I admit it – securing media coverage for a CEO or C-suite executive is a real rush. But until the story or broadcast segment actually runs, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There’s a critical amount of pre-interview preparation that needs to happen to set the stage for success. Even then, the editing process can change things when a piece is posted, but that’s a whole topic unto itself for another blog!
My Top Media Interview Planning Tip
Over the course of my PR and marketing communications career, I’ve found that it’s optimal to set up two media interview planning meetings. Each meeting covers different topics and strategies, which if combined would simply be too much for one session. I break these topics up because while it’s important to prep the client for the interview, I definitely don’t want to overwhelm them. I don’t, however, like too much time to pass between planning sessions or have them one on top of the other, so I typically schedule the sessions a few days apart if possible. This provides some time and space for us to think through our approach, complete research, and compile notes.
Media Interview Planning Session #1 Pointers
Securing media coverage is what I do day and and day out, and I have a lot of experience in this area. Throughout the years, I’ve developed an interview prep process that I find really helps clients be more comfortable speaking with reporters, as well as positions them for a variety of questions that may be thrown their way. The first meeting is more of a conversation and idea exchange about the interview, what we want to say, and the questions we expect to be asked, as well as any potential landmines.
Here’s what I tackle in our first session:
1. Talk about the publication or platform and its historical coverage of the interview topic.
A successful interview hinges on being prepared. And that includes learning whatever you can about the media outlet conducting the interview. So, I brief the client on background information on the outlet and how its reporters and editors have covered the interview topic in the past.
2. Explore what’s being asked, what we want the executive to communicate on the topic.
Typically, the interview is a result of something I have pitched to the media outlet. More and more frequently, however, outlets are reaching out directly to my clients because of the robust LinkedIn visibility I have created for them. In either of these scenarios, we typically have an idea what the outlet wants to cover in the interview. So we dive into the topic and identify potential areas of interest that may be addressed in the questions. We then strategize on how we want the client to respond to those questions or even pivot to something else.
3. Practice how to weave in “key messages” naturally so that they don’t appear scripted.
To ensure the client gets important points across, we create key messages. This allows us to focus on the issues the client wants to address and help control the communication. The challenge lies in not having them sound spammy and scripted. We craft messages that can be adapted to different audiences and interpose varying information.
4. Project responses to potential landmines – controversial issues – applying critical thinking around responses.
We feel most uncomfortable when we’re caught off-guard. That’s why I work closely with clients to brainstorm hostile or difficult questions that may be posed. We explore the extremes and the unexpected to fend off the element of surprise. Once we outline these questions, we spend significant time drafting answers incorporating the key messaging we developed.
5. Do some role playing to practice responses to both ordinary and landmine-type questions.
A successful interview is one where the interviewee appears comfortable and confident. So we role play with myself as the media interviewer.
Media Interview Planning Session #2 – Review and More Tips
In the second meeting, we review the strategies outlined in the first session and then strategize in new areas:
1. Key messages
We confirm the primary statements the CEO wants to communicate. I’ll prepare and present these using language that sounds conversational and natural. Then it’s, practice, practice, practice.
2. Wild card questions.
Even though we may have an idea of the types of questions that will be asked, nothing is ever written in stone. The client needs to be prepared to go off topic and answer questions on other topics related to their industry. As a PR professional, I keep abreast of the latest news related to my clients’ businesses and industries so I can help them anticipate additional hot topics they may be questioned about and steer the interview back to the key messaging.
3. Message Repetition.
We’ve all seen the politicians on TV who keep repeating the same messaging over and over again. I NEVER want my clients to be them! It’s my job to help clients massage the messaging so that the information they want to convey is not repetitive, but is on theme. It’s imperative that the client’s key points are in every message. Why? Because while the interviewer may ask eight questions, maybe only three of the answers will be used for the story or broadcast segment. I want to make sure the message was conveyed.
4. Wardrobe & Grooming.
Appearances matter, so we’ll talk about what the CEO will wear if they will be photographed or taped, as well as any grooming needs. I do prefer bright colors on camera or zoom screen to capture the eye of the viewers.
I prefer to accompany my clients to their interviews, whether virtual or in person, as this provides an opportunity to make a personal connection with the reporter. Also, there are nuances which occur during interviews that I want to be there for.
What tips can you share to help others prepare for presentations or media interviews?