For most small business owners, getting press coverage is a big deal. Whether you scored the interview on your own or had some help from a public relations representative, speaking with the media about your business or industry means that you have the opportunity to establish yourself as an expert in your field, and get your company's name out to a much wider audience.
But there is one potential downside: If you don't know how to navigate a live press interview, you'll not only make the reporter's job difficult, but you'll also tarnish your credibility — and, by extension, your business's reputation. One poorly phrased quote or fumbled response could overpower an otherwise good story, so it's in your best interest to be prepared for any situation.
So, what can you do to make sure a media interview goes smoothly? Business leaders and PR/marketing experts shared their insights for handling the press like a pro. [5 DIY Public Relations Tips for Startups]
Before the interview
Good journalists do some research into the topics they're looking to cover before they get on the phone or in front of the camera with you. Extend the same courtesy by preparing as much as you can prior to speaking with them.
Understand the topic (and your thoughts on it). Once you have the topic of the interview, it's up to you to prepare for it. Read up on recent news and events about the subject, and develop your own unique take on it, said Kristen Sala, director of media research at global media intelligence company Cision.
"As a small business owner, you don't need to become an encyclopedia of knowledge, but latching onto a handful of key points will show that you've done your homework, that you're up to speed on recent activity around the topic and that you know what you are talking about," Sala said.
Although some reporters don't want to (or aren't able to) share their interview questions ahead of time, some are willing to do this, so it doesn't hurt to ask, said Neal Taparia, founder of Imagine Easy Solutions, a company that provides education and research solutions. If questions aren't available, you should brainstorm some potential questions that could be asked based on the story topic, he said.
"Write down your responses or talking points, and then practice your responses out loud, just like you would when giving a speech," Taparia told Business News Daily. "You'll find yourself prepared and articulate with insightful answers."
Find data to back up your ideas. Though you may be very knowledgeable about the subject at hand, it can only help you to cite an outside source to back yourself up. Gene Carozza, a vice president at PAN Communications public relations agency, advised having data or statistical information at the ready to add validity to what you are discussing.
Research the journalist's work. In most cases, you'll be able to easily find a reporter's work with a quick Google search, or by looking at his or her social media accounts. Get to know the journalist's writing style (or interview style, if it's a video segment) by looking at his or her recent pieces. Getting a feel for the topics the reporter typically covers can help you figure out how your own interview might go, as well as build a more meaningful relationship with him or her.
During the interview
It's normal to feel a bit nervous before a big interview with a reporter, but mastering these tricks will ensure that those nerves don't show.
Listen to the questions. Sabina Gault, CEO and founder of Konnect Public Relations, said small business owners tend to get so wrapped up in the interview that they forget to take a breath and really listen to what the reporter is saying.
"Taking a break to collect your thoughts will make what you say next come off as more polished and eloquent," Gault said. "[Also], nobody likes to be interrupted, so be sure to let the reporter finish his or her thought before you jump into yours."
Erik Eliason, co-founder and CEO of Storefront, a marketplace to find and rent retail space, added that you should balance short, direct answers with longer answers when responding to a reporter's questions.
Share a (relevant) anecdote. Stories based on personal experiences can really enhance an interview and bring your ideas to life. But don't tell a story for the sake of it — make sure it's going to enhance the article and, more importantly, that it's genuine.
"Be yourself," Carozza said. "The greatest articles have quotes or anecdotal, colorful insights that demonstrate your personality and reflect well on your business."
Avoid jargon and filler words. If you work in a highly specialized field with a lot of technical lingo, you may want to think about how to describe those concepts and terms in a way that the average reader can understand.
"While the technical talk that occupies most of your day comes naturally to you, it's important to remember that not everyone entirely understands what it means," said Paige Weiners, associate corporate marketing specialist at Web design agency Blue Fountain Media. "If you want to use technical talk, make sure you're briefly providing users with a quick explanation or definition as to what the term is so that everyone is on the same page."
On the other end of the spectrum, you'll also want to avoid using filler words such as "um" or "like," Weiners said. Gault agreed, noting that a reporter will instantly know that you've lost your train of thought if you use these words.
"Make little notes beforehand on the points you want to touch on, and stay with them," Gault said. "If you forget something, simply pause, collect yourself; then, talk again. It will look 10 times better than using 'um,' 'eh,' 'you know,' or any other fillers."
Scale back the sales pitch. Reporters are not advertisers; their job isn't to tell readers how great your product is — it's to tell an interesting story.
"Most of the time, journalists are looking to get expert commentary on a particular topic and view the small business owner as the expert," Sala said. "Therefore, as a small business owner, rather than show off your brand, you should show off your knowledge of the industry or the topic at hand."
That's not to say that you shouldn't remind the journalist why you're uniquely qualified to speak about the subject at hand based on your business experience. Matt Zisow, founder and CEO of personal shopper app Scratch, said you should be able to quickly and effectively describe your background and company to a reporter, even if only for context.
"If you're a small business, a good rule of thumb is to assume the journalist has no idea who you are or what your company does," Zisow said. "Make sure you can describe your company in less than 30 seconds, succinctly and clearly, focusing on the most important points. Save the nuance for later."
After the interview
The questions may be over, but your relationship with the reporter has just begun, and you should proceed accordingly if you want to remain in his or her good graces in the future.
Thank the reporter. All of our sources agreed that a simple "thank you" — an oft-forgotten step in the process — goes a long way in building media relationships. Express gratitude for the reporter's time, and let him or her know you're looking forward to the final piece.
"If you enjoyed the interview, take the time to thank [the reporter] at the end," Gault said. When the article goes live, it's always a nice gesture to send a quick note thanking the writer for including you in their piece and praising their work."
Leave the door open for follow-ups. For interviews that will be turned into written articles, the reporter you spoke with may end up having some follow-up questions for you as his or her piece evolves. Weiners recommended offering the journalist the opportunity to contact you with these questions.
"If the door of communication is open, [the writer will] be more likely to contact you to discuss the section they want to make some additions to," Weiners said. "These additions will ... enhance the article and give you another opportunity to make a good impression with readers. Journalists will appreciate that you're taking their job seriously and are open to helping them out more as they round out their piece."
Keep in mind that, if you reach out to a reporter directly after the interview, email is probably your best bet. Cision's Global Social Journalism Study found that U.S. journalists' top three methods of contact are email (84 percent), social media (33 percent) and telephone (15 percent). These contact preferences are important to keep in mind when building relationships, Sala said.
Share the finished product. In an age when media success is measured in shares and traffic numbers, reporters really appreciate when you share the article or video clip you're featured in via social media. If you're happy with the piece, share it in a tweet or LinkedIn post, and tag the journalist and his or her outlet, or even comment on the article, Sala said. The reporter will likely remember this and be more apt to keep you in mind for future opportunities.
"Interviews don't have to be one-off events," Eliason added. "They are often the start of continued relationships that benefit both parties."