CEOs, Directors and Managers often have to face the media – it goes with the territory. Media interviews can make or break your reputation and that of your organization’s.
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.
Let’s look at some of the biggest mistakes executives make when dealing with journalists — and how you can avoid them.
1. Walking in unprepared. Even if you know your brand/company or product inside out, over confidence or being unprepared can be your downfall. So as not to get caught off guard, be sure to review with the interviewer the angle that he or she will be taking and prepare accordingly. It is common practice for journalists to prepare a set of questions ahead of time. Be sure to ask beforehand if they are able to share the interview questions and if it would be possible for you to suggest topics or questions you wish to discuss. This will give you the opportunity to highlight important details.
Dorie Clark, author of What’s Next?: The Art of Reinventing Your Personal Brand suggests creating a “Frequently Asked Questions” list (including challenging ones) and practising until the answers are ingrained. This will get you fully prepared for anything that comes your way – from the challenging thought-provoking questions to the simplest, most obvious ones.
2. Not understanding journalists’ motives. A key rule during interviews is that you’re always “on the record” unless you specify otherwise. Journalists are always after a story, and more often than not they’re after a specific storyline.
Our advice for anyone interacting with journalists is to always tread carefully and ask lots of questions – What’s the intended focus of the piece? Who else will be interviewed? Where will it run? Which types of stories is the reporter best known for? With these questions in mind, you can craft your answers carefully and avoid offering an answer that will cause you to regret later on.
3. Becoming hostile. While heated conversations make for great entertainment, you don’t want to be the “guest who gets into a fight with the host.” What happens when a journalist throws you a curve ball and verves off the intended line of questioning? Or what if a journalist misinterprets your quote and uses it against you?
It is the interviewer’s job to provoke controversy. If you’re stumped with a tough question, you should never attack the interviewer for picking on you. STAY CALM no matter how intense the line of questioning gets. Whether or not you disagree with the interviewer, it will be to your benefit if you choose to engage in a civilised DEBATE. This is definitely a more effective way to get your point across you coming across as aggressive.
4. Not knowing the difference between “answering” and “responding.” Reporters are trained to ferret out details. Some are silly: they want to know where Steve Jobs buys his black turtlenecks. Some are serious: they want to know the impact of the credit crisis in the US and Europe on your company’s client portfolio. They will ask for as much as they can, the decision on how much to feed them depends on you.
There is no excuse for not being aware of a topic or event that’s related to you or your brand/company or product. If for any reason you don’t know saying, “no comment” is not an answer to any question. If you want to sidestep an unpleasant question, answer honestly without providing too many details. It is up to you to decide whether to answer the exact question that’s been asked.
An alternative is to “respond” instead: acknowledge the question, give a brief answer, and then move on to talk about your agenda. Research from Harvard academics show that audiences tend to trust “artful dodgers” more than people who are completely honest.
The hype often gets the best of interviewees, distracting them from their purpose in the first place. Keep your call to action in mind during the entire interview and state it in your conclusion – reiterating your key messages will help you stay on point.
Don’t forget – do it with a smile. An open, friendly and professional demeanour will shine through and allow your audiences to better connect with you and your message.