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Making the Most of your Media Interviews
There's a reporter here to see you ...
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Jim Cameron

Jim CameronIt's perhaps every business person's worst nightmare: you return to your office from lunch and find a crew from "Sixty Minutes" waiting in the lobby.

"We have only a few questions," intones the prosecutorial journalist as you are videotaped running down the hall and into your office, slamming the door in his face.

Not all media interviews need be as frightening. In fact, knowing how to get your message across to the media can do a lot to actually promote your business. The trick is to be prepared.

You must go into every media encounter with your own messages... two or three points that you want to get across regardless of the questions you're asked. What that message is depends a lot on who is reading/viewing/hearing the interview and when. You must tailor your messages for that audience in terminology they can easily understand.

Not all media were created equal. Print interviews, for example, are much harder than broadcast despite their lack of intimidating cameras and recorders. Print reporters take advantage of this seemingly conversational approach and can keep you chatting for hours... if you let them. You must set the guidelines for the interview: who will speak for your company, on what issues, where and when.

Radio interviews offer an opportunity to narrowly focus your message to a particular demographic or psychographic niche audience reached by the station you're on. On call-in shows you'll have plenty of time to deliver your messages... even from the comfort of your own home, as stations now can have guests by phone as well as callers.

Television is perhaps the most challenging of the media because of its brevity, complexity and reach. Even a lengthy interview may be distilled down to a "sound bite" of but a few seconds. But, with training, you'd be surprised at how much information can be conveyed in that limited time... and how well you can control what gets electronically quoted from your interview. Being a visual medium you'll want to keep viewers focused on your message rather than your flashy attire, ineffective body language or shifty-eyed glances off-camera.

Here are a few media DO's and DON'Ts which I stress in my Media Training Workshops:

  • Know what you want to get across in the interview. Build a bridge of words from the reporter's question to your messages... and say them several times during the interview.

  • Don't be afraid to admit that you don't know the answer to a question but instead offer to find the answer and get back to the reporter before their deadline. Never respond to questions based on unfamiliar facts.

  • Don't be rushed into answering. Don't feel obliged to fill "dead air" after a tricky question. Just pause, think... and then answer.

  • Don't use professional jargon. Keep your message simple, but not condescending.

  • Find out as much as you can about the reporter and his/her story before you agree to be interviewed. Have they covered your business and its issues before? Who else are they talking to for this story? Do you really want to be in that mix? You can always politely decline an interview. nobody can force you to talk if you don't wish.

  • On TV, always dress your part, projecting a cool, clean-cut professional image.

  • Don't look into the camera. Instead, look at whomever is talking. Avoid the temptation to look at the monitor or acknowledge other distractions out of camera range. And remember: you are always potentially on camera, even if someone else is talking. TV Director's love "reaction shots" of your expression or body language when someone else is verbally skewering you.

  • Project enthusiasm for your messages. That attitude is contagious. And if you're not excited about your message, the reporter and audience never will be.
Finally... don't wait for the media to come looking for you. Reach out to them with story ideas, professional commentary and fresh ideas. Call your local papers and radio/TV stations and introduce yourself to the reporter(s) covering your business. Briefly tell them about your work and offer to be "on call" to them should they need your expertise. And follow up with a note, a fact sheet and business card. You'll be amazed at their reaction as very few business professionals are so proactive.

With a little practice, these interviewing skills will become second nature. So the next time Mike Wallace is waiting to ambush you, instead of fear your reaction might be more like: "Sure Mike. I'd be glad to chat. In fact, I have a few questions for you!"

Copyright Jim Cameron

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