Media Interview Preparation 101

Feb 6, 2019

Some executives dedicate ample time and effort to media interview preparation studying the journalist’s previous coverage, developing carefully considered talking points while others, not so much.

Guess which ones are typically more pleased with the outcomes of their interviews?

Nonetheless, it’s important to keep the significance of media interviews in perspective. Unlike a new product release gone awry or ethical misconduct by management, a bad interview is unlikely to cripple a company’s future. More likely, an interview gone off-the-rails results in some temporary embarrassment and heartburn for the company’s leadership obviously something everyone would prefer to avoid. Still, there’s no need for an interview subject to work herself into a nervous state of sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach or stuttering speech.

While no one would suggest that executives need to prepare for a media interview with the time and diligence that they’d devote to a board meeting, for example, media interviews are indeed an important conduit to introducing a young company to potential investors, partners, employees and the market in general.

Confidence is key, and preparation breeds confidence. With that in mind, here are a few key preparation tips beyond the usual “Do your homework!” to turn any interview into a positive showcase for you company and your thought leadership.

Ask questions before the interview: What type of readers/viewers/listeners comprise the media outlet’s audience? Why is the reporter interested in talking to you? How did he/she find out about your company? What topics will the interview cover? Will the reporter share any questions ahead of time? Will you have the opportunity to review the article before it’s published (probably not), or any direct quotes from you that the reporter plans to use (quite possibly)? Don’t let any excitement or nervousness about the interview prevent you from asking a bunch of questions to the reporter soon, he/she’ll be asking plenty of you.

Research the reporter and media outlet: Check out the reporter’s bio or LinkedIn page, and look for some clues from his/her background to build pre-interview rapport. Maybe the reporter attended the same college as you or has worked at a company with which you have some familiarity. This is great fodder for small talk before the interview begins, which will help to establish a friendly tone at the interview’s outset.

Aside from the reporter’s personal background, study the past few articles he/she’s written. They’ll provide clues for what interests him/her, what angles the reporter likes to take on stories and what types of questions might be asked.

Hammer key messages: I like to think of media interviews as a Venn diagram, featuring two circles one representing the reporter’s interests and the other representing those of the interview subject. Rarely if ever will these two circles completely overlap. In fact, only about 10 percent of each may overlap, but that 10 percent is where you’ll live during the interview. That’s the space where you’ll be able to discuss your industry and your company’s accomplishments and capabilities without seeming too sales-y or self-promotional.

After you’ve asked the right questions and done your research, it’s time to prepare talking points that hammer home the key messages you’d like to convey in the interview. Make each of these points brief, conversational and punchy. Provide a little supporting evidence or an anecdote and move on to the next one. Don’t be afraid to re-emphasize points you’ve previously made; repetition helps reporters prioritize the importance of the information you’ve covered during the interview.

After the interview: Once the interview is over, breathe a sigh of relief and revel in a job well done — although the work isn’t done quite yet. Follow up with the reporter to see if any additional information or clarification is needed before the piece is published. Once the piece is published, promote it via all channels available to your company social media, company blog, website, email campaigns and the like.

Does this seem like a lot of work? Sometimes it can be, but the positive is that a strong PR firm will do all the legwork for you asking important questions of the reporter, researching the reporter and media outlet’s background and crafting talking points. Then it’s just up to the executive to think about and digest the information and proceed with confidence towards exceling in the interview.

Brandon Glenn

Brandon Glenn is a veteran journalist and marketing and communications professional, with experience in content marketing, social media, media relations and news writing. He gained a deep knowledge of the health IT industry while working as a reporter and editor for MedCity News, which covers the business of innovation in healthcare, and as a senior editor with Medical Economics, a publication that focuses on issues of importance to primary care physicians. In these positions, he also wrote extensively about the hospitals, pharmaceuticals and medical devices industries. Brandon began his journalism career as a reporter with Crain's Cleveland Business and, later, Crain's Chicago Business. Earlier, he was an analyst with consulting firm Accenture. Brandon earned a master's in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Purdue University.