Talk to Me
Here’s how to give a great last-minute interview.
By Melanie Rembrandt
The phone rings, and it’s a reporter on a tight deadline. She needs an interview immediately. You:
A. Start talking to the reporter and provide business details, stats and upcoming activities, and politely answer all the questions she throws at you.
B. Hang up in fear.
C. Put the call on hold.
D. None of the above.
The correct answer is D. Even though you may be excited to get some free publicity, the first three responses above will not necessarily give you the media attention you want or help you make a good first impression.
Instead, try to control the process, especially if it is a last-minute interview. For example, when Dr. Marcia Reynolds, owner of OutsmartYourBrain.com, received a surprise call from a reporter about living with Hepatitis C, she knew she had to respond carefully in order to protect her image as a businesswoman in the local community. She told the reporter she would call back in 10 minutes. Then she met with her partner, discussed an appropriate response and called the reporter back as soon as possible.
“I focused on how I have successfully used alternative therapies to regulate the virus and create a wonderful life where I travel around the world for my business and maintain a wonderful relationship,” Reynolds says. “I had to keep the impact on me and my business in mind first, then how I could help other people. And yes, my ego loves it when reporters call, so I had to be very careful that I did not let my ego run my mouth.”
With this in mind, what do you do when faced with a last-minute interview?
Obviously, the best way to handle a last-minute interview is to prepare before you get the call. And it doesn’t need to take a lot of time.
“It is important to always be prepared for an unexpected call from a reporter, because they usually are on a deadline. A delay of a day, or even an hour, can mean a lost opportunity, and perhaps a reporter disinclined to call you again,” says Harpreet Cheema, operationsmanager for OCUTECH Inc. “Your courtesy will help you and your company now and in the future.”
Here are three simple steps to help you get ready:
1. Review. Review the newsworthy information, benefits and key points about your organization that you want to share with media members on a regular basis. Know current industry trends and how you can provide valuable information pertinent to these topics.
2. Create Talking Points. Use your research to create a list of talking points. Remember, reporters who contact you will want your unique opinions and expertise on a current issue or news item related to business or experience.
With this in mind, define what you will say to get your message across clearly and accurately. You can avoid sounding rehearsed by knowing your facts and industry trends well. It’s important to be truthful while conveying authority and enthusiasm.
And if you are asked an unexpected question, try to give an honest response the best way possible (see the practice portion below). If you don’t have an answer, tell the reporter that you don’t have that specific information in front of you, but you will get it to him or her as soon as possible (and make sure you do). Try to avoid saying “no comment” or giving away information you don’t want to see in print.
By having a list of talking points ready, you will know what you need to communicate under pressure and a tight deadline.
General Talking Points:
• How your products and services relate to a current news item.
• Unique, expert advice that you and others in your business can offer.
• How your business has specifically helped a customer or local charity.
• How your business leaders are dealing with a current trend or news item.
• What is going on in your industry and how these events affect customers, other businesses, the environment, etc.
• How you can help others with a specific problem by offering information and a website address, phone number, e-mail address, or other contact information.
• Any key marketing messages or tips that you want to convey during the interview.
For example, when a TMZ.com reporter called Amanda Freeman, co-founder of VitalJuiceDaily.com, unexpectedly, she placed the call on hold, created a quick response with her business partner and then picked up the phone. “If I could do it over, I would have better anticipated the press and prepared a standard set of comments and talking points with the input of my partner,” Freeman says. “Be armed with your follow-up answers, and make sure you can accommodate the interest that will likely be generated by a high-profile mention.”
3. Practice. As mentioned above, if you don’t have a lot of experience as an interview subject, it’s important to practice. This way, you’ll be ready for any question a reporter asks.
Once you have your talking points ready, conduct a rehearsal with a friend, co-worker or family member who acts as a reporter. Respond to their questions and record the interview (videotaped interviews are also helpful to catch mistakes for on-camera interviews).
Review the interview and ask yourself:
• How did you sound?
• Were you caught off guard? Why?
• How are you going to handle surprise questions in the future?
This may seem unnecessary, but you will discover unknown habits and mistakes that need to be corrected in order to get your message across with clarity and confidence. If you can’t communicate clearly, and your message is taken the wrong way, you may spend your time and resources correcting a negative publicity story. And if you foresee a lot of big media opportunities in the future, you may want to hire a media coach or find a class to help improve your interview capabilities.
Ask for 10
Let’s say you’ve done your research and are prepared. The reporter calls for the interview. What do you do?
Whenever possible, ask if you can finish what you are doing very quickly and call the reporter back within 10 minutes. Why? You will want a few minutes to collect your thoughts and pull the “talking points” sheet out of desk drawer. Plus, you’ll want to call your publicist (if you have one) to go over key messages quickly.
Do Your Best!
It’s the moment of truth. As soon as you are ready, call the media member back as promised. Remember, if you don’t act quickly, you can lose out on a great opportunity and even ruin a potential media relationship.
During the interview, take notes about what you discuss and the tentative publish date. Offer yourself as a resource for future stories, and obtain the reporter’s e-mail address.
And try not to get flustered. As author of The Brazen Careerist and syndicated columnist with the Boston Globe, Penelope Trunk has some great advice for handling last-minute interviews. “The best way to think on your feet is to tell yourself that all press is good press, so if you say something stupid, it’s not that bad,” Trunk says. “This will free up your brain from nervousness to give intelligent responses. Also, most executives are more critical of themselves than they need to be. Most interviews, even if you do a bad job, are not a big moment in the public eye.”
Beth Shaw, YogaFit founder, has also had her share of last-minute interviews. “I have had several radio interviews that I forgot about until they called and I was on air,” Shaw says. “I usually just follow the interviewer’s cues and try and provide several key points.” She also suggests that you have a few rehearsed one-liners ready to go and speak from the truth. “Be yourself and don’t hesitate or waiver. Find some answer. Chances are you are more critical of yourself than anyone else will ever be.”
When you finish your interview, contact your publicist (if you have one) so she can do the appropriate follow-up. And be sure to send the reporter any additional information requested and thank her for the interview as soon as possible. Then you can give a sigh of relief and know that with each interview you do, it will get easier.
Melanie Rembrandt is an experienced publicist and author of 7 Simple Steps to Startup PR Success. She helps entrepreneurs increase awareness and sales via her business, Rembrandt Communications®, free newsletter and blog.
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