Skip to main content

DO THE INTERVIEW: You really don’t want to mess it up here

Do interviews with journalists

The last step in the process of getting free media coverage is performing an interview. Journalists want to talk to the people involved in a story so as to be able to ask questions directly, as part of their due diligence process. Besides this, in audiovisual media, they usually have to take their own pictures or record video footage to air the story. Naturally, in most cases performing an interview is unavoidable.

Performing interviews is a critical task. There are many factors to consider and even a tiny mistake can have a unwanted negative impact on the coverage of your story. This is why we thought it necessary to dedicate a chapter explaining everything you need to bear in mind about performing successful interviews and avoid avoidable mistakes.

Interviews should be fun

Some authors portray the idea that the exchange between the interviewer and the interviewed can easily turn into a confrontation. You will find references to “hostile” or “tough” questions in many PR manuals. We believe this idea to be wrong and a misconception with harmful consequences.

On the contrary, we have seen that most interviews are very friendly encounters. It makes sense because the relationship between the journalist and the entrepreneur is bound to be mutually beneficial. We all share the same goal: to produce the most entertaining and engaging content possible. The confrontation can only happen when the entrepreneur has a goal that is opposed to producing entertaining content — and they should avoid doing so, for their own sake.

Let’s see an example. Imagine that a journalist asks you this question: —Don’t people hate your product?. An inexperienced spokesperson might see this as an attack. But it’s really not. It is simply a very entertaining question that the audience will enjoy. So when coming up with an answer, you should ask yourself: what would be a very entertaining answer? And you reply with that. For instance, you can address the haters in a way that actually benefits you. Or you can drop any of your sound bites.

Dealing with reporters’ questions is not a fight; it’s more like a dance. You are performing together, not against each other. Any questions that might sound hostile in a normal conversation are simply entertaining material. And if you treat them as such, the outcome will benefit both you and the journalist because the content will be more shared, remembered and liked.

Answer with sound bites

Being an effective spokesperson means knowing the story you want to tell by heart and telling it in an entertaining way. It is really that simple. So the best way of conducting yourself during an interview is repeating pre-defined sound bites that capture the newsworthiness of your story in an entertaining way.

Lady Gaga’s 100 people in a room is a very good example.

All media outlets are on the look-out for that one snappy quote or compelling sound bite that will stick in the minds of their viewers, listeners or readers. A great quote or sound bite on top of an already newsworthy story can see it move close to the front of the newspaper.

That is why during the interview you must strive to revisit your key messages often. This is easier than it looks because many questions will fall into similar topics or themes, so you can organize them under issue buckets, and then, no matter what challenging question is posed, you can transition to your sound bite. In ‘PR-lingo’ this is called staying on message. You should make it your priority to stay on message if your interview starts going places you weren’t expecting it to go.

To help you stay on the message, we advise you to develop at least three key messages to weave into each interview. Each of your soundbites should have two or three sentences in length or 15 to 30 seconds when spoken, and should directly address the newsworthy elements of your story. We encourage you to build your soundbites as if they were headings for press releases, using the News Builder and the News-Worth Canvas.

<h3 id="your-dirty-little-secret">Your dirty little secret</h3><p>Staying on message is especially helpful if you have a dirty little secret. There is always at least one question that you don’t want to answer on camera. But you don’t want to end up lying either because that can easily backfire. Likewise, there is surely something that you really want to say — either because it is essential to the story or because it sounds super cool. And you don’t want to end up not saying it just because it didn’t come up. So you trade places. You reply to the unpleasant question with the cool answer, even if it’s not directly related.</p><p>Let’s have an example: imagine you are manufacturing your products offshore, and that’s not something you are proud of. As we explained, you don’t want to lie on camera. That is a bad idea. But if you actually say that you manufacture offshore, there will always be a video of you saying that. So what should you do? Imagine that you got asked about that on live TV – how would you answer?</p><p>You simply give them an answer to a better question. You drop one of your soundbites. For instance:</p><blockquote><p>**Question**: Where do you manufacture the products?</p></blockquote><blockquote><p>**Answer**: We use a technology that has been developed and patented at our university.</p></blockquote><p>Or:</p><blockquote><p>**Question**: Where do you manufacture the products?</p></blockquote><blockquote><p>**Answer**: The design has received an international award for its innovation.</p></blockquote><p>The trick is thinking not about what the journalist asks, but about what they really want to know. They do not care about the location of your factory. They are just looking for elements of news-worth: something that makes it _Close to home_ or somehow _Impact a broad audience_ .</p><h3 id="give-them-a-dinosaur-or-they-will-dig-it-themselves">Give them a dinosaur, or they will dig it themselves</h3><p>Journalists need a heading that will catch people’s attention. They are paid to do that. If you don’t give them a good story, they will find it elsewhere. That is their job. Reporters will interpret the facts in a way that is interesting for the audience. They are not paid to do your advertising — they are paid to find a newsworthy story. And the more drama, conflict, and weirdness involved, the better the story will be because it will hit more traits of news-worth.</p><p>If you don’t give them soundbites that are compelling in some way, they will have to come up with their own — and you might not like what they have to say. So the best way of avoiding a bad surprise is providing quotes that a reporter in any medium will be tempted to use directly.</p><p>The same goes for images and video footage. If you do not provide something compelling enough, they will come up with it themselves, and it will steal the spotlight from the story you want to tell.</p><p>So you give them a dinosaur. It can be a Trumpsaurus, a Blazeraptor, an Elonsaurus or any other dinosaur you can come up with. It does not matter as long as it is a damn dinosaur, because it is socially relevant, it has a broad impact, it’s interesting and it is exactly what you need.</p><h2 id="excusatio-non-petita">Excusatio non petita</h2><p>There is a sentence in Latin that says: _Excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta_ . The literal translation is ‘non-requested excuse, manifest accusation’. More loosely: he who excuses himself, accuses himself.</p><p> _Excusatio non petita_ is something that people do when they are hiding something. If the reporter asks you about some random thing, you might end up weirdly addressing the skeleton in your closet. This is what _excusatio non petita_ sounds like:</p><blockquote><p>**Question**: Where do you produce the products?</p></blockquote><blockquote><p>**Answer**: Not in China!</p></blockquote><p>This kind of over-explaining is the most common mistake people commit during media interviews. It’s a mistake that people are usually not aware of making and that is completely avoidable, so we have deemed it necessary to address it.</p><p> _Excusatio non petita_ is the opposite of staying on message. The key to avoiding this mistake is to stay on message. Remember that you have sound bites ready to deliver at any time, so there is no reason to panic. The key here is bearing in mind that, usually, no one will ask you about your dirty little secret. So whenever you think that a question is referring to the skeleton in your closet, think again; it’s most likely a misunderstanding or a coincidence.</p><h2 id="put-on-a-show">Put on a show</h2><p>In visual media such as TV or newspapers, journalists usually have to take their own pictures or record video footage to air the story. When journalists record footage, they are _literally_ gathering footage for a show — not so different from a movie. So it’s only natural to think of yourself as an actor, and the space as the movie set.</p><p>When you write a press release, you are writing not about the product; but rather about the newsworthy elements of the story. The same applies to the interviews: you need to create scenarios and project images that help people understand the newsworthiness of the story.</p><p>Therefore, you must plan in advance how to put on a show. What can you display to entertain the audience? How can you quickly make the audience see what is important? For instance: when we were making blue wine, we took journalists to the laboratories in which we had developed the formulae. And once we were there, we dressed up in white scientist coats and we displayed test tubes with blue liquids. We didn’t really use that equipment in the development process, but it allows people to quickly understand that there is science involved.</p><player url=""><p>No matter how boring and mundane your company is, there has to be something visually compelling. And you must stage an environment that makes sense to the audience, regardless of its accuracy. That is what putting on a show is all about. You need to supply visual elements to help the journalist create an entertaining piece of informative content.</p><h2 id="tips">TIPS</h2><h2 id="control-the-logistics">Control the logistics</h2><p>As<a href="">Nan Tolbert</a>puts it: “A media interview is a 50/50 situation, and you’ve got 100% control of your 50% of the interview”.</p><p>Control the logistics of the interview and feel free to set a time limit with the reporter. By holding an interview of 30 minutes, you are more likely to stay focused on key messages and not become distracted during a drawn-out exchange.</p><p>Select a venue which affords you the most control and, if needed, privacy. If the interview is scheduled in your office, hold all but emergency calls, clear the work area of proprietary materials and alert your colleagues that you’ll be involved in a media interview that will take priority over potential interruptions.</p><h2 id="clothing">Clothing</h2><ul><li>Do not wear sunglasses.</li><li>Do not wear white — it glows on TV.</li><li>Do not wear black — it’s too harsh and sucks up all the light.</li><li>Wear grays, blues, and browns.</li><li>Wear pastel shades for shirts/blouses.</li><li>Do not wear patterns, plaids, florals, checks, stripes or dots.</li><li>Avoid big jewellery, especially dangly earrings.</li><li>Do not wear buttons or slogans – no one will be able to read the slogan, and it will just come across as tacky.</li><li>If you wear glasses , then wear your glasses. However, you may want to get glare-proof glasses.</li></ul><h3 id="take-a-few-seconds-to-gather-your-thoughts-when-necessary">Take a few seconds to gather your thoughts when necessary.</h3><p>If you’re hit with a question that you totally did not anticipate, it’s ok to be briefly silent whilst you collect your thoughts and consider your response. This is preferable to babbling out an answer for the sake of filling the silence.</p><p>If you choose to pause long enough to collect your thoughts, that silence may be respected — and it will come off as you having been deeply considering the question — or someone else (usually the interviewer) will attempt to fill it, probably with an attempt to “clarify” the question.</p><p>Either way, taking a few seconds to collect your thoughts is a very good idea and you should feel free to do so.</p><h3 id="be-super-nice">Be super nice</h3><p>Being nice to journalists, photographers and anyone involved in the interviewing process is extremely important.</p><p>Right after interviewing you, journalists are going back to their office and they will edit the footage or write a story about you. They will make creative decisions that will have an impact on how the audience receives your message, and they are more likely to choose favorable scenes if they actually like you. Therefore,**being nice when the camera is off is just as important as saying the right things when the camera is on**.</p><p>Besides, remember that journalists cover some of the most terrible things that happen in the world. For that reason, visiting your startup might actually be a break for them. So try to make it enjoyable.</p><p>This might be pretty obvious for you, but for those out there who haven’t figured it out yet: being nice to people is the best and simplest strategy to build relationships. Smile! It will help you to relax; it will project confidence and will help to win over your audience. Remember, It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.</p><h3 id="if-you-dont-want-it-published-dont-say-it">If you don’t want it published, don’t say it</h3><p>When you agree to be interviewed, don’t assume you can tell someone that part of what you say is “off the record”. Anything you say will have an impact over the interview, either directly or indirectly.</p><p>If you don’t know an answer, say so. Don’t speculate. Refer the reporter to someone who can answer the question or say: _—I don’t know the answer; I’ll have to look into that for you—_ .</p><p>But most importantly: never expect a journalist to lie for you. That is a big deal. If you decide to lie to a reporter that’s up to you — we certainly don’t recommend it. But please don’t try to make the reporter an accessory to your lie because it will get you nowhere.</p><p>Media outlets are, and they have always have been, a tool for those in power to control the masses. Kings controlled the first printed newspapers and so did political parties. Now, Fortune 50 companies are buying the outlets — just like Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million in 2003, or Salesforce CEO acquired Time Magazine for $190 million. Information is power.</p><p><a href="">**Salesforce CEO buys Time Magazine for £144m.**17 September of 2018. THE INDEPENDENT (UK)</a></p><p><a href="">**Amazon’s Jeff Bezos buys The Washington Post for $250 million**. Aug 5, 2013. THE VERGE (US).</a></p><p>Journalists are caught in the middle of it and they hate it. They have nothing to gain by spreading propaganda for their owners. But sometimes they are forced to do so. So if they dislike being manipulated by the person who pays their salaries, imagine how they feel when someone like you tries to manipulate them. Good luck with that.</p><p><img src="" alt="MEASURE: Tools and framework to understand what is happening"></p><h1 id="measure-tools-and-framework-to-understand-what-is-happening">MEASURE: Tools and framework to understand what is happening</h1><h2 id="kpi">KPI</h2><h3 id="traffic">Traffic</h3><h4 id="online-website-traffic">Online (website traffic)</h4><h4 id="offline-location-traffic">Offline (location traffic)</h4><h3 id="sales">Sales</h3><h3 id="ecommerce-conversions">Ecommerce conversions</h3><h3 id="referrals">Referrals</h3><p>Link to your website.</p><h2 id="discussion">Discussion</h2><h3 id="loving-the-haters">Loving the haters</h3><h3 id="social-media-reactions">Social media reactions</h3><h3 id="comments-and-shares">Comments and shares</h3><h2 id="growth-strategy-calendar">Growth Strategy Calendar</h2><h2 id="ave">AVE</h2><p>How companies measure the value of appearing in a news outlet as a story: Ad Value Equiv. (AVE)</p><table><thead><tr><th>News Site</th><th>City</th><th>State</th><th>Unique Visitors/Mo.</th><th>Ad Value Equiv. (AVE)</th></tr></thead><tbody><tr><td>San Diego Union Tribune</td><td>San Diego</td><td>CA</td><td>911,815</td><td>$10,941.78</td></tr><tr><td>KFMB Channel 8 (CBS)</td><td>San Diego</td><td>CA</td><td>483,600</td><td>$5,803.20</td></tr><tr><td>Los Angeles Downtown News</td><td>Los Angeles</td><td>CA</td><td>86,100</td><td>$1,033.20</td></tr><tr><td>Sarasota Herald-Tribune</td><td>Sarasota</td><td>FL</td><td>940,000</td><td>$11,280.00</td></tr><tr><td>Daytona Beach News-Journal</td><td>Daytona Beach</td><td>FL</td><td>790,000</td><td>$9,480.00</td></tr><tr><td>WickedLocal</td><td>Marlborough</td><td>MA</td><td>1,000,000</td><td>$12,000.00</td></tr><tr><td>Worcester Telegram & Gazette</td><td>Worcester</td><td>MA</td><td>600,500</td><td>$7,206.00</td></tr></tbody></table><p>Data provided by Beth Connellan from NewsUSA, an online news content and media placement service in Virginia.</p><h1 id="finally-some-tips">Finally: some tips</h1><h2 id="1-dont-be-stupid">1. Don't be stupid</h2><p>Entrepreneurs can be their worst enemy</p><p>I have collected a list of tips that I have painfully developed over the years by making mistakes and by seeing other entrepreneur making the mistakes. Try to avoid these mistakes if you want to live a prosperous life.</p><h2 id="2-its-not-about-you">2. It’s not about you</h2><p>When the camera is on, you are an actor or an actress performing a role.</p><p>Forget your preferences. Forget your identity. Forget your values. Whenever you are in front of a camera, you are no longer a person: you are the embodiment of your project.</p><p>If the reporter asks you what type of music do you like, you think about what kind of music represents your company better and you say that. If they ask you what if your position in the company, you come up with whatever helps the story make sense, regardless of your importance in the creation of the product.</p><p>You must choose your clothes, your language and your pose in the same way you would choose your pricing strategy: in terms of what makes more sense for the business.</p><h2 id="3-media-coverage-is-the-means-not-the-end">3. Media coverage is the means, not the end</h2><p>I’ve seen this happen many times: entrepreneurs tend to view media coverage as a reward. Like if appearing on a newspaper was some kind of honor or a prize they receive from the Universe.</p><p>If you ever feel this way, you must quickly acknowledge that you ego is developing a cancer that must be removed.</p><p>If you enjoy too much seeing you face in the news, it will create tension between the founders and you will lose focus on what is really important: getting the story out there, connecting with people and making money. Keep in mind that media coverage is simply a tool and whoever speaks on camera it just a performer.</p><p>Only idiots measure personal success in media appearances.</p><h2 id="4-what-is-the-worst-thing-that-could-happen">4. What is the worst thing that could happen?</h2><p>Entrepreneurs are frequently afraid of losing credibility and they use this fear as an excuse for not doing what needs to be done.</p><p>Whenever I find myself in this predicament, I ask myself: what is the worst thing that could happen?</p><p>When you think about it, launching too soon is not the worst thing that could happen – Elon Musk does it all the time and he’s perfectly fine. People hating you is not the worst thing that could happen — it worked like a charm for Red Bull and it secured the Oval Office for Trump. So what is the worst thing that could happen?</p><p>The worst thing that could happen is not driving sales. Never launching your product. No one caring enough to even hate you. The worst thing that could happen is nothing. Be afraid of that.</p><p>We must remember that no one gives a shit about us and that is actually a good thing. No one cares, therefore we are free. You can try stuff. You can fail. You can do something radical. The only thing you should be worried about is sales. But if you are selling nothing, you have literally nothing to lose.</p><p>Please don’t use credibility as an excuse for not conjuring a dinosaur. You have no credibility to lose unless you are a publicly traded company. But even then: your main fear should be not selling enough.</p>

Get the full book

News-Worth Creation

Access premium content

  • Full version of the content
  • Bonus resources: templates, tips...