If you ask 10 people his/her impression of the media, I’m guessing at least half would mention the term “fake news.” This is in large part due to the fact that we hear that phrase constantly these days, but it also demonstrates an inherent lack of trust many people have with the press. This distrust is one of the reasons many subject matter experts within organizations shy away from doing media interviews. They would rather pass on a media opportunity than talk to a journalist, who they assume is trying to catch them saying something they shouldn’t or won’t quote them accurately.
As a company spokesperson, having a healthy respect for the interview process and what is required of you is a good thing. But interviews shouldn’t be scary, and reporters shouldn’t be viewed as the antagonist of the story. Most reporters aren’t out to get you or try to take your company down. While this type of reporting makes movies like All the President’s Men, Spotlight and The Post (and the real stories that inspired them) exciting, it’s not how the typical reporting process goes. In most cases, journalists have a story to write about a timely topic or trend and are simply wanting to speak to industry experts to gather information to share with their readers.
If you have the chance to speak with the press, think of it as a great opportunity to promote your company, enforce key messages and reach a specific audience. While you shouldn’t be scared about speaking with the press, there are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind to set yourself up for a successful interview.
Things to Always Do
- Speak in plain English. Reporters may not have a tremendous amount of experience covering your industry, so avoid speaking in jargon or using acronyms. Otherwise, the reporter may get confused and omit you from the article. If you are going to use complex terms or phrases, make sure to explain what they mean upfront.
- Get to the point. Give complete responses to a journalist’s question, but be concise. Make your point immediately and then elaborate; otherwise, your key message(s) may get lost. Then, once you’ve made your point, it’s okay to stop talking and wait for the next question.
- Speak to what you know. If you’re speaking with a reporter, it’s most likely because the story is relevant to your area of expertise. Be confident in what you’re saying. If the reporter asks about a topic that’s outside your area of expertise, it’s okay to say you don’t know but will get back to them or say that you’ll put them in touch with someone else who can answer that particular question.
- Decline answering questions that would reveal confidential information and state why you’re declining. There’s certain information that companies can’t make public. For example, private companies may not want revenue figures, pricing information or length of customer contracts published. Be aware of what information should not be disclosed and be prepared for how you will respond (e.g., “We are a privately held company and do not disclose that information.”) if the subject is brought up during an interview.
- Be prepared. The best way to feel confident during an interview is to be prepared. Make sure you understand who is conducting the interview, the main audience of the publication and the focus of the story. Take time to review any prep materials or questions supplied by the journalist or your PR/marketing team and think about how you would like to respond.
Things to Never Do
- Go off the record! While most journalists won’t print certain details if you ask them not to, that’s not always the case. It’s best to play it safe – if you don’t want to see something in print, don’t say it.
- Discuss the competition. The more you mention a competitor’s name, the more likely it will appear in print – and you don’t want to give them any extra press. It’s important to focus on your company’s business only, even if asked to comment on a competitor.
- Be overly-promotional. Remember, this isn’t a sales pitch. If you want to viewed as a good source (and increase your chances of appearing in an article), give the reporter what they need – insights into industry issues. When discussing industry challenges or trends, it’s okay to mention how your company fits in or to give real-life application examples, but don’t let every response go back to how great your company and its solutions are.
- Give your personal opinion. During an interview you are representing your company, not yourself, so make sure everything you say aligns with the organization’s corporate messages or stance on industry issues. Always use the company’s name or say “we” versus “I.”
- Mention a customer by name (unless you have their permission). It’s important to keep your customers happy, which includes not making public statements about their business or operations. Unless a customer has explicitly given permission to discuss your work with them, it’s best to avoid mentioning them by name. If you need to share a customer example during an interview, use a generic reference, such as “a leading consumer goods manufacturer” or “a major retailer.”
Speaking with the press is a great opportunity for you and your company – and can lead to positive brand recognition and even sales. By respecting the interview process, you can set yourself up for success by following the best practices listed above.
Author: Stephen Dye, Senior Account Manager, Outlook Marketing Services