Several years ago, I had the chance to address a group of agents on dealing with the media. Last week, my local paper called me asking about travel and how the Brussels bombing has impacted travel locally. I do very little retail travel with my agency but from the days when I did, I am their “go-to” source. Anyhow, after the interview, I came across my notes from my address, refreshed them and wanted to share!
Why is the Media Important?
- It is an opportunity to tell your story to inform and persuade a large audience by using the larger reach of the media. It is NOT a sales pitch.
- It is an opportunity to communicate broadly. Any media interview will allow you to reach a larger audience and allow you to tell the story from YOUR perspective.
But there are some universal truths to remember before heading into any media interview.
Truths About Media
- It can be hard to control the story. Unlike advertising, you are not creating the story and the finished product is likely to be edited by the reporter to go in the direction they want. All is not lost, however, and with practice and persistence, you can keep the interview headed in the direction you want.
- The cameras are always on. There is a simple axiom to remember: if you don’t want it printed or broadcast don’t say it. Assume from the moment you pick up the phone or walk into an interview that everything you say can and WILL be recorded , quoted etc.—even the “off record” discussions.
You should never walk into an interview cold if at all possible. Of course, if you are on a ship that just had an incident, you may not have a choice, but prior to any interaction with the media, try to get your head together.
Before the Interview
- Know your message. What do want your audience to take away? Select one or two messages (this is an isolated incident/you should not be afraid of cruising) and repeat it two to three times if possible.
- Anticipate questions. Anticipate what questions may be asked and try to be prepared with answers beforehand. If you are successful at staying on message, you can help shape the news story.
- Learn about the reporter and their employer. Visit the their website, read or watch their previous stories, and find out about their style and their audience—comments online are a good indicator. If a reporter is an “investigative” reporter, you can expect a little more difficult time. They typically are looking for a smoking gun. Your job is to not provide it.
- Learn about the story. If you can, try to find out the scope of the story. Is it a side piece to supplement a cruising series? Is it a follow up to a bad incident that happened? Most reporters will tell you (and that may be your opportunity to bail out) and it will allow you to anticipate some of the questions.
- Rehearse your anticipated questions. While the questions may not ever be asked, rehearsing is important. If they are asked, you come off very authoritative. If they are not asked, you still may be able to re-direct the interview to your message and use them. Tip: practice in front of a mirror, a friend, or your camera phone.
- Relax and focus. Breathing exercises will help you to relax and calm jittery nerves. Get to your location 10-15 minutes early and spend time practicing your main points.
- Chat with the interviewer. Right before the interview begins, chat with the reporter to make sure you both are on the same page in terms of the direction. Also, if you have a particular question you would like to be asked…you can bring it up here—no guarantees.
It’s show time. You may be sitting with a reporter in a coffee shop or meeting with a newscaster on a street corner or in a studio. Take a deep breath and…
During the Interview
- Make your first words the most memorable. No one has an attention span any more. Hit your message and a few key talking points first—you may not get a second chance.
- Remember the audience. The reporter is not your audience. You are talking to THEIR audience, so make sure your message resonates with them—leave all jargon in the office. Make your message relevant and compelling!
- Be enthusiastic. If you are not excited about your news, why should anyone else be? Show your audience how interested you are in the topic. Now, it is time to convey your compelling stories to readers, viewers and listeners.
- Be succinct. Keep answers to most questions in the 30 second range or less. Do not feel like you need to ramble on.
- Control the interview. If the reporter takes an unexpected turn and you need to get back on message, it can be done. Use a bridge phrase:
- I can’t address that issue, but I can tell you…
- That is interesting, but the issue here is…
- What we’ve found is that…
- But I’m here to talk about…
- I don’t know, but what I do know is…
- The most important point we can get across to people is…
- I’m [not up to speed on/haven’t studied] that particular issue, but I can say…
- Never say “no comment”. It never works out well and you immediately become suspect and untrustworthy.
You are finally done. Breathe a sigh of relief; but understand there is still some work to be done.
After the Interview
- Review. Review how you did and hone your answers to be better prepared for the next interview.
- Send follow-up information. It is a great opportunity to prove to the reporter that you are a good source the next time it is needed. This is also a good opportunity to get your message in their hands one more time. If you promise to send them additional information—do it.