A lot of hard work goes into securing an interview with a member of the media. The pitch needs to both grab their attention and relate to what their audience is looking for – two things that can be difficult to accomplish in this current climate where newsrooms are giving more and more work to less reporters.
Just getting to the point where the reporter wants to conduct an interview can be considered a victory in and of itself, so it goes without saying that you don’t want to squander the opportunity (but we’re going to say it anyway, because that’s the point of this blog post).
Before you engage with the reporter, there are a few items you need to ensure are in order before you pick up the phone or head out to meet with the reporter.
Understand the Opportunity
How did this interview come about? Was it a straightforward pitch to the reporter because they cover a beat that would focus on your company? Or, did a reporter reach out because they read some negative reviews of your company on Twitter and want to set the record straight with their audience?
A conversation about a new product that is being revealed is going to be less adversarial than a discussion where a reporter is trying to dig into why a swath of consumers is ripping your brand to shreds on the internet.
Be well aware of how this opportunity came about to strike the proper tone with the reporter.
Tighten Up Key Messaging
Any public relations professional worth their salt is going to draft a briefing book for their subject matter expert before the interview takes place. In this briefing book, you will find the key messages they want you to convey during the interview. These messages are meant to be relayed throughout the interview in a way that doesn’t come off as being overt but, rather, slips into the natural flow of the conversation.
In a perfect world, these messages are grasped by the reporter and inserted into the final version of the story, your consumers love the messaging so much they start repeating them to each other in casual conversation, and eventually your company’s messaging becomes embedded in the public’s lexicon of terms ala Arby’s “We have the meats!”
Since we don’t live in a perfect world, the ideal result is our messaging infiltrates the story, which helps to get our point across to the audience. When it is done repeatedly, it starts to change minds and shift perceptions of the company, and usually in a positive way.
Know the Reporter’s Modus Operandi
While most reporters will treat the interview as a straightforward way to learn more about the news your company is pitching, or the executive you are putting in front of the reporter, there are certainly reporters who are always looking to break a big story and create controversy where there was none before.
These are the reporters you need to study up on, which is why it’s important that the briefing book contain some reporter background in the form of recent coverage and reporter intel.
A former colleague of mine once had a reporter pretend to fall asleep on the phone because the reporter thought the topic of conversation was snooze-worthy. When he finally secured an interview between the reporter and the executive, he included (I’m sure) this sort of note in the reporter background document he gave to his subject matter expert. The reasoning was not to let the executive know that the reporter had an odd way of expressing his boredom, but because he wanted the interviewee to be aware that something strange could happen during the course of the interview. In all likelihood, it wouldn’t, but it’s better to be prepared.
Know What The Reporter Looks Like
This is only for in-person interviews obviously, but it’s often over-looked when prepping your executive to take part in the interview. Even though we all have smartphones in our pockets that can quickly pull up a headshot of the reporter, it doesn’t scream “professional” if your executive is comparing every person in the coffee shop to the picture on their phone.
If it’s not in the briefing book, ask your PR person to include a picture so you can find them at the location without looking unprepared.
While you can spend millions of dollars on an ad campaign to get your company story in front of the right audience, a well-placed story is worth its weight in gold. Not only does it not come as being a blatant advertisement, but it gives your company a human component.
If your company is paying for public relations, positive coverage is still one of the best ways to show whether or not you’re getting value from your agency or in-house team. They worked hard to get a story opportunity, so don’t screw it up.