Interviews: prepare your points and make them good

Interview practice is a major part of my media training offering; one of the things I (and many other trainers) suggest is that everyone should go into an interview situation with three points they want to make. It offers some focus and also somewhere “safe” to come back to when the interview starts to drift.

One thing that’s come up occasionally is that people don’t focus on the quality of their messages after learning there have to be three. They just think in terms of quantity.

So it was that at a recent interview session I had someone putting a message in that said “ours is a quality company”. OK, you probably mean it, but it’s a little bland. On one occasion someone put that in and when I told him his competitors would say the same. He insisted they couldn’t because he knew their resources.

Sometimes the competition fibs

On that occasion the client just didn’t accept that a) his concept of “quality” wasn’t universal, nor that b) even if it were, the competition would be likely to claim they were a quality company regardless of the facts.

The message, in other words, was useless. So here are a few sanity checks for formulating messages to which journalists are likely to listen:

  • Is it a platitude? We hate those with a passion. We care about our customers. We are a quality company. Bland, bland, bland – I need something that’s going to engage my readers, not bore them rigid.
  • Is it obvious? A variation on “platitude”. Isn’t everybody going to claim they’re a quality company, or that they look after customers? Turn the phrase around – “We don’t look after customers”. Nobody is going to say that, so the reverse is probably not a point worth making.
  • Is it interesting? It can be difficult to be objective about this one but “interesting” is important. A distinction to make is that something can be extremely interesting to people inside your company but not outside – a new sales push, terms and conditions to customers, all of these things can be vital internally but externally they’re just a bit…meh.
  • Is it too interesting? Beware of controversy for the sake of it. You can try too hard and get saddled with something unfortunate, as Gerald Ratner did all those years ago with his “we sell crap” comments at a conference. He’s never lived them down and it killed his own-name brand.
  • Can you substantiate it? Too often I’m told “we’re a top XX company” and when I ask “says who?” I realise very quickly there’s nothing behind it. If you can substantiate it, maybe there’s an analyst report backing you up or something, include that in your message – don’t leave it to a journalist to tease it out of you, we might not bother!
  • Is it ridiculous? I once asked a client who they marketed to and they said “everybody because everybody needs our service at some time.” I pointed out that everybody needed food but even companies with the resources of the major supermarkets had to segment their markets. I was told repeatedly that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that everybody, repeat everybody, needed their products. I certainly didn’t…

It’s possible to be original, honest and noteworthy when talking about your daily business. Seriously, I’ve seen it done many times. Just give it some thought first.

Do you need help engaging with the media? Do you end up feeling that you’re working for the journalist’s agenda rather than your own? I can help – drop me an email by clicking here, fill in the form below or call me on 07973 278780.


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