Virtually every time you see someone who is being interviewed on a major news show, you should know that the interview you see on camera is not the first interview they did. There’s another interview, done off-camera days before, that is truly what makes or breaks a TV appearance. It’s called the pre-interview. Here’s how that works.
Once your public relations person has sold a producer on the idea of a segment, and you’ve picked out a possible date and time for the segment, you must then schedule a pre-interview. The pre-interview typically happens with a segment producer for the show you’re going to be on. That’s the person responsible for gathering the information and insights that the anchor will need in order to conduct the on-camera interview. Generally, these conversations happen over the phone a couple days before the segment is scheduled to happen.
There are three key goals in any TV pre-interview
The producer wants to know that you are capable of talking coherently on TV. Until this point, the producer may have never seen or heard you speak. So a huge part of the pre-interview is for them to ask you questions similar to what you’d be asked on camera, and gauge how succinctly and clearly you can answer them. If you stammer or stumble or take three minutes to answer one question, that’s a red flag.
The producer wants to gather elements for the segment. If you’ve ever watched a CNBC interview, sometimes they’ll show graphics on the screen that list some of the key points an interviewee is saying as the interview happens. This isn’t magic. CNBC doesn’t read minds. This happens because the producer gathered the main talking points from the guest during the pre-interview.
DON’T BE A PAIN
The producer wants to make sure you’re not a pain. Seriously. If it takes five emails, two missed phone calls, and three reschedulings in order to conduct the pre-interview, the producer will know that you’re a handful. This may not impact the segment you’re currently working with them on, but it can definitely impact whether you get asked back on TV in the future.
So, how can you nail your pre-interview?
First, be flexible. Be available. Be on time.
Second, understand that the purpose of the pre-interview is not solely to get all of your marketing messages out. The purpose is to help a producer create a compelling TV segment. Listen closely, answer thoughtfully, and try to keep it quick.
Third, be nice. The producer you are talking to is scheduling multiple segments all the time. They will forget your name. They will only partially understand what your company does. Don’t get frustrated. Do all these things and the secret interview you do off camera can lead to much better interviews on camera.
If you’re not comfortable on camera and don’t feel like you’re ready for prime time, INK can help. Check out our Media Training services page to learn more about our personalized media training sessions hosted by an award-winning former journalist himself—me!
So, you’re ready for your big media interview. You or your PR folks have finally convinced a reporter or editor that you’re worth talking to. You’ve got messaging points down. You know the story. You know the outlet. You’re all set. But there’s one big obstacle left that could make or break your interview: your phone. Here are three phone mistakes that could ruin your next media interview.
If you use a cell phone instead of a landline, you could cause problems.
Cell phones are great. You can be anywhere in the world and connect with people in all corners of the globe. But they can also drop out. Or make you sound like you are a robot. Reporters are in a hurry. Reporters don’t have time to deal with dropped calls, calling you back, and not understanding when parts of your sentences cut out.
Use a landline. A good old-fashioned phone with a handset that is plugged into a wall. Some media, particularly radio outlets that will be recording the interview for use on air, will not even do the interview if it’s on a cell phone. In some cases I know that’s difficult. We had a Bay Area tech startup whose CEO had to call more than a dozen different friends and family members before he found a landline. It may be a pain, but there’s a much better chance of a good quality call.
If you use a speakerphone, you could ruin your interview
Some people like to do interviews using speakerphones. They may have additional people in the room who they think can add to the interview. Or they may just want to free their hands up during the call. Bad idea. A speakerphone interview is not a conversation. Inevitably the reporter feels like they are being talked “at” instead of talked “to”. The point is for there to be back and forth, a real conversation. That rarely happens when one of you is on a speakerphone.
If you have multiple people join the call, there are too many cooks in the kitchen
Some PR folks insist on “facilitating” an interview with their clients and reporters. They hop on the call, make introductions, and generally try to help shape the interview while it happens. While the intentions are noble, the end result is rarely helpful to the reporter. To some reporters, it looks like hand-holding; like the CEO can’t be trusted to handle the interview on their own. That may not be the case, but the perception is there. In general, phone conversations should be one on one.
So, hang up the cell phone, put the speakerphone away, and tell your “handler” to go do something else for a few minutes. It could be the difference between an interview with a clear connection or one with a lot of static.
One of the best ways to tell your audience why your company/product/service is a great fit for them is by sharing examples of happy customers. Many media outlets, particularly trade media, appreciate real-world examples over generic PR platitudes.
“I’ve got tons of happy customers,” you say. “That shouldn’t be a problem.” Maybe. The problem is there’s a big difference between having happy customers and having a good customer story that can be shared with the media.
Here are three quick signs you have a media-worthy customer.
1. They’re willing to talk, on the record, with a reporter, in an interview. Many times clients will point to great reviews or testimonial quotes on their website. Or even meticulous case studies/white papers that show how they’ve helped a particular customer. Those are great. But what a reporter really wants is to actually have a conversation with your customer. Being quoted on your website or being mentioned in a case study is fine. But for the media, that’s just a start. More often than not, they’ll want to talk one on one with your customer to hear about their experience. They may have questions that weren’t answered in a case study or white paper. It can be tough to get a customer to agree to that kind of extra work on their part. But it can definitely make a huge difference with the media.
2. They can share specific benefits/savings/improvement. For many media outlets, it may not be enough for your customer to say that your software product “increased productivity”. By how much? To what end? What were you able to do with the extra time/effort you saved? That kind of specificity will help tell your story, and help you relate to the audience consuming the story. Specific data on how you helped your customers makes your story much more attractive. This is often the hardest thing to get. Your customers may not want to share how much you saved them or helped them improve their processes, because to them it may look like an admission that they were doing things poorly before you came along. But without this information, it’s hard for the media to justify sharing your story. If their audience can’t get valuable information from what you share, it’s not worth it for them to do a story.
3. They are truly an evangelist for your company. This is a tough one as well. There’s a difference between a customer who is happy and a customer who actively wants to share with the world how awesome you are. I’ve had many circumstances where I’ve been on the phone with the customer of a client and they’ve had a hard time expressing the value proposition of the company they’re working with. And that’s ok. They’re not experts on your business. They’re experts on their business. But in order to make their story relate to the media, and relate to the audience the media is trying to serve, your customer has to be able to think and see and speak in bigger picture terms about you and what you do.
A good PR partner can help you identify customers that fit these criteria, and help you determine the best way to use these customers to get maximum media coverage. Just understand that we can sometimes be picky. That’s because we know the media will be, too. But with a little (ok maybe a lot) of digging, you should be able to turn up these nuggets of PR gold.
Italian cooking experts will tell you that one way to tell if spaghetti noodles are done cooking is to toss a few against the wall. If they stick, the noodles are done. If they fall to the ground, they aren’t. You’ll lose some spaghetti noodles that way, but it’s not a big deal
Unfortunately, too many people in the PR business take the same approach to pitching the media: throw a bunch of pitches to a huge group of reporters and hope that something sticks. A lot of pitches end up going to the wrong reporters. And then those reporters get ticked off. Case in point, a recent rant from Yahoo! Technology columnist David Pogue.
In the hours after rock and roll legend Tom Petty died of cardiac arrest, a PR person for a cardiology institute sent out a pitch offering their experts to talk about cardiac arrest. For some reason, despite the fact that he is a technology columnist, Pogue was one of the targets of this health-related pitch. He took to Twitter to complain.
David Pogue: Tweet
Pogue’s issue is with the PR pitch itself, saying it was a case of a PR agency trying to exploit Petty’s death. I’m not sure I agree with that take. Plenty of news outlets are interested in using the health issues of celebrities as an opportunity to share information with their audience. In fact, People Magazine ran an article the day Petty died called “Tom Petty Died of Sudden Cardiac Arrest at Age 66-What you Need to Know About the Heart Malfunction. So there is definitely interest in that kind of story.
My issue is why Pogue was targeted with this pitch in the first place. David Pogue covers technology. Not music, not pop culture, and certainly not general health. Why did Pogue get a pitch about cardiac arrest? The most likely answer is someone created a mass list of reporter emails, and for some reason, he was on it. The pitch was blasted to probably thousands of reporters, most of whom wouldn’t be a good fit.
This is especially egregious with Mr. Pogue as he has publicly said that this kind of pitching is one of his biggest pet peeves of PR people. In an interview with Bulldog Reporter, Pogue said
“A lot of PR people and agencies just blast out blanket emails to anyone on the lists they bought. That’s glorified spam. I don’t get the point of it. The emails that work are those that are targeted. They open with something like, “Dear David, I saw your story about cell phones and thought …” This shows they did their homework. If you take the time to personalize your pitches or emails to us, you will get a thousand times more bang for the buck in terms of responses.”
It’s very easy to create a huge list and blast a pitch out to thousands of reporters. At INK, we don’t do that. It’s much harder to create custom-tailored pitches sent one at a time to individual reporters and editors based on what they cover, what we know about them, and what our clients can offer their specific outlet. That’s how we do it at INK. It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes an in-depth knowledge of the media. But we believe it’s worth the time and effort to deliver useful stories to the media, and to deliver real results for our clients.
Highlighting the leadership style that makes you successful and attractive to customers, investors, employees can also make you interesting to the media.
Photo: Adobe Stock
The first Thursday in every calendar quarter has been designated “Get to Know Your Customers Day”. That’s not exactly as fun as National Donut Day (June 1) or National Tequila Day (July 24), but not every day can include a celebration of carbs or booze. In PR, getting to know your customers can mean lots of things. It’s obviously important to know what they do, who their target market is, and the kinds of messaging that will resonate with those markets. But another great way to get to know your customer, and to get them great media coverage, is to focus on not just what they do, but how they do it.
This includes everything from how a company is organized to its management style. Once at a new client orientation meeting, we learned that there were no chairs in the company conference room. All meetings were done standing up. Managers felt that kept meetings short and to the point. They didn’t want people getting too comfortable in chairs and dragging the meetings out. That turned into some great coverage about this company’s management style.
Here’s another example, INK client Coast to Coast Computer Products was founded by a man who is a recovering addict. A large portion of his sales staff are in recovery themselves. It’s a great story about second chances and the value of hard work. That story ended up being the focus of a profile piece on CNBC last year.
SIB Fixed Cost Reduction is a company that helps businesses save money on their recurring monthly bills. Early in the company’s existence, founder Dan Schneider employed a unique policy for employees who made mistakes. Rather than yell at them or punish them, he held ice cream parties with them. The parties were designed to take a lighter approach to dealing with the mistake, and also to help others learn from what happened. That kind of unique management style earned a profile piece in the New York Times Sunday edition.
Focusing on the “how” part of your business can open up the possibilities for media coverage beyond just the reporters or outlets that cover your specific industry or space. And those stories can highlight the leadership style that makes you successful and attractive to customers, investors, and employees.
So happy “Get to Know Your Customers Day”, everyone. May your customer knowledge land you awesome media stories that are worth celebrating…perhaps with a donut and some tequila.