Archive for Media Interviews

Winning Media Interviews, Part IV: The Fine Art of “Bridging”

Reporters are more experienced than you are in an interview.  They should be.  They do it for a living.  They know the questions that are likely to make you squirm.

For example, a reporter will often lead you into areas that you would rather not talk about for any number of reasons.  For example, a reporter asks for confidential company information you are not permitted to discuss.  Or, you are asked for details about your work for a client, which is off limits.  Or, you simply are not an expert on the topic.

“Bridging” is the process of returning to your key messages and away from the topics you do not want to discuss.  Or, the reporter may wander into subject areas that weren’t proposed as topics for the interview.  This isn’t necessarily something bad – s/he may have a particular interest in that subject.  It’s just that you don’t.  So how do you get the interview back on track?   You do it by “bridging.”

Example of Bridging

Question: “Tell me about the new online service you’re developing for Best Client.”

Answer: “Our client Jack O’Brien is the person to talk to about that and I can put you in touch with him.  But I’ve read with interest your stories about online services offered by money center banks.  Let me tell you about how we’ve come up with a solution for companies with a thorny problem they’re facing in cross-selling their customers on the Internet.”

You have responded to the question by pointing him to the appropriate spokesperson, and demonstrated that you know the topics the writer is covering.  Now you can return to a key message without alienating the reporter.

Winning Media Interviews, Part III: Structuring Your Answers to a Question

Whether you are being interviewed by a print, broadcast or online reporter, you should structure your answer in what journalists call the “inverted pyramid” style. That is, you lead with your most important message. For many executives, this is in direct contrast to the way they approach a problem, that is, by gathering the facts and building a case for a proposal or recommendation.

Just read the lead article in your daily newspaper tomorrow, and you’ll see that the most important news is in the “lead,” or the first paragraph. Unless you have a personal interest in the subject, it is doubtful that you will read the entire article. The facts will be written in descending order of importance, with background detail at the end of the story.

When framing your answer, think in “headlines.” Your headline should be short and simple with one idea. The headline is, in effect, your most important key message that you want to communicate to the reader or listener. It will be supported by evidence, examples, facts, personal experience, anecdotes, visuals, etc. In a television interview, you may not have time for more than one headline and a couple of supporting facts.

As an example of a headline, the House of Representatives is investigating brain injuries to football players.  Facing a barrage of nasty questions from House committee members regarding National Football League policies and research, the Commissioner Roger Goodell responded, “I can think of no issue to which I’ve devoted more time and attention than the health and well-being of our players, and particularly retired players.”  This is the key message he wants as his takeaway: that baseball is committed to the health and well-being of its active and retired players.  Time will tell if his message holds up or is refuted.

Winning Media Interviews, Part II: What Reporters Are Looking For in a Story

When you have the opportunity to be interviewed, you will no doubt have thought about the key messages you want to communicate.  This is important and the right thing to do.  It comes under “being prepared.”  But you also need to know what reporters are looking for in a story and it may not always be what you are interested in talking about.  Before the interview, be sure you’ve researched the media outlet and read/watched the last few stories the reporter has written.  If the reporter feasts on controversy and you don’t want controversy, think twice about doing the interview.    But if you are good to go, this is what you need to know about what reporters want:

  1. What’s new. Reporters are always looking for “what’s new.”  Are you announcing a new service, a new president, sponsoring an important event, releasing the results of a survey?
  2. Trends. Trends in your industry that are affecting the way business is being done, impacting large numbers of people, influencing public policy.
  3. Stories with a beginning, middle and an end. Reporters love to hear the words, “For example,” because they know they are likely to  hear an interesting story that will clarify and possibly even entertain.
  4. Conflict. Differing points of view on important subjects of wide interest, i.e., health reform, the economy, the environment, etc.
  5. Visuals. Charts, graphs, product samples and other visuals that will improve their understanding of the story, and stimulate the interest of their readers or viewers.
  6. Juicy quotes. A sound bite for television, a lead or “grabber” for a newspaper article.
  7. Oddball angles. Man bites dog.  The expected turned on its head

So, when you’re preparing for your interview, see how many of these “wants” you can include.

Winning Media Interviews, Part I: Ten Most Common Mistakes in Dealing With the Media

More than ever before, executives are being called on to represent their organizations in backgrounders, briefings and interviews with reporters from the print, broadcast and online media. These discussions offer an excellent opportunity to tell a positive story about the organization and its products and services.

Every discussion is different depending on the length, format, reporter’s style and whether he or she is working for a print publication, radio/TV station or online media outlet. A reporter with a monthly magazine generally will have the time to explore a subject more thoroughly than an on-air TV reporter who, more often than not, is simply seeking a juicy “sound bite.”  With the advent of the Internet, the news cycle is now 24/7 and an executive may be called at any time of the day or night for a quote.

In every case, executives increase their chances of being included in a story by using techniques regarding form and content that can be learned and practiced and avoiding these common mistakes:

  1. Replying “No Comment.” No comment translates to “guilty as charged.”  The reply is used most frequently when the responder has bad news.  You are under no obligation to give out information that would be damaging to you or your company.  However, a response like “I can’t discuss the matter at this time, because of SEC regulations” accomplishes the same thing.
  2. Not Being Prepared. You need to have your facts and figures at your fingertips prior to the interview.
  3. Repeating a Negative. Your response:  “Yes, earnings are down, but we made a capital investment of $50 in the quarter to expand our production capacity to meet consumer demand.”  What is written:  “Yes, earnings are down.” Some notable quotes: President Richard Nixon: “ I want the American people to know their President is not a crook.”   Jessica Hahn:  “I am not a bimbo.”  Bank regulator: “We were not asleep at the switch.”
  4. Being Late to an Interview. Reporters are on tight schedules.  If you are late (either by phone, in person, or online), besides irritating the reporter, you reduce your chances of getting in all your key messages.  Being late to a live television interview is fatal to the relationship.
  5. Restricting Your Answer to the Question. You don’t have to narrowly respond to a question with a “yes” or “no.”  Use the opportunity to “bridge” from the question to offer information that will broaden the reporter’s understanding and knowledge of your company and its offerings.
  6. Ignoring the Question. You must acknowledge the question, but you can say, “It’s not a simple yes or no, but let me tell you about how our company is addressing this is important public policy issue.”
  7. Not Returning Phone Calls or Emails. This is a cardinal sin, especially if a reporter is on deadline.  Return all phone calls and emails (and text messages) as soon as possible, even if you know you’ll be asked questions you’d rather avoid.  Otherwise, you’ll find reporters not returning your phone calls or emails.
  8. Using Jargon. Not every reporter is knowledgeable about your industry and its acronyms.  Use language in terms that are understandable to a layman.
  9. Lying. Never lie to the press.  They can always find out the truth from another source or by searching the Internet.
  10. Dribbling Out Bad News. The cardinal rule is to get all the bad information out at once.  Do  not dribble out morsels one at a time as this is guaranteed to keep the bad news in front of the public until all the bad news is out — and it will come out.