Patriots-like Interview Prep

By Matter

As a New England-based PR agency, it goes without saying that we’re rooting for our beloved Patriots as they head to the big game this weekend. We say this with confidence because we know Bill Belichick and Tom Brady wouldn’t set foot on any field without the proper preparation. Super Bowl XLVI is certainly no exception.

With talk of the Patriots’ prep on every news station and website we turn to, coupled with an array of impressive hits for our clients this month, we thought it appropriate to review how PR practitioners – and their clients – should prepare for media interviews.

Whether you’re facing the “Super Bowl” of media opps or the impending interview feels more like a pre-season scrimmage, it’s always important to put your best foot forward. You never know who’s watching, listening or reading, or what kind of opportunity could emerge as a result.

Here are six tips to help you prepare for a media interview:

  1. Understand what the reporter hopes to get out of the conversation: If you’re a financial expert and a reporter asks to talk to you about “savings plans,” ask if they’re interested in a certain kind of savings plan. Get as much information as possible about what they want to hear and be sure to ask what their story is about. Oftentimes, reporters know exactly where their story is headed and they have specific questions (and sometimes answers) in mind. If this appears to be the case, offer to take a look at their questions in advance so you can be prepared for the conversation and respond succinctly. In some cases, reporters may use your interview as an exploratory discussion to determine what direction their story will take. Do your best to get this information in advance – it will not only help you prepare, but it will help you stay focused in the interview and result in a better discussion (and likely more coverage) overall.
  2. Know the reporter and their audience: At the very least, you need to Google them, check them out on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter and read what they’re writing about. Who is their audience? What do they care about? Do you know people that they know? What is their writing or interview style? What have they written about recently that pertains the conversation you’re about to have? When and if appropriate, reference this information in a meaningful way, but beware of the creep factor. If you’re talking to an environmentally savvy personal finance writer, “I’ve been following your stories on the elimination of tax incentives for hybrid cars” is OK. “I drive a maroon Prius, too” is creepy. Don’t get too personal, but understand what will make their ears perk up and how it pertains to the conversation at hand. This can go a long way toward breaking the ice and establishing a personal rapport.
  3. Prepare some questions to help you practice: Put on your reporter cap for a minute and think about the types of questions you would ask if you were on the other side of the interview. Be sure to include difficult questions about topics you’re not as comfortable with or information that is sensitive. Even if you can’t – or don’t want to – answer them, you should be prepared to respond.
  4. Choose three key messages you want to convey: It’s important to give the reporter what he or she wants, but it’s equally as important for you to determine what you want to get out of this opportunity. If you could be sure that the readers/listeners/viewers of your interview hear one message from you, what would it be? If you choose three key messages that pertain to the subject matter at hand – and study them – you’ll be more likely to drive those messages home during the interview. This will also help if you feel yourself getting lost or tongue-tied.
  5. Have your notes and important information with you during the interview: First, make sure you have your interviewer’s contact information on hand so you can reach them in the event of an emergency or technical difficulty. Always be sure to get alternative phone numbers and email addresses to cover your bases. Secondly, if you’re not doing a video interview, have your notes with you during the interview. Don’t read from them, but highlight important information like statistics and names so you can quickly reference them.
  6. Make yourself available for follow-ups and future inquiries: If you have a tricky name, ask the reporter if it would be helpful if you spelled it. Make sure they have your correct title and company name, too. Lastly, offer your contact information or website, should the reporter have questions or want to fact check as they’re writing.

In closing, know the opposition, watch their videos, go for the extra points, and avoid the hail Marys. More importantly, enjoy the game.

(And GO PATS!)