Want to know the secrets of media training so you, or one of your colleagues, can deliver a great media interview?
Whether you’re appearing on TV, radio, on a hit podcast or answering questions from a print journalist, it’s essential for many public relations jobs.
Being media trained is as important as knowing how to write a press release or which press release template to use.
Being prepared for an interview will mean you communicate your key messages clearly, avoid getting dragged into tricky questions and saying something you’ll later regret, you’ll use the right tone for the interview, use the correct facial expressions and even wear the right clothes!
Remember, an effective media interview is as much about what you say as to how you say it.
If you’re ready to do this the right way then this is the media training guide for you.
Let’s get to it.
1. Should I give a media interview?
As important as media training is, not all media experiences are worth your efforts or the right thing to be doing. Before you leap in front of the cameras on behalf of your business first ask if this is actually the right course of action?
If the reason for the interview is to defend a negative story – one that attacks your business – then you may be better off issuing a written statement.
If your business has been hit by a reputational issue then the media may have already decided that you or your business is the villain of the piece.
Putting a spokesperson up for an interview when there is nothing to gain from doing so can risk making a bad situation worse as under pressure you could say something you later regret giving fresh fuel to the crisis.
In some crisis communication scenarios, a written statement can be the best course of action if you want to avoid an attention grabbing headline.
2. Research your interviewer
Okay, so let’s assume that this is a positive opportunity for you and your business, first things first know a bit about who is interviewing you.
Look at the journalist’s previous interviews online and get a sense for the type of questions they like to ask. This is as simple as Googling the journalist’s name and looking for related stories. What do you think they would ask you?
If you know how to write a media pitch you’ll have a good idea of the types of question they will ask.
You can ask the journalist to send you a list of their questions in advance. Some will do this but most (especially the bigger media outlets) will not.
3. Prepare answers for the likely questions
You know why the journalist wants to interview you so make a list of all the likely questions they will ask so you can prepare some answers – that suit your agenda, not theirs.
A key part of researching the interviewer is also to get an understanding of their audience, and how best to draw them to your story. Like any type of training, media training takes work to perform well. Do the work and reap the rewards.
You’re not writing a script here – no one wants to hear robotic answers – but you are putting in your mind, in advance, the key points you would like to cover.
4. Know your key messages and facts
Fundamentally the media interview is an opportunity for you to market your product or service. This is free PR.
The journalist’s objective is to tell a newsworthy story – your objective is to use this exposure as a way to subtly convey the benefits of your business to your target audience.
Make a list of three key messages that you want to communicate in your answers.
These key messages may be:
- Where people can get hold of your product/service – i.e. your web address.
- The price of your product/service.
- The launch date for your new product/service.
- The comparative advantage of your product/service over that of a rival.
There are many more but knowing the key messages you want to get across will allow you to surreptitiously insert them into one of your answers.
The skill with a media interview is to be subtle.
If you start blathering on about how brilliant your business is the journalist will either not use the interview or edit it out. You’ve got to smuggle those key messages into the main story.
And crucially KNOW YOUR FACTS.
If there are likely to be statistical answers to some of the journalist’s questions know these by heart. Facts can help counter challenging questions.
Not knowing your facts can turn a public relations opportunity into a reputational nightmare.
5. Preparing to be on camera as part of your media training
One of the hardest things people tell me about media training is the ability to feel natural answering questions when you are on camera.
The answer is simple. Practice.
Set up a smartphone and get a colleague to ask you your pre-prepared questions then hit record.
There’s nothing like looking back on the footage to get a sense of what worked and what didn’t.
You might find that you; smiled too much, didn’t smile enough, waved your arms about manically, looked like a rabbit in the headlights, kept looking away from the interviewer (I’m so bored).
This is SUCH a useful exercise as you’ll see immediately what your natural tendencies are and from that you can refine your performance – because that is what it is, a performance.
Take a look at these public relations examples to see it done well.
6. Essentials of giving a media interview on camera
Now you know what your strengths and weaknesses are of being on camera here are the must-dos:
- Look directly at the interviewer when giving your answers, not into the lens of the camera – that looks very scary!
- Smile – as long as it’s an upbeat story – most people look too glum-faced and that distracts from the message you are trying to convey.
- Keep your answers succinct and to the point. Don’t waffle but equally don’t give monosyllabic answers.
- Listen to the question in full and then give YOUR answer. If you don’t like how the question has been framed then answer with something like:
“That’s an interesting point however I think the real issue here is ______”
“The more interesting question is ______.’
“What really matters is ______.”
“The most important issue is ______.”
- Avoid talking over the interviewer. That looks combative and defensive. Listen to their question, pause, and then give your considered response.
- Remember they will have an allotted period of time for this interview so if you don’t like the direction of the questions you can pad out your answers until the interview ends.
- Relax. Easier said than done but the preparation phase will help you be authentic so you can make the most of this opportunity. Preparation really is the key to a winning public relations campaign.
7. Definite don’ts of a media interview
- Do not say ‘no comment’ it looks defensive and is tantamount to an admission of guilt
- Don’t ask to approve the interview before it is broadcast/published, the journalist will say ‘no’ and it will make you look like an amateur.
- Don’t walk out halfway through if you don’t like the questions – your hissy fit will become the story!
8. What to wear for a media interview
In 2019 you can’t assume that just because you’re giving a print interview you won’t be on camera, or at least pictured.
You may not be on the main BBC news but you’ll likely be on the journalist’s Twitter feed or perhaps YouTube channel.
That means you need to think about what you’re wearing – the clothes that most reflect you and the values of your brand.
This is really more of an issue if you’re the spokesperson for a ‘serious’ company such as a healthcare provider.
If you’re on camera talking about a serious health crisis then you probably don’t want to be in jeans and t-shirt. If you’re the latest tech startup then anything goes!
Think about your wardrobe and ask ‘is this appropriate for this interview, will I be proud when I see this media coverage?’.
Bringing it all together to complete your media training
So there you have it – essential media training advice to make sure that you can help a reporter out and know how to get a story on the local news, the national news and the biggest blogs and podcasts.
(PRO TIP: use a PR tool such as Response Source to increase the number of media interviews you can pitch for and have an up to date media list.)
Here are our Top 8 Media Training Tips:
- Research – know your interviewer and their media platform
- Prepare – know the questions you will face, even if it’s just for a simple awareness days type interview
- Key messages – know what YOU want to get across in the interview
- Facts – be armed with stats to back up your argument
- Skilful answers – acknowledge the question and give the answer YOU want to give
- No ‘no comments’ – don’t ever do this
- Camera etiquette – smile, look at your interviewer, give clear, concise answers
- Dress to impress – the right threads for the right occasion
Good luck with your next media interview – and make sure you capture it for posterity with one of the best media monitoring services.
And if you’re ready to take your PR work to the next level grab our PR Starter Kit.
Our must-have kit has every template, script, strategy and guide you’ll ever need to do PR – all in one place.