Preparing for a Media Interview: Follow These 5 Tips

By Quinn Kelsey

The thought of a media interview can be daunting for many executives. Whether it’s a lack of media interview experience, an unfounded perception that journalists are “out to get you,” or fear of accidentally saying something you will later regret, it is understandable that media interviews can be anxiety-inducing endeavors for some executives.

However, engaging with the media plays an important role in any company’s success. It is incumbent on companies to ensure that their story is properly told and understood by all audiences — and the media is one of the primary channels through which your audience receives information. That leaves you with the choice of learning how to engage to shape the best possible outcome or allowing others to define you on their terms and through their lens.

At the same time, the media landscape is shifting. Journalists now cover a much broader range of topics and issues, and they work on much shorter lead times, leaving little opportunity to do thorough research and preparation. Furthermore, they are required to make their stories relevant to as large of an audience as possible, and they are incentivized to generate traffic, be it page views, links, likes or even stock trades. But at the core, they are still seeking good, compelling, newsworthy stories. That means they need new information and expertise, unique points of view, anecdotes, and quality quotes and sound bites, all of which you are in a unique position to provide.

While each interview will vary, here are five tips you can apply to prepare for any interview situation:

1. Familiarize Yourself With the Outlet and Reporter

First and foremost, never accept a cold call media interview. If a reporter does call you directly and unexpectedly, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a deadline and offer to return their call once you’ve had time to prepare. Before taking part in an interview, take time to get to know both the media outlet and the reporter you are speaking with. If your PR agency doesn’t do this for you, research recent and relevant articles from the reporter, and search how they and the outlet have previously covered you, your company and your industry. This will give you a sense of their general tone and expertise on the topic and outlook, all of which offer insights on how to fine-tune your messages.

2. Practice Your Messages and Delivery

Some of the most common regrets following an interview and subsequent story that didn’t go as expected are, “That’s not what I meant to say,” “Why did they make that the headline?” or “If I could just get a do-over.” These moments often result from a lack of clear message delivery.

Before taking part in an interview, outline the three key messages you’d like to convey, and be prepared to deliver those key messages early and often. When delivering your messages and answering questions it is important to:

  • Use strong quotes and memorable sound bites.
  • Keep your messages concise. This is especially important for TV and broadcast interviews, as the average sound bite is less than nine seconds.
  • Avoid jargon. Keep in mind that most reporters cover multiple industries, so it’s almost guaranteed they won’t know as much about the topic as you do.
  • Know your proof points, such as personal experiences, facts and statistics.
  • Approach questions as a platform to deliver your message by bridging back to the key messages you want to communicate.

In addition to delivering your key messages, anticipate questions — both easy and tough — and practice your answers out loud. Know that the first question out of the gate will likely be your first chance to deliver your message and set the tone for the interview. And, nine times of out ten, the last question will be “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” Take this opportunity to deliver your messages one final time.

3. Know What Not to Do

As you prepare for your media interview, keep in mind a few things you should avoid. First, don’t try to sell. While you should use your company name often and deliver your key messages with confidence, you are the expert and you have valuable information to provide the reporter. Don’t feel the pressure to oversell it. Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to respond to questions outside your field of competence, comment on or speak poorly about competition, and guess or speculate. Reminding yourself of this before an interview will help prevent you from being caught off guard.

4. Double Check the Details

While it seems obvious, it’s important to cement — and then double check — the logistical details.  For example:

  • If it’s a phone interview, make sure the conference line is working or that you know who is calling whom (and double check time zones.) Also, be sure that you are in a quiet place, with no distractions, and with good phone service.
  • If the media interview is in person or in a studio, know where and how early to arrive.
  • If the media is coming to your office, ensure that your office is representative of you and your company. Clear away any private papers or white board notes, and ensure your staff knows that media representatives are on-site.

5. Remember, All Interviews and Interactions Are on the Record

A media interview starts from the moment you engage with the reporter. So, whether it’s during small talk before the interview has formally started or a post-interview “hot mic” situation (as we’ve seen all too many politicians stumble into), there’s no such thing as off the record.

Fortunately, your PR agency, if you have one, will assist with the logistical workload and can provide expertise in formulating messages and executing delivery. They will even join the interview with you to catch any red flags or steer a conversation back on topic.

If you would like to learn more about how to prepare for and maximize media interviews, get in touch.