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Media Interview Tips
You need some powerful media interview tips if you want to put your best foot forward and communicate with influence and authority.
Lucky for you today’s guest, Mr Ed Barks, is a high-powered Washington DC communications strategist who will give us an inside look into this rarified world and the media interview tips you need to be successful.
What You’ll Discover About Media Interview Tips (highlights & transcript):
* 3 Essential media interview tips for beginners [01:55]
* Why you need soundbites [03:52]
* Rules of the Road for dealing with reporters [04:47]
* Media interview tips for Main Street CEOs [05:33]
* Media interview tips for answering awkward questions [07:30]
* Common newbie mistakes when dealing with the media [08:48]
* How Zoom has changed the media interview game [10:52]
* Media interview tips for Zoom [12:48]
* And much MORE
Hanna Hasl-Kelchner: [00:00:00] You need some powerful media interview tips if you want to put your best foot forward and communicate with influence and authority. And lucky for you, my next guest is a high-powered Washington D.C. communications strategist and when we come back, he’ll give us an inside look into this rarefied world.
Announcer: [00:00:18] [Music] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matter to your bottom line.
Hanna: [00:00:30] Welcome to Business Confidential Now. I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today’s special guest is Mr. Ed Barks. Ed is a Washington D.C. communications strategy and training consultant and the author of three books, his most recent one being Reporters Don’t Hate You: 100+ Amazing Media Relations Strategies.
Ed helps businesses and associations strengthen their message and hone the communication skills that their leaders need on a daily basis so that they can communicate with greater confidence, enhance their reputation, and realize their long-term business goals.
And I’m not kidding when I say he’s a high-powered D.C. communications strategist. He recently completed a nine-year tenure on the National Press Club’s Board of Governors, and that’s just one of his many accomplishments in this area. So, I’m looking forward to my conversation with him.
Let’s have him join us. Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Ed.
Ed Barks: [00:01:25] Thank you, Hanna, and I’m looking forward to this as well.
Hanna: [00:01:28] This is going to be fun. Now, we’re not talking about the high-powered D.C. crowd here. Many of my listeners are Main Street CEOs and their organizations probably don’t have a public relations staff or a designated spokesperson except maybe the owner of the company when push comes to shove, and their formal communications with the public outside of marketing campaigns is sporadic at best.
3 ESSENTIAL MEDIA INTERVIEW TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
So, these folks also want to grow their business, scale their business, and they want to learn about communication strategies and how to think about them before reaching out to the local media so that they don’t look silly. What advise do you have for someone in that situation? Where should they start?
Ed: [00:02:09] Well, let me mention three basic points to begin, Hanna: message, technique and attitude. And let me dig in just a little bit and we can go into any depth you want later in our conversation.
First of all, with respect to message, you need to know what you’re going to say. I guess that sounds pretty basic. However, that does take some building and construction. You need to plan your message; you need to test your message and then you need to have the discipline to deliver it every time you talk to a reporter.
Now, sometimes with folks that haven’t dealt a lot with reporters before, they try to change that message around every time. Don’t worry about that. You may have said it a dozen times already, the reporter is hearing it for the first time. So, stick to your message, that’s the first thing.
Well, talking about technique, you need to be able to get your points across in a way that makes you attractive to the reporter, makes them want to use your words, and that involves, for instance, non-verbal qualities. What do you look like? What do you sound like? How energetic and enthusiastic are you about that message? So technique matters too.
And then when we talk about attitude, this is oftentimes the missing ingredient in a lot of training that goes on for folks who undertake media training. It’s that attitude that’s important. It’s not seeing the press as an enemy or an adversary but seeing them as a way to deliver your message to a broader audience whatever your target audience may be, whether it’s Main Street, whether it’s Capitol Hill, or whatever it may be. So, message, technique, and attitude, three great places to start.
WHY YOU NEED SOUNDBITES
Hanna: [00:03:52] Now, let’s talk about technique for a second. What are your thoughts about soundbites, people trying to be super clever?
Ed: [00:03:59] Well, that’s part of your messaging and certainly you do want to have some as I call them quotable quotes in your back pocket so that you want to see the reporter’s eyes light up, in other words, when you drop those breadcrumbs along the trail so that you have those planned out and it’s not a spur of the moment thing, and no media interview should involve anything that’s spur of the moment.
Obviously, you don’t know all the questions the reporter is going to ask but you do know what your message is, so use every question to deliver part of your message, and that message should include those quotable quotes that you just – you know have a really good chance of being picked up either in print or online or in broadcast.
RULES OF THE ROAD FOR DEALING WITH REPORTERS
Hanna: [00:04:47] So what are the rules of the road for dealing with reporters or the press?
Ed: [00:04:52] Well, first of all, everything you say is on the record to a reporter, and in fact, everything you do is on the record with a reporter as well. So in other words, your words, I guess most people understand that, that what you say is liable to be quoted, is liable to be used as background by the reporter.
However, if let’s say you invite a reporter into your office and the reporter is looking at the plaques on the wall, the reporter is hearing a hallway conversation from others that you may not want them to hear, so, you know, that all that makes a difference in how you approach a reporter and how that reporter is going to approach you.
MEDIA INTERVIEW TIPS FOR MAINSTREET CEOs
Hanna: [00:05:33] What are some good media interview tips that you could share that would apply for these mainstream – Main Street CEOs rather?
Ed: [00:05:42] Mm-hmm. First of all, I would look at what you need to do even before the interview, and that involves some research. You need to take a look at the reporter, what had they written before, have they covered your industry or your business or are they fairly new, which tells you if they’ve covered it before, they may know things that you don’t know.
If they are new to the industry beat, then you may have some education work ahead of you to try to get them up to speed and that’s a good way to forge a relationship with a reporter. So, those relationships are very important. Also, you know, I’m going to keep using the hammer on this one but we come back to message again and when you’re preparing, prepare that message, road test it right up by the biggest skeptic in your office so that the person that will tell you if something is off-kilter.
Hanna: [00:06:35] So, the best way to test a message is to present it to your biggest skeptics is what I’m hearing.
Ed: [00:06:41] Yeah, that’s certainly part of it. You know, what you want to do is get the right people in the room and the corollary to that is keep the wrong people out of the room. You may, for instance, need a communications person in there. You may need a financial person in there depending on what the message is. If it’s a critical issue, if you have somebody that deals with that particular issue, you want them in the room.
There can be at times like this a lot of hangers on and my advice to clients when I work with media training workshops is let’s define who’s going to be in the room, and then that’s about it. So, you don’t want a big crew in there because things can go sideways very quickly.
MEDIA INTERVIEW TIPS FOR ANSWERING AWKWARD QUESTIONS
Hanna: [00:07:30] I think one thing that people who aren’t very familiar with the media may be afraid of is getting a question that they don’t want to answer.
Ed: [00:07:40] Mm-hmm. Yup, and that happens and that will happen in many media interview, and as we have seen sometimes on the TV clips from old and new, that can be an embarrassing situation if you don’t know how to handle it.
Now, there are tried and true Q&A techniques that sort of news sources can use with reporters. Some reporters know about these, some don’t. For instance, one technique is called bridging where you are taking the reporter’s question that you don’t particularly want to answer.
You are, this is important, acknowledging the question so the reporter doesn’t think you’re trying to spin them. You acknowledge the question, not agreeing with it but acknowledge it, then build a bridge to your message with a transitional phrase like, “And another key point is,” or, “Let me tell you how we’ve handled this,” so that you’re taking that question that is perhaps off point, perhaps a little bit hostile, and you are moving that to the message you want to talk about in a fairly seamless fashion.
COMMON NEWBIE MISTAKES WHEN DEALING WITH THE MEDIA
Hanna: [00:08:48] Well, that’s definitely helpful. In your experience, what do you find that novices typically get wrong when dealing with reporters?
Ed: [00:08:57] It’s usually a lack of research and a lack of taking the time to figure out what it is the reporter wants and needs. The more that you as a news source can determine what that reporter’s looking for, the smoother that that interview is going to go. So I would look at, you know, doing that background research if you haven’t done this before.
You know, talk to colleagues who have done media interviews. You know, go to your library and or your favorite bookseller and find a place that or a source that is legitimate, and I will say there is a fair amount out there on communications techniques. A lot of it is really, really good and some of it is really, really bad so vet your sources.
HOW TO FIND GOOD COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE RESOURCE GUIDES
Hanna: [00:09:44] Well, that’s really great. How are we supposed to know what’s really, really good and really, really bad, Ed? Come on. [Laughter]
Ed: [00:09:50] [Laughter] Yeah. I mean I would again, you know, to go deeper, I would vet the sources in a way that, you know, you are looking at, for instance, I came across a book that looked a little bare in terms of the essentials. So, I flipped to the back to look at the index. Well, there’s no index. Now, for a non-fiction book, that seems a cardinal sin. So, that – that’s certainly one thing that, you know, can, you know, give you some insights.
You know, there are reviews at any number of sites online whether it’s a Goodreads or it’s a commercial bookseller of some sort. Again, take those with, you know, with your filter on so that, you know, you’re trying to figure out if somebody has an axe to grind on the one hand or they are the best friend of the author on the other.
So, look at the sources and use your own filter, your own best judgement to determine which ones make the most sense for you, and of course librarians are a great resource on things like this too. Use your local library.
HOW ZOOM HAS CHANGED THE INTERVIEW GAME
Hanna: [00:10:52] Absolutely. We see a lot more interview guests being brought into like on TV programs, interview programs via Zoom. And how do you think Zoom has changed the interview game?
Ed: [00:11:05] You know, it’s funny when people talk about Zoom and whether it’s a meeting or whether it’s a media interview, there’s this notion that a lot has changed. And yeah, I mean I think we’ve all changed our outlook in a lot of ways in the last 15 months or so. But I like to point out this, that there’s – when you’re talking about – whether you’re talking about a Zoom interview or a face-to-face interview or a telephone interview with a reporter, there’s one thing that’s changed, one thing: the technology, period, end of sentence.
So, you still need to have that message. You still need to deliver it with proper technique, and you still need to have that good attitude going into it. It’s – the question now becomes, what happens to all these Zoom interviews as we start to emerge somewhat from the pandemic? We’re not there yet and I don’t want to give that impression certainly because we’ve got a ways to go at this point as you and I are speaking today.
However, it’s my suspicion that these Zoom interviews are going to continue to be something the media leans upon because they’re cheap and news departments are for a variety of reasons looking to cut budgets and they have been for a decade or more. So I suspect now that the viewers are used to seeing these interviews that occasionally have a bad connection that might freeze or the voice fades in and out, viewers are used to that now so I think that is going to be something that’s going to stick with us.
Hanna: [00:12:37] So it’s here to stay, but I’m just wondering how it adds another layer, maybe even complication for somebody that’s not a seasoned pro at this like you are, to their technique or the attitude component of those three things you mentioned earlier.
MEDIA INTERVIEW TIPS FOR ZOOM
I mean, it’s one thing to say the words and to kind of get that nailed down, and when you get the question you don’t like, use some of the techniques that you just shared with us, but you got a visual here. You know, sometimes people who interview with reporters over the telephone, they don’t have that video component where they see you, they see your facial expressions, all those other ways that you communicate a message that’s non-verbal. So…
Ed: [00:13:24] You’re right about – yeah, you’re absolutely right that, you know, the video element is new for many folks who haven’t done a TV interview, news interview before, and one of the important things to bear in mind as you are doing an interview on Zoom or whatever video service it might be is: look dead-on at the camera. That’s your eye contact.
Don’t be looking down at notes, don’t be looking elsewhere on the screen, and I will say it drives me to total distraction when I’m in a meeting with somebody and they’re not looking at me and we’ve all seen it. They’ve got, you know, the downcast eyes to the left or right depending on what they’re looking at on their monitor. No, I mean, you are there to talk to the reporter, and more importantly in a video interview, to use the reporter to talk to your target audience beyond that, so keep that eye contact with the camera.
BACK STORY OF “REPORTERS DON’T HATE YOU”
Hanna: [00:14:20] Your latest book, Reporters Don’t Hate You, what a title. I mean, do you really feel that interview guests think that reporters hate them?
Ed: [00:14:31] Well, let me put it this way. I spent nine years on the National Press Club Board of Governors and I spent over 30 years in communications, and the answer in some cases is yes. Now, that’s not to say everybody has an adversarial attitude towards media interviews be they a reporter or a news source.
I will acknowledge that the title is provocative and intended to be as a book title should be. I would be curious to hear your listeners’ feedback on the title because the feedback I keep getting is, “Oh, the – much like yours. That’s kind of provocative. You know, why did you call it Reporters Don’t Hate You?” So, if your listeners have any feedback, I’ll sponge.
Hanna: [00:15:17] [Laughter] Marvelous, and of course if you do have feedback on that title, we’re going to have Ed’s contact information in the show notes that’s on the episode page over at businessconfidentialradio.com so you’ll be able to just tell him what you think, [Laughter] and don’t hold back. Looks like he really wants to hear it. So…
Ed: [00:15:36] Yeah, I do encourage that, Hanna. In a lot of my writings I will include at the end, I really enjoy hearing from readers so – and in this case listeners, so please, please, let’s start a dialogue, let’s have a conversation.
Hanna: [00:15:50] Perfect, perfect. Now your subtitle says that you have a 100+ media relations tips. How’d you come up with so many?
Ed: [00:15:59] Years and years of practice and, you know, everything from having success to beating my head against the wall. And they are broken out into a number of different categories.
For instance, there’s how to prepare to meet the media. There are techniques and there was something we discussed earlier about Q&A, questions and answers, and some of the techniques you can use there. It talks about tips for non-verbal communication.
And then importantly, it also talks about some advice for what to do after your interview. Just when you hang up that phone with a reporter or you walk out of their studio or they walk out of your office, it’s not over yet. What you’ve got to do is figure out, “Okay, what am I going to do now, number one, to make that story that comes out more attractive to my target audience? How can I get it to them?”
And number two, take it as a professional development experience so that you can – hopefully you’ve recorded the interview. Even if it’s just an audio recording, that’s fine. Listen to it once, listen to it twice, set it aside for a couple of weeks, listen to it again, and then try to improve over time.
You know, this is not something where if it’s an individual, an executive who has not worked with media before during an interview, you’re just not going to get it all at once. It’s a sustained professional development effort.
Hanna: [00:17:36] How do you recommend they get the feedback on that professional development?
Ed: [00:17:42] You know, first of all, I would encourage self-feedback and be as critical as you possibly can with yourself. Again, record the interview, take some notes during it if that’s appropriate. Obviously, if it’s a televised interview, you’re not going to be doing that, but decide in your own mind what – first of all, what worked for you? And that’s where I always tell clients to focus.
What was good and positive in your performance? And shine a big spotlight on that. That’s how adults and people in general learn is taking the positives and building upon those. And then in another category, There may be some things that you’d feel like you need to work on or that didn’t quite work as well as you thought they might.
So, those are longer-term professional development strategies. So, think about how you can turn those strategies, either minimize them and minimize how you use them or turn them into strengths over time. Oh, oh, let if I could add one more…
Hanna: [00:18:48] Go ahead.
Ed: [00:18:29] …thing too. That’s for the self-critique. Now, with looking at others as well, again, I’ll suggest turning to those who have conducted media interviews before that’ve dealt with reporters for a while, and then, you know, talk to – I’m not particularly a fan of focus groups but look at your own informal focus group.
Talk to perhaps some customers. You know, what did you think of that article in the paper the other day or how did that interview come across on TV? So, look at, you know, some whose smarts and whose instincts you trust and get their feedback as well.
THE MOST IMPORTANT MEDIA INTERVIEW TIP
Hanna: [00:19:31] All great tips. Thank you, Ed. Of all of the information that’s in your book and the 100+ media relations tips, do you have a favorite one?
Ed: [00:19:42] Well, that’s kind of like asking, “Gee, who’s your favorite child?”
Hanna: [00:19:45] Of course.
Ed: [00:19:45] [Laughter]
Hanna: [00:19:47] [Laughter]
Ed: [00:19:48] You know, I will say this in terms of summarizing what the book is all about. It is dealing with the press is a high-wire act in some cases. Skilled spokespeople realize that they hold their company’s future in their hands. While it takes a lifetime to prepare to meet the media, think about this, it only takes one bad interview to undo all that hard work. So that’s when that professional development over time, that sustained effort comes in.
Hanna: [00:20:20] Well, now you’re scaring me, Ed.
Ed: [00:20:22] [Laughter]
Hanna: [00:20:22] You know, it makes it sound like all the sharks are in the water, don’t put your toe in because they’re going to bite it off. I mean, is it really that bad?
Ed: [00:20:33] Well, you – any news source should have a good sense of whether a reporter is out to be negative or whether they’re just seeking information. And remember, as a news source, you have the ability to say no. If the interview does not seem to make sense, maybe they – The publication does not fit your target audience, you know, maybe the reporter you feel has an axe to grind, that you’ve experienced that in the past with them, you have the ability to say, “No, thank you but this is not something we’re going to participate in.”
It can be adversarial at times and that’s part of the game, if you want to call it that. However, I would also keep in mind that, and again, anecdotally, I would say that 90+ percent of interviews are not confrontational. They are not out to get you. And frankly, if they are out to get you, your radar ought to be able to detect that.
Hanna: [00:21:33] It also seems that if they’re out to get you, you’d probably be clued-in way before that that you’re a target of some kind, and as you said, most of the time, they’re trying to do a job to get information to fill column inches or to fill airtime and you’re trying to get your message out, so find the common ground and things will work out.
Ed, thanks so much for giving us a really candid look behind the scenes into the world of public relations and giving us some valuable media interview tips and a taste of the book.
If you’re listening and you’d like to contact Ed, learn more about his strategies or his book, Reporters Don’t Hate You, [Music] you can find that information in the show notes for this episode at businessconfidentialradio.com, and if you know someone who could benefit from Ed’s advice, please tell them about today’s episode, share the link to the show, leave a positive review on your podcast app or lovethepodcast.com/BusinessConfidential so others can learn more about this episode too.
You’ve been listening to Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner.
Have a great day and an even better tomorrow.
Guest: Ed Barks
Ed Barks is a Washington, D.C., communications strategy and training consultant and author. His corporate and association clients hire him to help them strengthen the messages and the communications skills their executives need on a daily basis. He shows them how to gain an enhanced reputation, greater confidence, a brighter career path, and realization of long-term business and public policy goals.
Ed has guided the learning of more than 5500 business leaders, association executives, government officials, thought influencers, and communications staffers, and is the author of three books:
- Reporters Don’t Hate You: 100+ Amazing Media Relations Strategies
- A+ Strategies for C-Suite Communications: Turning Today’s Leaders into Tomorrow’s Influencers
- The Truth About Public Speaking: The Three Keys to Great Presentations
He recently completed a nine-year tenure on the National Press Club’s Board of Governors, and formerly served on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Management Consultants National Capital Region. He is also a faculty member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management.
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