How would you rather spend an hour: being interviewed by the media or getting a root canal?
If I asked that question of a company’s technical staff, they would most likely choose the latter.
Take Jack Zeepfield, for instance. Jack works as an engineer for a national firm, with a concentration on designing seismically resistant buildings and ensuring they meet the codes. Jack is great one-on-one with clients, and he’s technically brilliant. But put him in a media interview and he loses all his confidence. He becomes shy and freezes up, consumed by the fear of “saying the wrong thing.”
Despite the fear that Jack and others like him possess, media interviews help establish your brand as an expert. As a result, saying “no” is not your best option.
Here are some coaching and training tricks that you can use to help the Jacks of your firm have a successful interview:
1. Remind them of their talent and importance
Even though Jack has been designing and making recommendations to clients for seismically resistant buildings for years, as soon as he finds out a reporter wants to interview him he asks “Why me?”
This is the first hurdle you’ll need to help Jack and others like him overcome.
In Jack’s case, remind him that designing seismically resistant buildings isn’t new to him and that he’s been doing it for years. Remind him that he speaks to clients about it every day. He’s done presentations at industry conferences. He’s written articles in technical journals.
Jack is knowledgeable and an expert, so others can learn from him.
2. Reassure them you’ve their back
After asking “Why me?” technical employees will often follow up with the question: “What if I say the wrong thing?”
First, reassure them. In Jack’s case, I would tell him he’s been doing this type of work for years so he has the experience to not “say the wrong thing.”
Also, let technical staff know that you’re not going to throw them in the deep end and watch them sink or swim. You’re planning on coaching and training them so they are comfortable, confident, and fully prepared.
3. Advise them on how to stay out of trouble
The third question that clients ask after telling them about the media interview: “What if I don’t know the answer?”
Here’s how I would respond to that question if it was proposed by Jack:
“If they ask you a question about designing hospitals and you only have experience in office buildings, say that. Don’t make something up that you think the reporter wants to hear; that’s when you get into trouble. Control the interview with your answers so that you stick with what you know.”
4. Talk with the reporter
Get on the phone with the reporter before the interview and find out the angle of the article. Try to find out which questions the reporter plans to ask and whether he or she can send you a list before the interview?
You, the reporter, and the employee all have the same goal: A successful and informative interview. Getting as much information from the reporter before the interview will help everyone involved achieve this goal. Explaining it this way to the reporter increases your chances of getting as much information as deadline permits.
However, when getting the questions in advance isn’t an option, come up with them on your own. Then do a mock interview by acting as the reporter.
5. Research the media outlet and reporter
Find out the target audience for this publication—does it match who your client wants to reach? This information can be found in the outlet’s media kit or even just talking to the reporter.
Also, research the reporter. Google his or her name. Go to the media outlet’s website and see his or her past articles. Check out the reporter’s Twitter handle. Go to his or her LinkedIn profile.
Provide the employee who will be interviewed with a rundown of what you find so that he or she can better tailor answers to that specific audience and reporter.
6. Meet with the employee
Schedule a sit down with the employee before the interview to review the information you gathered. Then hold a mock interview. Ask the reporter’s questions that you’ve already gathered and ask any and all possible follow-up questions.
You want to prepare the employee for the worst-case scenario, so don’t hold back. Ask challenging and uncomfortable questions to see how the employee responds. Pose some off-topic questions and coach the employee on how to provide answers that bring the interview back to his or her expertise. Train the employee on how to control the interview with his or her answers, and make sure the answers are concise and to the point.
Remember that reporters are tasked with one assignment: To find sources who can help them obtain the relevant information under a hard deadline. The steps above will better prepare your client to meet this challenge and, in turn, put them near the top of the reporter’s go-to source list.
Franceen Shaughnessy is a freelance marketing communications specialist for professional services firms. She has more than 12 years of experience in public relations, journalism, and marketing communications. Connect with her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/franceenshaughnessy.