Ad Agencies: Three Ways to Prepare an Inexperienced Leader for Media Interviews

In an age of sound bite communication, companies need articulate spokespeople who are prepared to deal with the unexpected and can deliver clear, concise and consistent messages to a variety of audiences. After all, how well a leader communicates, and the degree of credibility he or she maintains with important audiences, will likely affect your agency’s or your clients’ image for a long time.

Trouble is, leaders who are inexperienced in doing media interviews can easily fall into traps and say something they later regret. They can go off message, start rambling or fidgeting, freeze up when the camera light comes on or give out inaccurate information—any one of which can create a giant headache for the organization.

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Having done media training for 20+ years, here are three ways I’ve found to help prepare inexperienced leaders for interviews, build their confidence and give them the tools they need to be successful:

1. Demystify the news media for them.

I think of this as a “News Media 101” overview of how the media work and the criteria they use to determine a potential story’s news value. For example, leaders need to understand that reporters are looking for high impact stories which will capture attention. They especially like a local angle for a national or regional topic, trend stories, controversy and a contrarian point of view. And they are always looking for articulate, expert commentary on current issues. It’s also important to make sure that inexperienced interviewees have a good handle on the differences they will experience in a print interview vs. a radio interview vs. a TV interview.

2. Have a goal for each interview.

Leaders need to realize that if they don’t control what they say to the news media, the media will control them. They need to have a clear idea of what they want to get across and accomplish with each interview. Stress the importance of preparation because “winging it” can lead to disaster. One of the best ways to prepare is to develop key messages—also known as talking points—to help your leader communicate effectively

Practice asking questions you think the leader could be asked, and then counsel your leader to use the questions to bridge to what he/she wants to talk about (i.e. your interview goal, using the talking points to achieve it). Leaders possess valuable expertise, and in most cases they are going to know much more about the subject matter than the person doing the interview.

3. Teach them how to take control of an interview

This usually doesn’t come naturally, even for leaders who have excellent communications skills. However, it’s vital that interviewees learn the art of taking control of interviews and dealing appropriately with difficult questions. Here are some practical tips to share to make sure your leader stays on point and doesn’t get off in the weeds:

Answer only within the scope of your authority and responsibility.  If you don’t know something, say so—and then offer to get back to the interviewer later with an answer.

Look for opportunities to use transition phrases, such as “The real issue is…” or “What I can tell you about XYZ is . . .” or “What I’m here to discuss today is…” or “What’s important to know about XYZ is….”

Identify ways to turn negatives into positives. For example, in a layoff situation, stress how many jobs were saved by taking this action. It won’t put a happy face on a negative situation, but it can provide the audience with much-needed perspective.

Be aware that your body language often will speak louder than your words. Remember to smile and have energy during the interview. Don’t lose your temper no matter how provocative or loaded a question you are asked.

If you’re on camera, look at the person conducting the interview, not into the camera (unless you are specifically asked to do so).

Avoid industry jargon, and never say “no comment,” which equals guilt in most people’s minds.  If you can’t discuss something, explain why (e.g. confidentiality, proprietary information, pending litigation, timing because you’re still gathering all the facts, etc.).

When you’ve made your point, stop talking. This may be the most important point of all, because more times than not people make their best points in the first sentence or two they give in response to a question. When they elaborate too much and get “off message,” they typically end up in the swamp and say something they later regret.

TV Leaders Interview Tips 26554989678_ff03a10665_n Media training can make the difference between a successful interview and a disastrous one.

With proper coaching, the right messaging and some practice responding to challenging questions, leaders will have the tools they need for a successful interview and the confidence to pull it off.

If the interview is a high profile one, or you have concerns that it may be hostile, or the leader seems to be having difficulty delivering key messages and you sense he/she is not ready for the interview, you may want to consider retaining a media training expert from outside the organization to help.

One final thought: Now days even a local interview in a small market, or an Internet radio interview with a tiny audience, can go viral. Social media has been a game-changer and can broadcast mistakes all over the world instantly. Small doesn’t necessarily mean safe when it comes to interviews, so the best approach is to devote the time and resources needed to make sure leaders doing interviews are prepared, confident and effective.

photo credit: BudCat14/Ross TV-Radio ANNUAL (1958) – Perry Como via photopin (license)

photo credit: muddy_lens interview via photopin (license)

Ad Agencies: Media Training Can Help Your Clients Avoid Blunders

A few days ago Carly Fiorina, the Republican nominee in California’s Senate race, got caught in one of the oldest media tricks around: an open microphone. While waiting for a CNN interview she got a bit too chatty, questioning why another Republican candidate would choose to appear on Sean Hannity’s program. Then, she took a swipe at her opponent’s hairstyle as “Sooooooooooooo yesterday.” Of course, she had no idea everything she said was being recorded.

The gaff has made the rounds on the Internet, and while some are describing the incident as simply a mistake by a novice candidate, she should have known better. One would hope this sort of thing would have been covered in her media training sessions (she did have media training before running for office, didn’t she?). Perhaps she had been warned about being on guard at all times, including before and after an interview, and just got careless.

We all make mistakes, but some are more costly than others. Fortunately for Ms. Fiorina, this incident is merely embarrassing. It certainly could have been worse.

Ad agencies that advise and prepare clients for media interviews should not take for granted that their clients will automatically remember to be vigilant around reporters, especially if they begin to feel comfortable in their surrounds. A safe assumption is that everything is on the record and may be used. It’s something that can’t be said too often.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.

Media Training Helps Ad Agencies Avoid Missteps

Whenever you see or hear someone say something that comes back to bite them, there’s a good chance the gaffe could have been avoided by undergoing media training prior to the interview.

Media training helps agencies and their clients learn how to take control of an interview and effectively deliver key messages.

In an age of sound bite communications, companies need articulate spokespersons that are prepared to deal with the unexpected and can deliver clear, concise and consistent messages to a variety of audiences. How well you communicate, and the degree of credibility you maintain with important audiences, will likely affect your company’s image for months or even years to come.

Practicing answers to difficult questions before an interview can be extremely helpful in formulating proper responses and avoiding saying something you’ll regret later. Media training also helps identify key issues, recognize public relations pitfalls and enables you to make the most of opportunities to promote your product or service.

It’s worth the time to properly prepare for an interview – otherwise, you might end up spending a lot more time trying to undo the damage.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.