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She who tells the best story wins.

Top 10 Tips for Media Interviews

You’ve been asked to do a media interview. Congratulations! It means you are deemed an expert on a certain subject and that your PR representative thinks you can be trusted to do a good job and represent the company well. All great. But still, you are a bit nervous. That’s normal, of course. But these 10 tips should help you a bit.

  1. Relax. I know, I know. Nothing is more annoying than someone telling you to relax. But it’s still good advice. Mostly because there’s no reason to be nervous. A good PR rep isn’t going to put you in a situation where you can’t be successful. So take a deep breath. Be yourself. Remember that this isn’t the Spanish Inquisition.
  2. Don’t spout talking points. Any messaging ideas that you get from your PR person are meant to give you some themes that you want to convey. Use your own words. Always be genuine. Your PR rep should be willing (eager, even!) to help you tailor the talking points to your own words.
  3. That said, it’s important to remember that the reporter is not your friend. Don’t tell them anything you wouldn’t want to see in print. Don’t say anything “off the record.” (As a general rule, anything that would seem like a piece of dialogue in a cheesy movie or TV show shouldn’t be uttered in a real life media interview.)
  4. Never, never, never, never lie to a reporter. Ever.
  5. Do not use industry jargon. Use the “how would I explain this to my grandmother?” rule. Don’t patronize the reporter, but use plain, clear language.
  6. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t answer the question. It’s perfectly okay to say that you need to find out the answer and will get back to him or her. Never say “no comment.” This is a red flag that there is an issue the reporter should pursue. Instead say something like “That’s a good question, but I don’t know the answer. I can find out for you or point you to someone who can answer it.”
  7. Make the reporter ask the question. Reporters will sometimes try to lead you down a certain road by saying something that is aimed at getting you to fill in his thoughts. It’s okay to politely ask, “What is the question you want me to answer?” That said, don’t come off as evasive. If appropriate you can offer the question you think is being asked and then answer that.
  8. Leverage your PR person for help. Practice with her answering questions. Hearing your answers out loud with help both you and her refine your answers.
  9. After the interview is over, let your PR person know how it went and if there is any follow up needed.
  10. It’s worth saying again: RELAX. In fact, try to have fun. Reporters can be smart, funny and usually ask great questions. If you relax you might find you are even learning something and having a good time while helping to spread the message of your company.

Filed under: Media Relations, PR Management

Do journalists hate infographics?

I’m going to go ahead and open this blog post with a caveat: it’s based on feedback from just two people. I’m aware that the plural of anecdotes is not data.

With that caveat I found the feedback interesting enough that I want to share.

This week my company put out it’s first infographic (I know, I know. We are behind.) Kudos to the incomparable Tom Sather who created it.

Journalist #1 is a guy who knows our company well, knows our industry and is a big fan of ours. His reaction to the infographic was (and I’m nearly quoting here): “I hate infographics! But I’m happy to interview Tom.” He wrote a great story.

Journalist #2 is a woman who knows our company a bit, knows our industry well but may not fully understand what we do and how we are different from other players in the space. She’s also very skeptical of vendor research, though she did cover our last report. Her feedback was basically puzzlement. She wanted to see “the full study.” We gave her the press release and a blog post Tom wrote. So far no coverage yet but hard to tell if that’s because it’s an infographic or some other reason. The lack of a proper “paper” does seem to be a factor.

In terms of overall coverage it’s a bit too early to tell, both because clips are still coming in and because we haven’t analyzed it yet. But a couple quick thoughts:

1. Some people like pictures, others like words, serve both: Infographics are great, but some people need to *read* something. And I’m guessing that a lot of journalists fall into this camp. So having something written to accompany the infographic is important to.

2. The press release, despite many obituaries, isn’t really dead. This is related to #2, but deserves it’s own call out. The release can serve as the written piece, especially for things that just wouldn’t work as a study or research paper. Key is for the release to be interesting and to have real news in it. Did I have to tell you that?

3. Relationships matter. Journalist #1 has such a great relationship with us that he’d likely have covered our story if I’d just given him a call and pitched it to him cold. Much of the other coverage is coming as the result of a lot of work building relationships with key reporters by giving them good stories for years. I can’t imagine we’d get this kind of coverage just chucking an infographic across to a bunch of people who don’t know us.

4. Tell a good story. Infographics aren’t interesting. Stories are interesting. Infographics can be a great vehicle for telling a story. But if you don’t have a good story then you’ve got nothing. Start over.

What’s been your experience with infographics?

Filed under: Media Relations,

No Comment

It’s a familiar trope. The disgraced politician facing flashbulbs and screamed questions from hordes of reporters shouts back “No comment!”

Of course just like you probably wouldn’t want your doctor to do the things she sees on “Grey’s Anatomy,” saying “no comment” in real life situations is a very bad idea.

“No comment” is universally interpreted as “I’m a big fat lying liar.” It also tends to inspire journalists to dig into whatever you aren’t commenting on.

A recent post on Ragan.com offers 5 alternatives to no comment. While there are few good ideas here, I think the author misses a big first step. Why are you not commenting?

Times when you are tempted to say “no comment” fall into three buckets:

1. You are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to and you don’t have access to the answer. I tell people all the time, it’s perfectly okay to say you don’t know the answer to a question. It can get tricky if the writer believes you *should* know the answer. (Example: “Mr. CEO what precautions did you take to be sure this big, bad thing would not happen?” Answering “I don’t know” is rarely going to take you down a good road.) But if you being asked to comment on something about which you don’t have information you can say so, and make it clear that you aren’t hiding anything, you simply don’t know anything.

2. You are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, but you could get an answer. This is easy. Get the answer. Or give the journalist directly to the person with the answer (working with your friendly neighborhood PR pro, if applicable). This is where you can say “I don’t know the answer to that question, but my colleague Bob will. Let me send him an email and see if he’s available to talk to you.”

3. You are asked a question you don’t want to answer. Ah well. This is really the problem, right? This is where the suggestions on Ragan.com can probably help you, though truthfully I see most of them leading to something like “Mr. BigWig would not comment for this story.” Which is the real point, right? It’s not about whether or not you say the words “no comment” — if you don’t answer the question you will be called out for not answering the question. So at the end of the day you have to pick your poison. Do you answer the question and take the hit (presuming the answer is bad)? Or do you refuse to answer and get portrayed as hiding something? Only you (and your execs) can decide what is the worse scenario.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Media Relations

A Clarifying Reminder About Dealing with Media

So let’s be clear: it’s really impossible to know what General McChrystal was thinking.  It’s hard to imagine that anyone with the discipline required to become a general could be sloppy enough to talk so openly to a reporter.  My immediate thought is that he wanted to get fired. Though surely there are easier ways to do that.

In any event, it does present a great opportunity to discuss a few media basics.  Here are what I think are the three key takeaways:

1. Reporters are not your friends. Even if the reporter is actually your friend, he or she is not your friend. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to see splashed across the front page of the newspaper. Or, as it were, in the pages of Rolling Stone.

2. Nothing is off the record. Again, even if you say “off the record” it’s probably not really off the record (and, it appears, McChrystal didn’t try to put that restriction on in this case). Again, don’t say anything you don’t want to see printed.

3. Don’t let the usual content of the publication persuade you to let down your guard. The Times piece speculates that Rolling Stone got the juicy quotes because of their reputation for only covering music and pop culture. Again, I doubt McChrystal is that naive, but it’s a good lesson nevertheless. Don’t assume any publication is going to do a puff piece.

Filed under: Media Relations

Brilliant Example of Data-Driven PR

I’ve written before about data-driven marketing. Here is a great example from AllRecipes.com. By giving the New York Times access to web traffic data, AllRecipes got a plum front page story.

Notice, by the way, that this story didn’t go to Epicurious.com, owned by Conde Nast. There may be many reasons for this, but I think one reason is that “new” media companies think in a fundamentally different way than traditional media companies. (As an aside, Conde Nast is likely still reeling from the closure of Gourmet, a distraction that can’t be helpful to them in advancing PR into food media outlets.)

New media companies think of data as an asset and use it in creative ways.  Also, new media companies value the voice of their community — because that is what this story is really about.  Old media is all about elite editors telling the plebes what to think, read, watch, cook, eat, wear and buy.  New media is about tapping into what the community is thinking, reading, cooking, eating, wearing and buying and then sharing that information with the rest of the community.  It’s a fundamental shift in thinking — and one that points to the true future of media, news and publishing.

Filed under: Content, Media Relations

Marketing with Data

David Meerman Scott published a great post about marketing with data.

At my company, we made a concerted effort in 2007 to publish more research studies and it paid off in a big bump in PR coverage, both mainstream press (including trades) and in the blogosphere.  We are continuing with it this year and looking into ways to accelerate the process.

It’s not easy, of course.  You need resources to do it well.  But it might be as easy as some of the other stuff your are already doing and it’s much more effective.  Journalists (traditional and not) love data.  Clients love data.  Prospects really love data.

What could you be doing to get the audiences you care about loving your data?

Filed under: Marketing, Media Relations

How Obama Should Have Answered That Question

“If John McCain were standing here instead of me would you be asking that question?  And if the answer is ‘no’ then I think maybe you should sit down so I can take a question that is actually important to the American people.”

Okay, maybe not really.

But maybe.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Media Relations, Politics

Sarah, What’s the Strategy?

It’s such a trope that even non-PR people know it: if you want a story to get very little coverage, issue a press release on a Friday afternoon. Preferably around a holiday or just about any Friday in the summer.

From that perspective, Sarah Palin’s announcement was a trifecta: A Friday, in July, the day before the Fourth of July. So, was she hoping that her resignation wouldn’t get covered? I’m totally confused by the strategy.

Of course, I guess the real question is why is she resigning in the first place? If there is another scandal coming or something like that, then this strategy makes sense. It also makes sense if she quit for personal reasons.

If she is resigning to run for President in 2012, or even just more vaguely to position herself for some kind of national platform, whether in the government or not, then I’m not so sure. Putting aside whether or not quitting is a smart strategy, wouldn’t you want to launch a new career with a big media splash? And if the answer is yes, then you don’t announce your resignation on the Friday of a summer holiday weekend, right?

I realize trying to figure out what Sarah Palin is thinking is a bit like trying to read tea leaves. Probably why this post has more question marks than periods.

Meanwhile, I think that whatever the strategy was, she failed. How’s that? Well, if she wanted to make a big splash, it didn’t exactly work. There was some coverage on Friday, but at around 9 pm that night Anderson Cooper was “live” on CNN covering Michael Jackson’s death, now nearly a week past, with footage that was days old. The message couldn’t be clearer: Yeah, Sarah Palin quit. Who cares? But on the other hand the Friday announcement didn’t stop the scrutiny of her very state of mind, which dribbled in over the weekend and has wound up with a vengeance beginning today.

Like a lot of things Sarah Palin does (and says) the whole thing just makes no sense at all.

Filed under: Media Relations, Politics

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