A few years ago, the CEO of a technology firm was being interviewed by a journalist for an article in a prestigious business magazine. But thanks to the CEO, the interview was a total disaster.
The CEO refused to prepare for the interview, claiming he was too busy to spend time reviewing talking points and other material that were critical for a successful interview. He was also dismissive of many of the journalist’s questions and repeatedly interrupted the interview to take calls from his cellphone.
The magazine didn’t publish the article because the journalist decided there wasn’t much of a compelling story about the company, based on the CEO’s inability to provide the necessary information deemed vital for the article.
However, the CEO expressed surprise and anger that the interview didn’t result in an article, blaming the journalist for asking “idiotic” questions and the PR representative for failing to thoroughly prepare him for the interview.
This is an extreme example of a press interview gone wrong. Most interviews are cordial and provide lots of information, sometimes too much information. In order to get the most from an interview, you or whoever is the designated spokesperson, should follow these guidelines:
· Practice Makes Perfect – Prior to sitting down with a reporter, it’s important that you spend enough time learning the message points that you wish to convey during the interview. Don’t try to wing it, or you will most assuredly either forget or screw up some of the key messages.
· Treat Journalists with Respect—Like the rest of us, reporters are human and don’t take kindly to someone who is disrespectful or exhibits other types of bad behavior. You might be lucky enough to have the journalist write an article about you or your organization, but it will most likely be the last time that journalist will do that again. It’s best to treat reporters like they were guests in your own home. Make them feel comfortable by engaging in some small talk or take an interest in learning about their job.
· Don’t Go “Off the Record”—If you don’t want the rest of the world know something about you or your company, the best advice is to not say anything. While most reporters will honor your request to not cover something you want off the record, there is always the remote possibility of a reporter breaking their pledge and including your comments in the article. Or, sometimes the reporter will unintentionally include off-the-record comments because they get confused on what he or she can write if the interview goes off the record, back on record, off again and so on.
· Avoid Distracting Behavior—Besides taking calls or texting on your cellphone, there are other things you need to avoid during an interview. For instance, don’t use ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ “which can be particularly distracting, especially during a broadcast interview. This gives the impression that you are not well-versed on a specific topic. Also, it’s okay to look at notes during an interview, but you should refrain from shuffling around a bunch of papers.
· Produce Facts and Figures—Reporters love facts and figures to support someone’s opinion on a particular trend or issue. Arrive well-armed with any data that you feel will offer more credibility to the topic at hand. It will also save the reporter from digging around for this information if you can provide it during the interview.
· Always Take the High Road-Sometimes a reporter will try to get you to say something negative like bashing competitors. Don’t go there. Always stay on message. If the reporter continues to focus on trying elicit negative comments, just politely say, ”I prefer not to comment on this question, can we please go to the next question.”
The author is Marc Weinstein, CEO of Ascent Communications (www.ascentcomm.net), a marketing/public relations agency specializing in creating results-driven communications for technology companies.