Successful entrepreneurs are known for being risk-takers, putting both their money and reputation on the line to launch a new product or service, often in a competitive or nascent market. Some psychologists suggest that entrepreneurs’ brains are hard-wired to take risks—they live for the dopamine high associated with standing on the edge of a tall cliff (or business deal).
It’s not surprising then that many entrepreneurs get an emotional charge when they are put in the spotlight to talk about their businesses with media. While risk-taking may pay off in certain situations, a media interview is not one of them. Without careful planning, an interview can result in a wasted opportunity for good exposure, or worse, it can make your company the butt of “funny headline” jokes on the Tonight Show. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you make the best of your interview opportunities:
- Research the Reporter: Before every interview, you or your PR advisor should research the reporter to determine what he or she has already written about and what the tone of their reporting is like (e.g. investigative, light-hearted, opinionated, etc.)
- Develop Talking Points: Always solicit a list of potential questions from the reporter prior to the interview. With few exceptions, reporters will usually share some initial questions, because it makes their job easier when the interviewee is already prepared with important information. These questions should be used to develop talking points to help you steer the conversation in the right direction. The talking points should also include additional questions that could come up, especially the sticky ones.
- Practice: If this is the first time you have been interviewed on a particular topic, or if there have been significant changes to your messaging since the last interview, squeeze in a little rehearsal time. This is particularly important when interviewing with reporters that have a reputation for being critical or when the format of the interview is broadcast, where a bad 10-second sound bite can spoil an otherwise spotless performance. If you have a PR advisor, make sure they provide you with media training.
- Follow Up: There are times when you may do all the right things to prepare for an interview, only to find that a story is not produced or that the interview is edited out of the story. Sometimes this is unavoidable, such as when the story has to be trimmed to meet a specific word count or when the reporter quashes the story to make space for another pressing news item. But other times it can be prevented with proper follow up. When following up, reiterate any points you want to make clear to the reporter and ask if he or she has follow up questions. Also consider sending them references to additional sources, including other potential interviewees, that could support the development of the story.
- Go Off the Record: The words “off the record” go against the grain of journalistic integrity, and, perhaps more importantly, the basic interest of the reporter in publishing a compelling story. Always assume anything you say is fair game.
- Respond with “No Comment”: Reporters usually interpret this as stonewalling, and readers will likely think it means you have something to hide. There are situations when it is in your best interest to stay mum, such as when being questioned about sensitive financial or legal information or information that could reveal too much to your competition. In these situations, provide as much information as you feel is safe, and simply explain that you can’t go into any additional details at that time. This is also a good opportunity to bridge the conversation to a different, but relevant, topic that you really want to talk about.
- Use Jargon: Reporters strive to make their stories as accessible as possible for their audiences. With the exception of trade or special interest media, where highly technical information may be required, you should stay away from industry jargon and try to simplify complex ideas into comprehensible points. Sometimes using metaphors can be a good way to explain an intricate point, but when a metaphor won’t do, you should have a succinct and lucid description at the ready.
- Talk About a Competitor: This is another one where there are exceptions, but in general, you should let your competitors do their own talking. The two big risks here are that you may unintentionally build awareness for the wrong team, and perhaps more importantly, if you get your facts wrong, you may find your company getting slapped with a lawsuit.