Our clients are no different from most tech companies; they want to be a part of broader media stories that help reach their audience, customers, investors and others. Clients want coverage that highlights their products or services and showcases to their target markets why they offer the better approach. A good PR agency will help a company put the spotlight on its key advantages and will also leverage its relationships with the media to position the client's executives so they can promote company news, or as a thought leader in a broader trend story.
However, while a good agency can get a reporter interested in having a conversation with a client, it’s how well a client does in an interview that can make or break how and if the client gets coverage. Clients that take the time go through training and prepare for an interview are also less likely to say the wrong thing, which could put you, or your company, in a poor position. We all remember when Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP, committed a string of media interview gaffes following the Mexico Gulf oil disaster, including stating he wanted his “life back” during his apology on behalf of the company. This statement was completely insensitive to the people in the Gulf who suffered greatly from the oil disaster. Hayward’s careless statement not only impacted his image but that of BP.
Speaking with a journalist is different from addressing board members, colleagues and clients. An interview is not a conversation, but rather a transaction. The journalist wants information, and you want to provide specific messages in a succinct manner that gets across your and your company’s point of view.
Carefully crafted media training conducted by an experienced facilitator can provide clients the tools they need to navigate through the potential landmines of an interview, whether it is for print media or broadcast.
To start communicating effectively, understand that journalists are story tellers. Yes, some are reporting on hard news, but at the end of the day they are trying to communicate the relevance and significance of your news to a broader story that is unique and interesting. How can company spokespeople become great storytellers? Read and understand what the journalist you’ll be talking to writes about; every journalist and every media outlet is different. Also, keep in mind the publication’s audience; is it engineers dealing with a problem your product solves? Or executives looking for something that will give them a competitive edge? Convey emotion, give examples and anecdotes, and provide quotable soundbites that will resonate with the reporter’s audience. Come across as both knowledgeable and personable. How you act during an interview is every bit as important as what you say.
Here are five communications basics that will prove valuable in establishing your image:
Grab Your Audience’s Attention
Media training can be a great way to learn how to use your body language and tone of voice in a way that captivates your listeners and makes them connect with you. Most interviews these days are done by phone so tone of voice and being succinct in what and how you say something is critical. You may only have 15-20 minutes to speak with the reporter and win their interest to write about you, as well as consider you as a resource for future stories. When you do have that unique opportunity to meet a reporter face-to-face remember that your body language, eye contact and posture can convey more than what you’re saying. In addition, media coaching that includes a practice video session can show you how you respond differently to both positive and negative questions. Letting a coach teach you the basics of how to speak and carry yourself during interviews can help you get the attention you need for the message you want to share. After all, studies have shown that body language is considerably more important than what you say.
Convey Your Message Successfully
For every interview, you should prepare a short list of key messages you want to get across. Going through media training can help you do this effectively and makes it easier for you to get and retain your audience’s attention. Learning how to address the media’s needs and desires in your key messages will give you an edge. A good trainer will also teach you how to package your messages and insert them into as many of your responses as possible. That way, you repeat your main ideas and ensure that they stick in people’s minds.
Be Prepared for Difficult Questions
If your company is involved in some sort of controversy or problem, you can expect to be asked some difficult questions. Your PR agency should be able to help you anticipate those questions and provide some bullet points for answers. This will help you avoid taking long pauses while you think of an answer or blurting out something you later regret. Having an experienced PR team that can anticipate questions and provide suggested responses can help you avoid negative press – or even legal problems – down the road.
Provide Quotable Quotes
There’s hardly anything more upsetting than seeing a large feature piece about your company that includes a quote from you that doesn’t reflect any of your carefully prepared key messages. To avoid this problem, learn how to answer questions in a way that makes it easy for the media to take notes and formulate a quote that includes your main message. If you know how to answer media questions properly, you are more likely to be quoted correctly.
Remember that Everything is on the Record
Say what you know and only what you know, and assume that everything that you’re discussing is on the record, whether the reporter quotes you in their immediate story or in a future article. Every media interview should be moderated by the company’s communications team or supporting PR agency.
There are many other good tips and insights that a well-trained agency can support. Consider investing in a media training program through a PR agency on presentation skills. The better prepared you are for media opportunities, the more likely you’ll get coverage that you and your company deserve.
Jeannette is the Co-founder and Chief Relationship Officer at Witz Communications. She has more than twenty years of experience in high-tech public relations, with an emphasis on enterprise, security, telecommunications, industrial IoT, and mobile technologies. She has worked with both public and private companies and has a proven track record of developing and managing public relations programs, including company and product launches, initial public offerings, mergers/acquisitions, and media and analyst relations. She has also established long running relationships with technical and business media, and industry analysts.