Whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a brand new startup, meeting with the press can be terrifying.
In my nearly 30 years of counseling executives, the biggest fear for many is saying the wrong thing or being misquoted. This concern can feel heightened in today’s media environment where social media stories travel fast and it’s nearly impossible to issue a correction before the wrong story goes global.
Indeed, the stakes are high. It takes years to build a solid brand reputation and one negative story can destroy it in seconds. So, how can you avoid an interview disaster? Do these five things:
1. KNOW WHAT YOU’RE WALKING INTO
While it may seem obvious, it’s important to understand the format of the interview you’re walking into in order to be ready to provide reporters with what they need.
Backgrounder interviews, for example, are relatively low stakes and offer the reporter an opportunity to learn more about you or your company. Conversely, expert interviews or interviews based on a specific story the reporter is working on are more likely to be on the record and result in direct quotes.
No matter what type of interview it is, the reporter expects you to be knowledgeable and prepared to answer the majority of questions.
2. GET TO KNOW THE REPORTER AHEAD OF TIME
You can expect the reporter to know your business and it’s your job to know theirs. In some cases, you’ll have a few days to prepare; in others, you may only have a few minutes.
With whatever time you have, read their most recent stories and be able to reference their work in the interview. Review the reporter and the outlet’s coverage of your organization or industry. If there is a history of negative coverage, it’s even more important to be ready for some tough questions.
Don’t forget to review the reporter’s social media feeds, as they can provide further insight into their tone and coverage.
3. PLAN WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO SAY
Whether you’re meeting on background, being interviewed about your company, or providing expert commentary, you should know the key messages you want to get across during the interview.
If you’re unsure, a good way to get there is to ask yourself what you want readers or viewers to take away from the final article or TV interview. The best key messages are simple, memorable, and free of industry jargon.
Athletes practice before a big game. Musicians rehearse prior to a concert. So, why do so many executives think they can walk into an interview without a prep session?
Don’t treat the press like it’s just another conversation with a colleague or a friend. Take the time to talk through what you’re going to say.
To help our clients perform at their best, we provide a series of potential questions that may come up during the interview so they can think about their answers beforehand. We also caution that if there’s a challenging topic they’re concerned about, expect it to come up. It’s crucial to have an answer to any sensitive questions before the interview.
When should you hold the rehearsal? Ideally, schedule time the day before so that if any issues come up, you still have time to prepare. There’s nothing worse than having a prep session the same day and getting totally stressed out!
5. FOLLOW UP WITH A THANK YOU
Once the interview is complete, many executives will ask if it’s OK to send a thank-you note to a reporter, and my response is always “yes.”
Reporters are busy and under enormous pressure to meet deadlines and deliver compelling content. Thanking them for their time and consideration is always appreciated.
And once your story goes live, the ultimate way to show your gratitude is to share the story on social media to help drive traffic and show support for the reporter and the publication.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A media misstep can have big consequences in today’s media landscape, but that’s no reason to shy away from the press. If you know what you’re walking into, have a plan for what you want to say, and practice ahead of time, you’re more likely to secure positive coverage that boosts your reputation.
Mark Pasetsky is the founder & CEO of PR agency Mark Allen & Co., where he serves as a trusted advisor to top C-suite executives.