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You have heard the phrase, “tell them what you are going to tell them and tell them what you told them.” This is true of any interaction with an external audience, media, press or analysts. Unless you know exactly what you want to communicate it is very unlikely that you will end up communicating it effectively. In fact you may very well end up doing more damage than good.

In working with fast start and growth companies for over two decades we’ve seen and had to correct many, easily avoidable errors made by well meaning business leaders—who weren’t prepared.

Consider the following ideas before engaging in any interview:

1. Know the Publication, Organization or Media Platform. Why does they exist? What is their particular set of values and what are they trying to promote? How long has it been around? Frequency of the publication or reports? Are they online only, print, or both? What is their audience concerned about and how do they cover these concerns? If you are going to speak to an online media group, expect your comments to be online as you are interviewed or minutes after you speak the interviewer—eliminating any time for additional context or swift correction.

2. Know Who You are Talking To. Do some research on the interviewer, reporter or analyst, what they write about, how long they have been covering the beat (focus area). Read an article or publication or two they have written recently (mentioning them in passing during an interview). Learn the interviewer’s prior work history and progression to determine if they’re the best person you should be talking with.

3. Understand Why the Individual is Talking with You. Are they writing or interviewing on a certain topic? Is the person looking for comment or opinion on a subject or circumstance? Is the deadline real-time, short or is their interest for a longer piece with a longer lead time? Also, dig into the individuals particular reason for the interview and the perspective that they’re trying to gain or create before you do the interview. Every person you talk with brings in their own agenda and biases, make sure you know them before you speak.

4. Determine the Publication/Distribution Cycle. Is the individual you’re talking with on deadline and just needs a few quotes? Or, do they more time to learn additional context, about your company, its offering(s) and you? If you don’t know, clarify this at the beginning of the interview so you can adjust accordingly so you can get your best information presented in the time allotted.

5. Plan Exactly What You Want to Cover. Put key messages together in the form of talking points and steer the conversation throughout the interview. Be sure to cover all your points and refocus the interview or discussion to those points if need be. If the interview is in person, commit them to memory.

6. Prepare Q&As or FAQs for Difficult Questions or Issues. When things are urgent or may lead to confusion, don’t “wing it.” Prepare and anticipate the questions and determine the most appropriate answer ahead of time. Make sure all the answers are accurate, represent your position(s), and try to stay away from negative language.

7. Stay Positive and Upbeat. Sometimes the person you’re speaking with will have an agenda that is critical, negative or seeking to “dig up dirt” on a topic. Don’t go there. Don’t take the bait. Never repeat negative language posed in a question. Instead respond to a negative question by making a positive point that generally ties back to the question posed or the topic you wish to cover.

8. Be Selective and Purposeful. Understand that you can choose not to answer any question, nor do you have to address every topic. It is an accepted practice to say that a question is outside of the scope of the interview and you not willing to comment on that subject. Also, feel free to answer any question as you wish, not necessarily as posed by the interviewer, by rephrasing the question in your words and then answering.

9. Never Slam any Competitor, Publication, Platform, Company or Organization. Often interviewers are looking to stir up controversy or create issues or adversarial positions. Don’t let it happen to you. Always redirect any such questions (or statements they may make) by stating something you might like to ask about the topic at hand.

10. Know How to Answer Questions or Statements. After being asked a question or having had a statement made to you, pause for a second, collect your thoughts and see if there is a way to connect a response to a key point you want to make—then deliver your response. Never allow yourself to be “baited” into affirming a statement you disagree with. Don’t feel obligated to respond to everything that an interviewer may pose. Keep in control of body language, emotion and responses to questions and statements professional, above board and positive.

11. Stay Ahead of Difficult Questions. Difficult questions aren’t difficult if one is prepared. 1) Stop and reflect and compose an answer. 2) If you still not sure how to answer, ask the person to repeat the question—rarely is it asked the same way and often you gain additional insight. 3) Never, ever, ever answer a question you don’t know the answer to. It is better to say you need to get back to them, setting a time/date when you will, and following up.

12. Understand That Nothing is “Off the Record”. That phrase only exists in movies. We live in a world of immediate publication and social media. Nothing discussed is ever off the record and words can not be retracted. No matter the interviewer, subject, or circumstance conduct all interviews and discussions as if all are “on the record.”

13. Stay In Touch: Ask 1) Name, contact information 2) Name of their publication and 3) Deadline. Follow up to ensure accuracy or to return requested information or to provide any additional insight or clarification. Manage the process from interview to publication or online distribution.

13. Reputations are best kept than re-earned. This is especially true in today’s social media world. Your reputation is the sum of all your words, appearances, video, thoughts, ideas, expressions, body language, choices and presence. Just look at media response today—reputation can be destroyed in a matter of hours—where even the best of intentions and words can be misconstrued and lead to negative consequences. Don’t let it happen to you.

14. Ask for Help: Don’t go into interviews without some assistance. You may think, “I can handle this.” or, “I’ve got it covered.” The stakes are too high to not be prepared. Seek coaching for effectiveness, clarity of message, objection handling, word or phrase choice, body language and generally being prepared for almost every eventuality.

Working with the media can be fun and can do much to propel your business forward in the mind of the market, prospects and customers. Always be over-prepared and see how you can use the media to your advantage.

The Afterburner Group has been preparing leaders in companies in the technology, energy, services, manufacturing and non-profit industries to work with the media for over 25 years.

If you think that you could do better in handling media requests and communicating more effectively, fill out the contact form below and let’s discover a way forward that grows your impact, presence and benefit from the media.

Communicate better.

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