The Academy Award winning documentary, The Fog of War features a series of fascinating interviews with Robert Strange McNamara, the Secretary of Defense credited with escalating the Vietnam war under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
When director, Errol Morris asked McNamara about his Vietnam press strategy, he responded with a note of triumph. “I only answered the questions I wanted the reporters to ask.”
In a recent interview, a popular legal commentator and recovering PR hound recounted the time she shuffled her client schedule, negotiated an afternoon of LA traffic, sat through an hour of hair and makeup for a few minutes of network airtime. The subject? Tiger Woods and his Olympian feats of infidelity. During the interview, the realization hit her. She’d forfeited a half-day of her life to contribute to a negative conversation, a story that served only the ad industry.
For corporate spokespeople, authors and experts, when dealing with the press it’s important to know what questions you want to be asked. While it’s nice to be nice and help a reporter out, if the interview doesn’t serve your objective, your primary audience, or the community at large, it’s a net drain instead of a gain.
That said, nothing can fast track your message and establish social proof like positive press exposure. When leveraged correctly, relevant media coverage can rocket your overall marketing communications strategy.
Here are some suggestions for guiding media interviews to serve your audience, the reporter and you!
Five Tips to Make the Press Work for You
1. Answer the questions you want to be asked.
What if a reporter asks you a question and you’re unsure of the answer or your gut tells you not to go there? Instead of saying, “I don’t know,” or “I’d rather not answer that,” tell the interviewer what you do know. “What I can tell you is this….” Instead of being evasive, keep your focus on empowering the audience with useful information. In a print interview, if you’re unsure of an answer you can offer to follow up with the reporter after you verify the facts.
2. Don’t swear with the business press
This sounds obvious. Not so. During a book launch, I heard a business author use the word “crap” a dozen times in a half-hour. I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how he felt about his book. The same goes for product launches. Use words that create positive imagery instead of words that make your PR person cringe.
3. Don’t answer questions with, “You’ll have to read my book to find out.”
That’s another cringe-worthy response. Most reporters (read: people) understand the law of reciprocity and they will want to help you sell your book. For those that don’t, let it go.
Robert Cialdini on the Law of Reciprocity
4. Don’t bad mouth competing products.
Instead of winning you points, you’ll come off as petty. This is less of an issue in the book world where other writers are your best customers. In the product world, focus on your company’s stronghold differentiators in industry terms rather than singling out the weaknesses of any one competitor. Be factual.
5. Know your ultimate objectives
Enter the interview with a clear objective or call to action in mind without being obvious. Guide the audience to your web site without alienating the reporter by providing a newsworthy incentive – like a special report or a survey. Keep it in the spirit of real news and service and everyone wins.