Before starting your preparation for a media briefing or interview, it’s good to get an outline of the relevance of the opportunity for you, your company and the wider industry. Ask yourself if there are any recent events shaping the topic you will be speaking about. Where does your company fit into that? And what parts of your specific expertise will be relevant in that conversation?
An awareness of what a journalist wants to get out of a conversation is also crucial. Your PR team can support you with this, arming you with knowledge of the journalist’s experience, what they write about, the editorial focus of their publication, and their particular interviewing style. As much as possible, you should try to adjust to the level of technical detail (or visionary thinking) and industry focus according to the opportunity.
Be confident and concise
Delivering your answers with conviction and brevity is essential to the success of a media opportunity, ensuring your message won’t get lost in additional words and phrases. Resist the temptation to fill the empty space in conversation, and you will find that your messages have more time to sink in. For the interviewer, this provides an opportunity to direct the conversation and ensure they have their key questions answered, maximising your chance of inclusion in a final article or broadcast slot.
Where possible, use proof points (from either customer stories or your own data) to back up your message. This is a useful tactic with both generalist and specialist media. A 50% increase in efficiency or £300 annual saving is more tangible for the broad audience you might be ‘speaking’ to in a generalist broadcast opportunity. Equally, a trade journalist will be on the lookout for strong proof points to underline the story you are telling and appeal to a more technical audience. Having numbers and figures can also act as useful prompts for your key messages, neatly linking the problem with how you propose to solve it, tying in with the overall messaging for your story.
Focus on the message
A typical broadcast interview might only last a few minutes, and if the segment is pre-recorded and edited your spot may only last 30 seconds. With this is mind, it is essential to provide key messages briefly in a way that can be easily understood by a general audience. Some of the brilliant spokespeople I have had the privilege of working with have used varying techniques to boil down their messages into sound bites that slot easily into their performance. Some use similes to explain how a complex technology works in a relatable way. Others find that keywords, or one-word messages, work best for them. Whatever technique you use, the purpose of most interviews should be limited to conveying a maximum of three key messages.
This is also a good rule of thumb to bear in mind for briefings with print or online journalists. Although it’s true your media contact might be more specialised than the audience of a radio show, they still can only write or type so fast! To ensure your key messages achieve cut through, it’s key to include them often in your conversation where relevant, while weaving in those all-important examples and proof points.
Prepare to pivot
So, everything seems to be going swimmingly – you are delivering memorable and pithy comments that contain your key brand messages in an engaging way. Your boss is going to love this. But then the worst happens – you’re thrown a curve ball that makes you stumble.
Rather than panicking, it’s time to pivot the conversation towards one of your key expert areas. This doesn’t mean ignoring the question completely – although you’ll see politicians do this often, it isn’t generally expected for a spokesperson to veer too far off course from the agenda set by journalist and comms teams ahead of the meeting (remember point 1, remain relevant). Instead, acknowledge the question and re-centre on the topics you are best placed to answer.
The most important thing to remember is that nothing is ever ‘off the record’. Therefore, it is often best to say when you don’t have the expertise or position to discuss certain topics (such as company financials), in case you are not familiar with your company’s guidelines on communicating on that topic. In a meeting with a print journalist, you may be able to offer to connect the journalist to the correct media-trained spokesperson in your company, or simply to get back to them later. This communicates to the journalist clearly that you have heard their question and are interested in getting them the most accurate and up-to-date answer possible.
Practice, practice, practice
As with most skills in life, being a great spokesperson is often a case of practice and preparation. This might mean trying out a few ways to phrase your key messages on your way to a briefing, or it might mean taking part in a full spokesperson preparation workshop. However soon your next media opportunity might be, it always pays to practice.