Have you ever watched a journalist interviewing a CEO or politician and start cringing when the speaker becomes defensive? It may make for interesting “gotcha” television, but it can be mortifying being on the receiving end of the questions.
Even the most confident and competent CEO or company spokesperson can crumble in a high pressure media interview. Some executives can be outstanding public speakers yet fold their cards and present the company story poorly in a media interview.
Company spokespeople are often appointed because of their specialized knowledge of the company and the situation, but competency in a field of industry does not infer interview competency. This takes preparation.
What are the three top media interview preparation tips for company spokespeople?
Review your company key messages and issues on a regular basis. Have a regular communications roundtable that involves representatives from different departments. Most companies are ready with a crisis communications plan, yet most external communications are not for crises. Be sure you know what your issues are; anticipate what the questions may be and how you want to present your story.
It is unrealistic to expect someone who is an executive or leader to naturally know how to handle the media. Just like a skilled tennis player practices lobbing balls over the net countless times, a media interview will go more smoothly when the interviewee is prepared and sure of their ability. And just because your uncle Bob’s third cousin once worked for a radio station, does not mean he is a skilled media trainer.
Hire a media training firm who specializes in preparing spokespeople for media interviews. It is part of the field of communications, but not every communications person is a skilled media interview trainer. And yes – media training can be costly. Or is it more costly to have a poor interview that requires a round of communication experts to pump out your messaging after an error?
Inevitably, the one time there will be a crisis or an issue that needs to a response, the person who is trained is not available. Be sure to train more than one person in your organization. Then review and update the training on a regular basis.
Public relations is part of your marketing mix. Just like you review the effectiveness of advertising, review the effectiveness of your spokespeople. This is not to say that they need to be replaced. Review and reflect is part of the loop for improvement. Perhaps your spokespeople need more training or it may be that the message is muddled. Fearless review will improve your media interviews.
Will you always have a perfectly cringeless media interview? No – even seasoned professionals have off days. But, practice really will improve your game.
Deirdre Campbell is a media interview trainer for the At Ease with the Media system offered by the Tartan Group, an integrated marketing communications firm in Victoria BC. Campbell works in public relations and loves to help her clients become comfortable behind the microphone.