's PR. I took that responsibility very seriously and it showed in the results, which were pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.
We're going to break this down into two posts: Today's is about general, print, and online media; next week we'll do broadcast media, which is a whole different ballgame.

Press Interviews: 7 Tips For Great Results
  1. It's not at all like giving a presentation. Okay, so you've given thousands of pitches internally, to customers, even to big audiences. Not only won't that help you, it will likely hinder how you do in media interviews. Why? They're completely different types of audiences, barriers to break down, and methods for doing it. Also, you have far less control over the result. Sure, there are similarities - just enough to get you in trouble.
  2. Relate, relate, relate. This is the "location, location, location" analog for media interviews. There are lots of techniques - storytelling, anecdotes, competitive drama, whatever - but however you accomplish it, you need to find a way to connect with both the audience and the interviewer. It's completely different from presentations because you are not in direct contact with the audience, so there's no feedback loop until the results are in and by then it's too late. The next few pointers will help you connect ...
  3. Be genuine, be honest, be yourself. If you're in any way uncomfortable with yourself, you need to deal with that before you put yourself out there. If not, if you try to be something or someone you're not, you'll come across badly and potentially do more harm than good. If being you is really scary - either to you or the audience - then maybe you shouldn't talk to the press. Seriously.
  4. Find the intersection of what's in you and what resonates with the audience. Lots of things resonate with a broad range of audiences: humor, humility, competence, credibility, charisma, competitive spirit, David vs. Goliath, a product that'll change the world, all sorts of stuff. Find one and go with it, but this is key: it's got to be in your personal DNA and consistent with whatever you're promoting or the message you're trying to get across. If not, it won't be genuine and it won't resonate.
  5. Know your stuff cold. I don't know how to emphasize this enough. There are three reasons why you must know your material, your point of view and key messages, and what's likely to come up like you were born with the knowledge: 1) it gives you confidence, 2) it gives you credibility, 3) it's expected or you wouldn't have someone from the media sitting in front of you. Know your talking points and Q&A cold, but don't memorize it or you'll sound like a robot.
  6. Stay on topic, on message, on tone, and don't screw up. Laugh all you want, you can do everything right and still end up with a bad result by screwing up just one thing ... if it's a big, unexpected thing. I've got to warn you, maybe a quarter of all media interviews go this route. No kidding. Example: the interview is about a product launch, you're asked about a big competitor, and you go off on them in a negative way, take the low road, whatever. That can change the whole tone of the story and might even be the headline, however unintended.
  7. Let the PR pros do their job. Yes, I billed this as free media training, but the truth is that I wouldn't know any of it if I hadn't hired a great PR firm back in the day, not just for the prep, but their relationships got me in front of big guns like the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and CNBC. That's why you should hire the best (not biggest) PR firm you can find for your market and budget, make them your partner, pay them what they're worth, and do what they tell you to do.
If you've got an interesting or funny media interview story - good or bad result - we'd love to hear it.

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Image: ChrisEaves.com via Flickr
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