Once upon a time, C-suite executives and spokespersons could prepare for media interviews focused solely on their company’s story. Key messages about profitability, competition, R&D and related subjects could be framed so the executive could handle any company-related topic that might arise.
Oh, how times have changed
Today’s CEO or corporate spokesperson must be prepared to discuss not only their company, products, and performance, but also politics, global trade, immigration, diversity and gender equity, tax policy, health care, climate change, national wage and payroll trends and, well, everything else.
Care to opine about Supreme Court nominees and teenage behavior?
A shift in media dynamics
Two rapidly emerging trends are making the challenge of delivering a company’s message in an interview even more daunting:
First, journalists are becoming more aggressive in their approach to questioning.
To say journalists are aggressive is not to say they are innately hostile to corporate spokespersons—far from it, in fact. The media are genuinely interested in leaders’ perspectives.
Journalists do, however, reflect the society in which they operate. Our society is more contentious today than in the past, making calm, civil discourse more the exception than the norm. Even social conversations these days are often characterized by interruption, challenge, redirection and even rancor. Why would we expect media interviews to be any different?
Second, social media magnifies every word, phrase or statement the executive may utter to the media exponentially.
Even when an interview stays on topic or a statement delivers the intended message, the social universe can react in ways totally unexpected. Just ask former astronaut Scott Kelly how it feels to be “flamed” on social media for the crime of quoting Winston Churchill.
The Prepared Spokesperson
In the context of these challenges, making the most of each interview opportunity requires thoughtful preparation. Even the most skilled spokesperson and corporate executive benefits from consistent practice.
Here are a few ways to prepare:
Know your key point
No matter what else may arise in the course of the interview, know the single most important idea you wish your audience to take away from the discussion. Prepare yourself to deliver it clearly, concisely and repeatedly.
If you know it’s coming, you won’t be surprised by it. You will also be less distracted by it and, thus, not taken far off your key point. The art of the interview is to be respectful and acknowledge the reporter’s question, yet appropriately bridge back to your theme.
Answer in your own words
Intentionally or otherwise, reporters ask questions using language you might not agree with: “Isn’t your company weak in terms of creating opportunities for women?”
By answering “We are not weak,” the pejorative word becomes part of your quote. As such, it might feature prominently in the lead-in to a broadcast piece or a pull-out quote in print. By comparison, consider: “Our commitment to women and to all who are employed here is emphatic and genuine. Here are some examples…”
This approach addresses the question just as well, but employs your words, not theirs. Even better that it leads to positive illustrations of ethical practices.
Know the news
Take time prior to the interview to learn what’s breaking in the headlines. Equally important, read the recent work of the reporter you are meeting. Being informed is key to success. Finding common ground might also ease the conversation.
Conduct a mock interview prep session. The purpose of this is not to parrot memorized statements over and over, but rather to erase some interview jitters, help you feel comfortable with your key points, and boost confidence regarding the way you wish to deliver them.
Comprehensive spokesperson preparation covers a wide array of additional considerations. A willingness to set ego aside and invest time in such prep is a valuable approach to maximizing the value of every media interaction.
For more ideas about effective media preparation, download Stanton’s ebook
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