Know where you’re going in a media interview

Sometimes I ask people a question in an interview and they give me a direct answer, just telling me what I want to know. This is always pleasant and a bit of a surprise. The problem with it from the media training/corporate messaging point of view is that it serves me well but the interviewee doesn’t actually work for me. Their employer might well think that they’ve wasted their time.

Now, I’m not one of these trainers who says “ignore the question and make your point” – we’ll see plenty of that from politicians over the next few weeks and you can already see through it as a technique. People aren’t daft, both interviewer and ultimately reader/listener/viewer will know you’re avoiding questions.

However, in no other business conversation would you have to answer the question and then shut up. This is partly because people don’t think there are special rules in other conversations, but mostly because in every other conversation you have an aim in mind.

Think about outcomes

The same will be true of the best interviews. The person answering the question will of course answer it, but will also make the point that will lead the reader or listener to a desired end point. This might be:

  • Eagerness to buy – the Apple watch is going to be a big hit because Apple is incredibly slick at marketing; they’ll answer questions about the watch but slide in stuff about how neat it looks and how much simpler it will make your life.
  • Willingness to invest: In the right context (we’ll come back to that) someone might want to plant ideas about financial solidity, profit performance, and prime readers that this is where there money should be going.
  • Branding: What, you’re a new company just needing to get your name out there? Fine, but build a few corporate strengths into your messages as well as answering the questions.

You’ll need to make sure you’re talking to the right people, too, which is where the expert advice of a switched-on PR company can be invaluable. Do you want investors? Try to get into the FT (good luck with that), or a paper whose demographic is the high-value individual. Do you want product sales in a local shop? A local paper would be a better bet. Those are obvious examples but you can grade others as you go.

Having an outcome in mind is vital. Only when you know where you’re going will you understand whether you’ve got there or not once the interview has been out there for a while. Know where you’re going and nudge the interview in that direction – you’ve every right to. But don’t do the politician thing of telling us what we should be asking and answering that instead; we, the readers and listeners and anybody else have seen it too many times and will see straight through it.

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