Posts Tagged ‘media training’

Preparing Your Startup for Media Interviews: the Do’s and Don’ts

March 22, 2013

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.

Homer Simpson


  • 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.

Jacob Seal


Unspoken Thoughts Clamoring to Be Heard

August 2, 2012

In the course of every day, there are so many things you think but don’t say. Sometimes those thoughts come at work. Other times they hit you when you’re walking down the street, sitting in a restaurant or riding the bus.

I have many unspoken thoughts on the subway.

This morning I asked a young man who was sitting with legs splayed apart so he took up two seats, “Could you make room for me to sit down?” and got no reaction except a sullen and challenging stare.   My thoughts: “Who do you think you are? Sharing was something you were supposed to learn in kindergarten, you oaf!”

Standing in front of a mother with a very young child (both of whom were seated on a train that was packed to the gills), I thought, “The MTA gives free seats for young children because they can sit on their parents’ laps when the train gets crowded.  So why is your little princess taking up a seat, lady, when you could let that elderly man over there sit down?”

Then there are the sights you see on the streets of midtown Manhattan that make you say to yourself, but only to yourself, “That man grabbed the cab right out from under the guy who was about to hop in!” and “That woman came an inch from being hit by a car in the crosswalk, but thanks to her cellphone conversation she didn’t even realize it!” and “Oo la la, what a hunk he is!”

In an office building, as you’re waiting on line to get through security so you can go up to your meeting, you think but don’t say: “Six terrorists just cut the line and dashed for the elevator, but the security people are too busy asking for a photo IDs [which even terrorists have]!”

Like me, I’m sure you’ve had unspoken thoughts that reverberate so loudly inside your head, you wonder if the people around you heard them.

It would be great if we could articulate those thoughts without unpleasant consequences.  Sometimes I wish afterwards that I’d said what I was thinking.  But most of the time, it’s just as well that I kept quiet.

If you’ve read recent news stories about the Presidential campaign, you can see the consequences of not keeping unspoken thoughts quiet.

For example, Mitt Romney got himself into hot water with some remarks he made in Europe that would have been better (for him) if left unsaid. In London, he criticized the organization behind the London Olympics, which so annoyed the Prime Minister that he commented, “Of course, it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere” (a public crack about Mr. Romney’s own history as head of the Salt Lake City Olympics).

While in Poland, Rick Gorka, the traveling press secretary with Mr. Romney’s campaign, told the traveling American press corps who were shouting out questions for Romney (who was ignoring them) “Why don’t you kiss my ass?” Gawker writer Louis Peitzman quipped, “[Gorka] ended the argument with the always effective, ‘Why don’t you shove it?’”

The consequences in both these situations were the appearance of media stories that focused on the ill-considered remarks, rather than on the messages the Romney campaign wanted to communicate. That’s what happens when you speak what’s on your mind without carefully considering what you’re saying.

We public relations specialists call this “going off message.” It can happen to anyone, but media training helps a lot in preventing it. Media training helps you focus on the key messages you need to get across, and teaches you how to avoid making regrettable gaffes.  The training gives you practice in answering questions from reporters, and helps you build confidence in yourself while avoiding being overconfident.

Lucy Siegel

Get Lucy Siegel’s book at Amazon for 99 cents:  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

Unprepared for a Video Interview: The Consequences

January 25, 2011
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Last week I was interviewed by Doug Simon, whose company, DS Simon Productions, produces all kinds of video for use by PR and marketing clients, for broadcast and social media use.  Doug’s video blog, or vlog,, features a series of chats with marketing and public relations people, as well as some well-known journalists and businesspeople (Dan Rather, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Stuart Elliott, Richard Edelman, etc.)  So when Doug contacted me and asked if he could interview me for his vlog, I was very flattered.  The topic he wanted to cover was international public relations, which is one of our foremost specialties.  This is an area I know a lot about – on which I’m considered an expert. So I was very confident about the interview. Doug even sent me the questions he planned to ask in advance.  So I went blithely to the interview. 

OMG.  Oh…my…God!

That sums up the feeling I had after the interview was over. I told Doug and the producer who recorded the interview that I thought I hadn’t done well, but they insisted that it really was OK. I left the interview and walked back to my office thinking, “They were just being nice.  I made a complete fool of myself. I rambled, I didn’t have any key points to make that were helpful to my business and my answers were way too long.”  I told my staff that I had failed miserably and made a mockery of myself and the company. I kept thinking, “Lucy, you idiot, you didn’t listen to the instructions and advice you give your own clients. You deserve to be laughed at!”

Looking back, I realize that I made several key mistakes that made me feel terrible about my interview:

  • I was way overconfident.  Yes, I’m an expert about international business. But I’m not accustomed to having a video camera pointed at me while I’m questioned on the topic.
  • I didn’t prepare well. I looked at the questions Doug wanted to ask and thought of how I would answer them, but since I was busy, I didn’t practice answering them. As a result, when I was on camera, I rambled on and on.
  • I didn’t prepare explicit examples that I could use to explain the points I was making, so I sounded vague.
  • I didn’t develop key messages for myself that I wanted to get across in the video – messages that would help my company in a subtle way.  

These are just the types of problems that I coach our clients to avoid. A title of a rock ‘n roll song that was popular when I was a kid sums it all up: “Easier Said Than Done.” Those of us who work in PR telling others how to behave in a TV interview are rarely in the position ourselves to practice what we preach.

On Tuesday, I received a link to the interview and, because I had expressed so much doubt to Doug and his producer about how it had come out, they said they’d wait until I saw and approved it before they made it live. (This is something that a broadcast media outlet would never do, so don’t even think about asking CNN or MSNBC to do this!)  When I watched myself on the screen, it wasn’t as bad as I expected.  So, I told DS Simon Productions to let the video go live. 

Here’s the thing: although I didn’t actually make a fool of myself on camera, I wasted an opportunity to link our conversation about international communications to my company’s experience and services.  I was indeed my own worst client.

Now that I’ve pointed out the weaknesses of my own performance on camera for you, take a look at it with a critical eye.  I’d like you to learn from my experience!

By Lucy Siegel


PR in the U.S. for Overseas-based Companies, posted with vodpod


Media Interviews: Be Scared, Just a Little

January 23, 2010

Our clients are usually either too intimidated by media interviews or are too confident.  Those who are scared are extremely nervous that they will say something foolish and embarrass themselves and their organizations, or that they will be asked a question they can’t answer.  The overconfident ones feel they know their business better than any reporter does, and figure there’s nothing they could be asked that they can’t answer – so they don’t prepare for the interview. Let me define “interview”: any and all discussions with a reporter or editor for a print or online publication, or a radio or TV producer or reporter, or a blogger qualify.

I think it’s better to be intimidated than over-confident.  A little stage fright is like electricity to a light bulb – it gives you energy.   Those who don’t worry at all can

“Don’t jump! I’ve sent the whole staff out to
buy every copy of the paper, so nobody
will read your interview – except in the
online edition, of course.”

get too comfortable. This is dangerous.  People who relax too much in an interview often say too much, giving the journalist more information than she needs. This gives the reporter the chance to select what to use in her story from both important and unimportant information. Or they say things that were best not said outside the company.

The solution to under- and over-confidence is (no surprise) preparation. List the questions you’re likely to be asked and have someone role-play with you so you can practice answering.

If you’re pretty new at being interviewed, or the upcoming interview is a really important one, or if you’re from another country and not used to talking to the American media, consider some professional media training. At a coaching session, a senior communications professional will work with you to plan a strategic approach to your interview, ask you likely questions and help you frame appropriate, succinct responses.  When I coach a client before an interview, I leave plenty of time to discuss the best way to handle the questions my client prays will not be asked.

The worst thing to do is hide from the media because you’re scared. The more you’re interviewed, the better you’ll do, and the less scared you’ll be.

Coming up soon: interview secrets exposed

–Lucy Siegel

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