11 PR Pros Share Their Best Media Interview Tips

Media interviews present a fantastic opportunity to share your brand’s message with the public and get your voice heard. A positive media appearance can create a lasting impression by calming concerns related to a crisis, encouraging action or influencing public policy. But interviews require strategic preparation to ensure your on-camera presence is polished and the message is properly refined and communicated. We had 11 PR professionals answer four questions on this topic. Keep reading to discover how they prepare clients for successful media interviews.

Media Interview Tips

 

Barb Harris of teamworks communication

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

If we’re going live, we always create a segment sheet – all the details of location, time, link to visuals, name and title of spokesperson, and four or five key message points. This goes to the producer, reporter, and client so everyone is on the same page going into the segment(s). Reporters comment that they love having everything mapped out for them.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

We take our client’s phones and Apple watches from them pre-interview, so they’re not distracted by ringing or buzzing. Spokespeople should avoid talking in more than two sentences at a time. Let those reporters get a word in and ask the targeted questions we’ve offered up.

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

Pretend you’re in studio! Make your background look great and uncluttered. Please no virtual backgrounds…they never look good! Wear a logoed uniform if appropriate or have your company logo framed and hanging on wall over your shoulder. Remove any and all distractions and tell your family and dog to GO AWAY. Kids yelling and dogs barking aren’t cute anymore. Also, make sure you have adequate lighting illuminating your face and position the camera high enough to see you straight on – no one wants to look up your nose.

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

Take photos of your client being interviewed during the segment. Post to your/client’s social channels tagging the media outlet. They love it and it helps them get to their quota of posts for the day. And by all means, send a thank you email to the producer and reporter as soon as you get back. There is a reason they call it media “relations.”

 

Robb Yagmin of PSPR

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

I always council clients that the VERY LAST THING you should do before an interview is…take a sip of water. It prevents the clicking, smacking, very distracting noise that inevitably comes out of your mouth when dealing with nerves. When folks get only eight seconds on TV,the words that they speak MUST count and the viewer/listener needs to focus on the message and not the noise.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

Never assume the camera is turned off. Never use “off the record.” Don’t ramble on and on and on. Don’t repeat a negative. Don’t be afraid to start a (recorded) answer over if you fumble.

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

Please people, ZOOM is not a new game anymore. We all know better. Frame yourself properly and make your background more interesting than the subject. Good night. Wear ear buds. Focus on the green light at the top of the camera.

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

Find someone who isn’t invested in the story at all and ask them what their takeaways are from what you said.

 

Jason Brown of PublicCity PR

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

Less is more — If you can stick to two or three solid points, versus worrying about trying to remember five or more key talking points, it will make for a much better interview. And always stick to a relaxed, conversational style in interviews. You never want to sound too rehearsed.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

One-word answers. Never say “Yes,” “No,” or “That’s right.” You can use those words but be ready to expound on it and say why it’s right or wrong, etc. with key messages and other proof points.

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

Try to maintain eye contact, have a conversation with the reporter and not look down at your notes. And use headphones whenever possible, particularly for TV interviews as the sound will be much better.

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

Don’t be too hard on yourself and critique every word you said. As long as you had a good, smooth conversation and rapport with the reporter, I believe the interview went well. Even if you couldn’t get every key message in.

 

Jennifer Bisbee, APR of Bisbee and Company

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

Anticipate all the questions you don’t want to answer and think through how you plan to respond. Plan how you will respond, then bridge back to your key messages.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

Avoid arguing with a reporter! Also avoid mentioning the competition by name, raising a negative or repeating a negative word. Don’t assume the reporter knows anything about your business. And definitely avoid wearing sunglasses!

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

Set the stage with great lighting and a clean, professional background like a wall with bookshelves. Wear a bit of makeup — at least pancake or powder to help minimize the shine — and a colored top that looks great on you. And don’t forget to smile!

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

Send a thank you note via email to the reporter.

Jo Trizila of TrizCom Public Relations and Pitch PR

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

Remember you control the interview – not the other way around. Go into the interview knowing your three main messages (what we call headlines) you must get across. Your messages must be supported with facts, or what we like to call proof points, which include statistics, anecdotes and stories. Stories work really, really well and is what is most often remembered.

Have a few bridging statements on hand as well. A bridge is an acknowledgement phrase. After the journalist has asked you your question, use one of your bridging statements to acknowledge the question. Then go into your headline and proof. For example, if the journalist asks: “Weren’t your products to blame for the disaster?” Your bridging statement is: “On the contrary.” (NOTE: NEVER EVER REPEAT THE QUESTION!). Your reply to the question is: “Safety is our number one priority….” It does take some time to get used to – but once you have this technique mastered you can do almost any interview.

ALSO: ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for the backlink.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

Watch your word choices. We do this exercise called positive words and negative words. I typically keep these words out when doing an interview. Avoid the negative words as most people only hear the negative words.

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

One of my favorite tips to give on Zoom interviews is to turn off your image on your screen. There is scientific evidence that proves that looking at your reflection distorts reality. When you look at yourself on zoom, you begin to talk to yourself and focus more on how you look than what you are saying.

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

My best post-interview suggestions include:

1. Never ask the journalist or editor to see the story before it airs or is printed.
2. Be gracious. Most likely, the journalist had a handful of people to choose from and they chose you.
3. Don’t send gifts following the interview but always follow-up with a handwritten note of gratitude.

 

Brian Knox of Laughlin Constable

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

Understand the topic and get ready for both tough and easy questions. Prepare three core messages and supporting messages for key topics and tough questions. Practice your interview with a colleague or PR pro beforehand. It helps.

You should also know who you’re talking to. What type of reporter is this – feature, investigative, general assignment – and what types of stories do they do? Read their online bio. What type of story is this and who else are they talking to? Prepare accordingly.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

Always avoid saying “No comment.” Consider another option such as “I don’t have that information right now, but I can try to find out for you,” or “Due to the ongoing investigation/sensitive nature and privacy concerns/proprietary nature regarding the situation I’m unable to provide more information right now,” or “While I appreciate your interest, I just don’t have that information at this time.”

Also avoid wrangling with the reporter – never a good idea! There used to be a phrase “never argue with anyone who buys their ink by the barrel,” meaning they have lots of ink to write their story. The same holds true today. Be polite, be factual, smile and politely hold your ground. If you prepare, you’ll be fine. If you’re highly defensive and aggressive, you’ll lose.

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

Make sure your setting and attire are appropriate. A well-lit, non-busy background is best in a quiet, uncluttered area void of interruptions. Additionally, dress appropriately from head to toe in business or business casual attire. Treat the camera as a person you are talking to. Test your technology ahead of the interview. Check your camera, audio, settings and make sure your internet is working and running correctly BEFORE the call. Make sure you won’t be projected as an emoji or character during your call/interview. Join call a few minutes early to avoid being the last one to join.

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

Review the final interview/story and evaluate what worked. What did not work? What could you do differently next time? Assess and make changes for upcoming interviews.

If the story was positive, begin to build a relationship. Send reporter a brief email thanking him or her for reaching out to you as a thought leader on the topic. Indicate they shouldn’t hesitate in the future in reaching out and that you will try to help them as best you can, depending on the topic.

 

Shelly Holmes of Holmes Associates

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

Have the one to two best soundbites/points ready and fit them in a manner that best suits the interview.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

Being passive. Understand as the interview subject you actually need to “cooperatively lead” the interview. Whether they admit it or not, most reporters are depending on you to lead the interview. So be clear on what’s important and what their audience needs to know. Most just don’t have time to do the homework they once did for an interview. Or, they are bombarded with so much info/research it’s hard to cull out what really matters. In the case of a crisis interview, they may take you down the wrong path if you don’t steer it — but you must do it in a way that is subtle, professional and helpful to the process.

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

Try to have good lighting and aim your camera straight on or a bit above your face. Don’t look down on your screen, people don’t want to look up your nose! Make sure the interviewer can see the expression in your eyes — position and diffuse lighting to reduce glare or shadows if you wear glasses, etc. Recognize that you have three screens/filters between you and the intended audience (your computer screen, media’s digital screen and the audience’s TV screen) so do what you can to convey the proper tone and manner given the type of interview it is. For example: Enthusiastic, informative and warm if it’s a product launch; thoughtful, insightful and compassionate if it’s an interview about consumer health and wellness issues or research.

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

As a PR professional, follow-up with interviewer on whether they got what they needed from your client. As the client, note your initial thoughts about how you did — and ask your PR pro to give you candid feedback and help you grow. Sometimes it’s even good to watch it again several days later. You will always find things you did well and areas of improvement — or ideas of things to enhance the next interview.

 

Judy Kalvin of Kalvin Public Relations

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

First, familiarize yourself and your client with the reporter, who they are, how long they have been at this particular media outlet and read their recent stories. Then, create key messages and turn them into sound bites that will be more readily quotable. Create a list of potential questions and do a practice run through with the client using the key messages/sound bites. Make sure that they stop talking after they deliver their key message to avoid rambling.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

Check jargon at the door and speak in plain English. Never speak “off the record.” Anything said during an interview is fair game. Do not ramble. Deliver your key message and then stop talking to avoid rambling/burying your messages.

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

Turn your camera on and make eye contact with the reporter. Keep notes/sound bites open on your screen so that you can refer to them without looking away or down.

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

Make sure you repeat the spelling of your name, your title, and your company so that the reporter doesn’t have to look for it. Thank the reporter for their time and offer to be available for any additional questions or to clarify any facts.

 

Jasen Woehrle of The Firm Public Relations & Marketing

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

Study your messaging and notes. Research and review the reporter’s previous stories and background. Some reporters cover a specific beat so they may be very in the know on the topic. However, some reporters are general assignment and may not be as familiar and will need explanations of industry jargon, acronyms, etc. Also, if the spokesperson can be formally media trained in advance of doing interviews, it is an excellent process to work through interview techniques that are unique to them.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

Don’t over study those message points, though… you want to avoid sounding robotic, stiff and too rehearsed, or that you’re reading a verbatim statement.

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

Look into the camera on your computer. For in-person, on camera interviews this is not recommended as the spokesperson is speaking to the reporter or photojournalist to the side of the camera. But for Zoom-style interviews – look into the camera so your eyes aren’t looking down toward the screen. With this type of interview, it’s easier for the audience to connect with the spokesperson as if they’re looking at each other.

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

Especially if the piece turns out well, a hand-written note thanking them for the opportunity and offering to share other company updates for future opportunities, is a nice touch. This helps establish a relationship between the subject matter expert and media.

 

Stephen Michael Brown, APR, Fellow, PRSA of Cookerly PR

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

Prepare short two to three sentence answers for everything. Keep your answers contained to the matter at hand so if you get a question you don’t want, you’ve already set a precedent for brief answers.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

You should avoid jargon, even in your own industry media. Always speak like you would to someone who may not have as much depth of knowledge in your field.

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

Look at the camera — it’s one of the few times that’s the recommendation as we otherwise tell you to look at the interviewer in traditional broadcast interactions.

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

Make sure the producers or editors have the correct spelling of your name and company plus a website readers, viewers or listeners can visit.

Jeffrey Davis, APR of J. Davis Public Relations

#1 INTERVIEW PREPARATION

Don’t just “wing it.” Review what you covered in your latest media training session and make sure you are up to speed on the latest talking points.

#2 AVOID DURING AN INTERVIEW

Watch out for filler words and phrases such as: ‘you know,’ ‘um,’ ‘well’ and ‘right?’

Avoid industry jargon and speak slowly and in sound bites.

#3 ADVICE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS

Your background is as important as what you say. Make sure your camera is at eye level and try to include branding elements such as your logo. Create a balance between looking like a ‘hostage video’ and a background that is too distracting.

#4 POST-INTERVIEW ADVICE

If the reporter asks if there is anything else you’d like to add, take them up on the offer by repeating your core message or sharing an important point that wasn’t covered.

Ready to take the next step? Find a PR professional in your market today to ensure you’re prepared for your next media appearance.

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