PR Interview Tips from FiComm

PR and sports have a lot in common.  In sports, you get out what you put in.  But despite countless hours of practice, studying your opponent, working out, doing everything right – there are no guarantees.  You can prepare for a game, a match or a meet absolutely perfectly, only to step off of the playing surface bewildered because you didn’t get the result you were certain you had coming to you.  You take a hot shower, think about what happened, take some instruction from your coach, practice, study, and circle the calendar for your next opportunity to compete.  You can find the sports metaphor in every PR activity, but none moreso than the interview.

Whether via phone, in a news outlet boardroom, or on live TV or radio, nothing delivers a thrill quite like interviewing.  For some, the uncertainty of it is too much to bear.  These people prefer the relative safety of press releases or submitting articles.  Those are both fine PR tools in their own right, but used alone, they relegate PR to a one way street, thereby drastically weakening it’s potential.  Interviewing successfully, responsibly, and consistently takes work, and time.  I repeat: you get out what you put in.  And just like sports, nothing is guaranteed, nor owed to you, ever.  This should be what keeps you coming back – the desire to improve, to keep developing media relationships, and to build your profile over time. If this doesn’t sound interesting to you, let me save you some time, media relations isn’t for you.

So you have decided to play the game, to lace up your cleats and get out on the field.  Congratulations.  Now the hard work begins.  Step one, get your playbook – in other words, your key media messages and your strategy to approaching the press.  What do you want to say, what impression do you want to leave, every time you have a chance to engage with a journalist? To not know, or not have put in the work to develop a playbook, is unacceptable.  This is a pre-requisite for engaging in PR at all, and a must-have before you agree to an interview.  Would you ever walk up to a podium in front of a room full of 500 people and just completely wing it? Imagine doing that with a conduit to tens of thousands of readers.  Unthinkable.Next, understand some simple ground rules.

Key Public Relations Interview Tips

Here are the Ten FiCommandments for interviewing well:

1) Be smart about your location.  Try to avoid taking interviews in airports, while walking on a crowded street or at a crowded pub.  Ensure you have good cell reception.

2) Never go “off the record” – or if you absolutely must, ensure that the reporter has agreed, and that this is recorded or witnessed by a third party (your PR person).  But even so, understand that anything said out loud can easily make its way into an article.  If it is risky to say, do not say it.

3) “No comment” is a cool phrase you see in movies and TV shows when a character is running out of a courthouse – in real life it is annoying and serves no benefit.  “I can’t talk about that now and will try to get back to you on it if possible” – less script-worthy, also a lot less irritating.

4) Avoid “jargon”.  An example of this would be if a reporter asks you how you serve your clients differently – “we are a fiduciary, and we sit on the same side of the table as our clients.” Congratulations you just gave yourself a 0% chance of getting quoted.

5) Never get defensive or upset.  Ever.  At least, not visibly.  After the game, you can upend the watercooler, and snap your bat over your knee.  Not in the game.

6) Repeat, repeat, repeat – not to the point of being annoying, but keep in mind that an interview is not like a normal conversation, where repeating things would be weird.  You should make an effort to drive home a particular message ideally at the beginning, middle and end of a chat with a reporter.

7) Remember that the credibility of your company is on display alongside your own – act accordingly.

8) Be prepared – know the reporter’s name, publication, and have read at least 2-3 of their prior articles before speaking with them.  If your PR team has more intel to share, they undoubtedly will, to give you as much information as possible.

9) Write down talking points and 2-3 “sound bites” that you think might resonate – don’t feel compelled to force them all in, but if given an opening, go for it!

10) Postgame analysis is vital.  At FiComm our first call is to you to brief you on how we think you did.  Our next call or email is to the reporter to see if they are open to sharing their thoughts, and also if they need anything else.  Always strive to improve each time out.

Bonus PR interview tips:

* Every interview has two objectives, short term and long term.  Short term: interview well and get into the article.  Long term: interview well and establish trust and a good connection.  Frankly I don’t care if you achieve the first one every time, or not.  If you go one for three with the same reporter over a one month period, that’s great.  Why? Because the fact that they interviewed you three times alone means that they find you interesting enough to spend more time with you.

* Journalists are not your adversary (at least not in our line of work, financial PR).  They are looking for an interesting, credible, genuine source of information to help them write a good story for their readers.  Nothing more.  Like any profession on Earth, some are exceptionally good, and some are not – but you must treat them all with respect as hard working human beings with a tough job to do.

At this point you should be well equipped to get out there and take a few swings.  Remember, in sports, as in PR, nothing is guaranteed.  There is no precise formula.  PR is the most unpredictable of all of the marketing and communications strategies.  In my opinion that’s what makes it the most fun, frustrating, and absolutely exhilarating.  Give it your full energy and enthusiasm, and I assure you it will pay dividends.

It’s game time. . .let’s go get it.