Speaking with the press isn't for everybody, but with a few tips, you'll be able to handle yourself under some pressure. Here are the details.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen in a television camera monitor talking to the press. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Public relations isn’t something just anyone can do well. It’s a skill set that some people honestly just don’t have and others have spent years to build. So it comes as no surprise when IT service providers say they struggle with PR.
You should. It’s not what you do. And that’s just fine. But if you are going to give it a run — even on the smallest levels such as engaging with the media — here’s some practical advice.
Prepare. Talking to the press is important and can result in news coverage that your customers and prospects might see, so be prepared for the interview. If they are pursuing you ask for the questions in advance, rehearse your answers and have a few good sound bites ready. If this is your pitch, make sure you’re ready to tell a compelling story and can answer the questions the reporter is likely to have. You don’t want to come off robotic or cheesy, but staying on message and bringing value to the conversation is critical. Know the audience the reporter is talking to and tailor your message to their interests.
Speaking of being on message, if the request is to weigh in on someone else’s initiative or announcement — a vendor partner for example — talk to them before you talk to the reporter. Sure the reporter will want to do the interview right then — but this is your call and if they can wait for your interview they will, but you have to ask. A couple other quick tips about talking to the press:
- Be clear and concise. Don’t ramble. Make your point and wait for the next question or if you’re feeling it, ask one of your own. If you’ve been asked a question you don’t want to answer, can’t answer or simply don’t know the answer to — let the reporter know that you’ll circle back with them on topic, or very casually let them know that’s an area where you simply can’t weigh in for whatever reason (company policy, not an expert, not familiar).
- Don’t namedrop or share proprietary information that could wind up getting you in trouble. Play it cool. Play it smart. If you really want to go out on an edge and be "disruptive" or "controversial" about a topic (not a person or a company please) — speak to a PR professional first and put together a messaging platform you and the company can own. If you’re not willing to do that, step away from the cliff before you accidentally fall off and hurt yourself and your brand.
Don’t Do It Alone. If you’re taking on an interview with a reporter, going on a local television network or doing a radio spot, bring a wingman. This person is not there just to cheer you on, but to take note of what’s being asked and answered. Why is that important? A lot of times reporters will follow up to clarify a comment or in some cases call to fact check your statements. If you can’t recall what was said and have no one else to account for it, you could end up being misquoted and that sucks.
If it’s a face-to-face or phone interview, one way to avoid this is to give the reporter the okay to record the interview for notes only. You don’t want it put out as a podcast, but allowing the reporter to record your conversation will help ensure (it won’t guarantee) they quote you accurately and in the right context. And no, the reporter isn’t likely to give you a copy of the story to approve in advance so don’t bother asking.
Another reason to bring a wingman — photo opportunities for social media. Of course you’ll want to ask for permission first, but grab a couple quick candid shots for use online. It’s a fast, fun and easy way to show and tell about your company’s views and industry leadership. Couple the images with a great quote and you’ve got a social media release (well almost).
Getting involved with the press — channel trades, local journals, business magazines – is a great way to boost your visibility. But don’t just do it. Be strategic about it and prepare — even if it’s just a few minutes to call the reporter back and get in the right head space.
How ready are you to handle questions from the press? Do you have some kind of a strategy to answer tough questions?