There is an art to working with the media and being prepared is key to a successful interview, as well as relationship. Why would we even use the word “relationship,” for starters? Simple, because there is generally one or two people from each media outlet who covers your area – be it education, the arts, or lifestyle. The exception to the rule may be a top-10 urban city that has several journalists covering news, sports or business. But the point is that if you aspire to have media coverage, you NEED to have a relationship with the person covering their beat.
I have worked with major market media for 30 years – and I’m married to a journalist. I can assure you that if you do not take the time to get to know them as people, their likes/dislikes, family details, or favorite music, for example, you put yourself at a disadvantage of getting coverage. You are then in the “favor category,” trying to convince them of why this is a good story for them to cover. Now, truth be told, that could be the case even if you have a relationship with that professional. However, if you know them and you have shown them interest through the months, that journalist is more likely to prioritize your story, if they are sitting on the fence about covering it. You then do not need to feel like you are asking for a favor.
Which brings me to my next point, the fact that you should feel confident going into the interview, especially if you’ve prepared and worked with a professional who should have media trained you before you are sitting in front of the journalist. This holds true even more so if there is a television/multimedia component involved, where it is more unlikely that they will be able to edit out mistakes and flubs.
When I am preparing a client to speak with a journalist, I begin by telling her to remember and remind herself that “this is YOUR interview,” and a media interview serves one purpose for you: it’s a forum for delivering your key messages. It is essential to control YOUR interview. Set and agenda and stick to it. That reason will always be to deliver at least two to three key messages to the audience likely to read, see or hear the results of your interview. Your key messages are purportedly the reason that the journalist agreed to the interview. Stay focused throughout the entire process about your agenda and make sure those points are made clear.
I also teach clients how to turn the table and transition the topic back to your agenda, if the journalist takes it in a direction you don’t want to go. This is a matter of controlling the interview and taking the power back. He is trying to get you to take the bait. BUT, he cannot write something as a fact unless you say it. So, when a journalist asks a question that deviates from the subject you intended, bridge the question back in the direction you want, and do it with a smile and a bit of a smirk. How, you ask? Let’s hypothetically say the journalist has moved his line of questioning from a community event where the school is giving back to a non-profit organization to a fiscal question about how much money the school’s tuition is per year. Clearly, this is not a question you want to engage in. But instead of getting flustered and blurting out an answer that will make you cringe for a week, take a breath, sit back an inch in your chair, focus, smile a bit – you know, one of those ones that says, ‘you know what you can do with that question,’ and respond, “that’s an excellent question and one that we discuss frequently, however for now, the school is so proud to have partnered with the XYZ organization, and our commitment to giving back to wonderful community organizations is felt with these kinds of programs.” You have effectively turned the table and controlled the interview. You took the power back! You are fulfilling your agenda by staying focused and answering what you want to answer.
Media training executives, heads of schools and others is one of my favorite endeavors because the work that we do together has immediate and lasting effects.
After many years of working with the media, I designed a seven-page media training guide that tackles the most common issues and offers tips ranging from controlling your interview to maximizing a telephone or on-camera interview.