As a thought leader, you are not simply a spokesperson, you’re an industry expert. Thought leaders comment not only on their companies’ research and news, but on news of the day and broader industry trends. They might have contrarian ideas or ways of approaching a problem. For this reason, they are go-to resources for the media.
And hard news is fair game. No matter what the interview is about, nearly all reporters will ask some now-standard back-to-work and DE&I questions, including: How has your business been affected? Did you lay off employees or lose revenue? What is your plan for reopening? Will you require vaccinations? What does the diversity breakdown look like at your company, board and management team?
These questions need to be answered skillfully. Spokespeople need to provide succinct sound bites and answer hard questions. Afraid of being misquoted? Not quoted? Taken out of context?
Focus on interview prep and execution. Here’s what we recommend:
☑️ Do your homework. Read the reporter’s most recent stories and make sure your comments are relevant to their audience. And be aware of what’s happening in the current news cycle. If you have a PR team, they will create briefing documents for you: read them carefully.
☑️ Prepare three key messages. Come into every media interview with the three points you want to make. Write them as soundbites and practice out loud, in front of a mirror. We’re not joking. Cite data and real-world examples when you can. This will make you more relevant, engaging and quotable.
☑️ Concentrate on the questions. The most important thing to remember: listen to the entire question. How can you work your key messages into your answers? Ask for clarification if necessary. But remember, your answers matter, not their questions, which often don’t get included in the final cut.
☑️ Block and bridge. Every question (yes, even a tough one) is an opportunity to convey at least one key message. Avoiding questions can make you look defensive. Instead, block negative questions and bridge to the topic you would like to address. Examples: “We are not able to discuss X, but I can tell you Y…” OR “That speaks to a bigger issue...”
☑️ “No comment.” Never say it. It’s become loaded and the media will only push harder because they’ll think you have something to hide. Need to brush up on media relations 101? Learn the differences between “on the record,” “off the record,” and “on background” before your next media interview.
☑️ Project your voice. Speak slowly about your most important points. In phone interviews, stand up for better energy and voice projection. On video calls, smile unless you’re discussing something serious or grave. Use short sentences and a conversational tone. As an expert, you want to convey confidence and credibility.
☑️ Use pauses and silence well. Don't fill the space after you’ve answered a question. Sometimes reporters use silence to get you to over-answer questions. Mindless chit chat is how misquotes and major scoops happen.
☑️ Truths and untruths. Always tell the truth; If you don’t know an answer, say so. Immediately refute untruths.
☑️ Cut filler words. I guess. I think. So. Well. Like. Um. Literally. Uh. Basically. Right. Actually. Ok. You get the picture. The best way to do this is to take a video of yourself in a practice interview.
☑️ Follow up. Send the reporter a thank you note after the interview. Include a short summary of your key points and promised supporting materials. Take this moment to clarify any points during the conversation (if needed), but don’t ask a reporter to see a story before it runs: they never do.
☑️ Nurture the relationship. Want to become a go-to credible source to whom the reporter can go back to time and time again? Be helpful even when it doesn’t benefit you. Respect their time. Treat them like a human.
☑️ Keep media training skills fresh. We recommend brushing up on media training 1x per year.
As a senior vice president at Inkhouse, Lisa shapes the strategy across a variety of accounts, while running campaigns and media trainings, and creating content.