Business leaders: The message is your business

Reporter interviewing businessman seen on video camera display at office

By David Eisenstadt

Interviews with print, online, radio and TV reporters and podcasters, too, can be an uncomfortable experience for business leaders – they interrupt hectic schedules and can result in coverage of events you may prefer were left in the background.

But as a business leader, you owe it to your shareholders, staff and customers to enhance your organization’s marketplace visibility.

You need to remember that you are merely the subject of the interview. If you know what you are doing, you needn’t become a news media hit-and-run victim.

So here are some tips to consider which will help you survive those tough interviews, whether live at a news conference, on the street in a scrum or by phone:

Prepare for all interviews
Don’t assume your closeness to the situation means you’ve got all the answers. For example, it could matter very little to you to know how long your organization has been in its present location – but it will seem obvious to a reader, listener or viewer that you should know.

Vocalize your responses in advance
Knowing a subject thoroughly and crafting a written response in the clearest, simplest terms are helpful. But you won’t really know how clearly you can explain something vocally until you do just that. Start with a sympathetic listener on your home turf.

Supply background material beforehand
It helps an interviewer to have explanatory information on details he or she may not have known enough about to ask. Your function should be to comment on issues and situations, not to conduct a seminar on what those issues are for the interviewer.

Maintain some control from the beginning
In a face-to-face interview, begin if there’s time by asking the interviewer about his or her background. It will make the following conversation sound less like the interrogation of a hostile witness. You can’t do this effectively in a phone interview.

Own the subject matter
If the interviewer is a novice, it helps to reinforce your credentials as the expert in this matter. Don’t treat the novice reporter with disdain, because it will come back to haunt you. If the interviewer is highly knowledgeable, you’ve been forewarned.

Don’t be misled by the apparent simplicity of questions
If you are worth being interviewed, there is news value in quoting you directly.

Don’t answer hypothetical questions
You might turn them around by explaining what your organization’s policy has been in the past, but there’s nothing to be gained by locking yourself into a position based on a hypothetical situation.

Don’t presume to redirect the story line
You may well prefer news coverage of something unrelated to what the editor or reporter wants to write or broadcast about. The interviewer may listen politely, but if what you say is considered a non-story, you’ve wasted time – yours and the interviewers.

Never buffalo a reporter, even a novice
You’ll only get away with it if the interview itself lasts. Eventually, your comments will cross the desk of a much more worldly editor or producer, who will recognize bafflegab for what it is. Story killed.

A final thought: If you expect to be the subject of media attention on a regular basis, consider media training. Its personal development at its best, and if you learn how to deal with journalists, you’ll be able to deal with anyone.

David Eisenstadt (Fellow PRSA, Fellow CPRS) is Founding Partner of tcgpr – The Communications Group Inc., a Toronto-based public relations consulting firm serving corporate clients across Canada.