It’s all about the interview.
The secret to good PR, after coming up with a solid story idea and getting reporters interested, is executing the interview well. Interview preparation for public relations is a highly critical skill.
Unfortunately, it is also a highly neglected endeavor. For a variety of reasons, executives often find themselves in the midst of interviews for which they are poorly prepared. This can lead to a number of negative outcomes such as losing the story entirely and, even worse, having the story turn negative for your company.
These disasters can be avoided with some solid interview prep. Below is a step-by-step guide to making interview prep for public relations quick and easy.
Easy Interview Prep for Public Relations
- Have your talking points ready. This can be as simple as jotting down a handful of bullet points, or, if you prefer, writing a detailed document with facts and figures. The key is to have your messaging — what you want to get across in the interview — at your fingertips. If you’re going live on TV or meeting in person with a reporter, you’ll, of course, need to memorize your talking points. They key is knowing your messaging before you sit down to be interviewed.
- Research your reporter/outlet. You don’t want to be surprised by your reporter’s questions when your interview begins, so you should be aware of your reporter and news outlet’s background and approach before you begin. Your publicist should do this for you. But if not, you’ll need to conduct a little research. Is the reporter an investigative journalist or a feature writer? Does the reporter’s beat suggest a high level of subject knowledge or is he or she a generalist? What kind of story is the outlet looking for?
- Practice your questions & answers. Publicists call this Q&A and it typically begins with a document that lists the toughest questions you expect and bullet points on how to answer them. Importantly, creating the document is only Part 1. It’s critical to practice with these questions — 15 or 20 minutes may do just fine — to develop a level of comfort in handling them. Your publicist can “play” the reporter and you can work back and forth in a mock interview.
- Determine your ground rules. This creates the playing field and you should know how you want to proceed before you ever sit down to answer questions. For example, it can be very helpful to set a time limit, say 15 minutes, for the entire interview. This can help keep the reporter focused and let you know much time you need to spend on the hot seat. Also, determine in advance whether the whole interview is on the record or not. If not, make sure you and the reporter agree on what can and cannot be used.
- Make sure you’re available on pitch day. It sounds obvious, I know, but once all the other prep is done, make sure you’re actually going to be available on pitch day. Available means being ready to take reporters’ calls and, if necessary, traveling to TV studios on short notice. If you’re got a 6 hour board meeting in the middle of announcement day, you’re not truly available. Likewise, if you’re not dressed appropriately for TV interviews, you’re not available. A successful pitch can be totally undermined if the interview subject is not ready to go.
Are there other things you can do to be ready for interviews? Sure. If you’ve never done press interviews before, you might consider some professional media training. We use video cameras so clients can not only practice, but see and hear how they conduct interviews.
You can also get involved in the initial development of your company’s story pitches so you know what’s coming and can make sure the messaging you’ll be called on to deliver is comfortable for you.
However, if time is short, just follow the steps above for easy interview prep for public relations. You’ll be well ahead of the game.