Remember studying for an exam and going over all the possible topics, prompts and trick questions that might pop up on the test? The same preparation should be applied if you want to ace a media interview, whether it’s via phone or on national television.
My team and I have set up hundreds of media interviews over the years for our tech startup clients, and how our clients prepare for interviews is particularly critical: The difference between solid preparation and little can significantly sway a reporter’s angle and opinion, as well as whether or not your comments are included in a story at all. Here’s how we have our clients prepare for media interviews in order to earn the best media coverage:
Nearly every reporter has an active Twitter account, and pretty much every news outlet still uses the social platform as a breaking news portal. Follow the journalists you’ll be talking with and check what they’re retweeting, posting and commenting on. Sometimes you’ll be able to get a personal glimpse of the journalist’s life, such as a pet’s name, alma mater, favorite hobby or recent favorite book. Mention these details as an icebreaker during the interview if it feels appropriate or if you truly relate to something they’ve shared. Even better: Comment and engage on Twitter with a journalist, as long as it is authentic. Journalists are people too, and they live on Twitter.
If an interview opportunity comes across your inbox, respond immediately. Journalists are often on hard deadlines and must move quickly to meet them. A speedy response will not only be appreciated but will likely snag you a confirmed interview. A few years ago, one of our clients forwarded an interview request two days after it was sent by the journalist. By the time we got ahold of the request, the journalist had already submitted the story which was published the next day. “The early bird gets the worm” is an ideal phrase to keep in mind with media.
Don’t stop at Twitter. Read the last five to 20 articles the journalist has written to get an idea of the tone, topics and quotes they like to include. Can you spot trends? Does the journalist like to spotlight minority founders? Social issues? Bold predictions? Particular companies? Journalists have personal flairs just like the rest of us, and they often have assigned “beats” that indicate what they consistently cover. Don’t just go by a journalist’s brief bio, either. It might say the journalist covers agtech and M&A deals, but the stories they write may reveal some random pieces of coverage for gadgets or apps.
Everyone is busy these days, but no one is busier than a journalist. These folks are typically doing the job of two or three people as newsrooms continue to shrink in the digital era. This means a journalist has a reason to be talking with you. Their motive isn’t to make you look great — that’s your job. Figure out exactly what the journalist’s motive is. What’s the story they are looking to write? Is it a trends piece or something investigative? Will your competitors be included? Ask them before you get into the interview and mention that it will help you better answer the questions they want to ask.
Pro tip: Don’t ask for the journalists’ questions ahead of time. A lot of our clients ask if we can obtain these, but that’s like asking a professor for the questions that will be on the exam the next day.
Make absolutely sure that you have your key messages down pat. If the interview will be on the phone, bring a one-page cheat sheet that includes the mission of the company, the main audience, three or four distinctions and supporting data for those distinctions. You may think, “Of course I know our mission statement and who we target!” but I can’t tell you how often journalists make our clients go blank, even with “easy” questions. Have the humility to practice your messaging on flash cards or bring a cheat sheet you can reference.
Whether it’s on TV or the phone, a media interview is a great way to get the word out about your brand. And with the right preparation, you’ll be well on your way to securing a great piece of media coverage.