Interviewing with a journalist can be one of the most exciting — and let's admit it, nerve-wracking — moments for any executive. It's an opportunity to share valuable expertise, earn credibility, and advance your brand's thought leadership, but some executives may be anxious about saying the wrong thing or opening themselves up to criticism.
Whether conducted by a freelancer, journalist, or podcast host, these interviews contribute to an essential part of your content strategy: the earned media component. Once you have a foundation of content on your website, on social media, and in newsletters (your owned media), you'll want to amplify your expertise and brand messaging. Earned media in the form of off-site guest-contributed articles and press mentions will work to bring a larger audience back to your site.
While you and your public relations team pitch editors regularly to secure these interviews, your C-suite subject matter experts (SMEs) might not always have your content strategy top of mind when they're asked to do a media interview. First, remind your SME that these interviews can result in press mentions on websites or podcasts, which are perfect avenues for bringing new leads into your funnel.
Still fixated on the risk of bad press? If your SME worries about being asked difficult questions, share these tips to prepare your interviewee and enable his or her thought leadership to shine.
When you get a request for an interview with a journalist or a podcast host, keep in mind the context that led to the interview offer. If you're being interviewed to share your story or comment on a particular topic, stay true to that discussion and prepare two to three key points that you want to cover within that area. If you don't know what the angle is, ask whether the interviewer can share more about the story he or she is exploring.
It doesn't hurt to have notes with you, either, especially if you have any statistics or sources that you want to cite during the discussion to back up your own insights and add credibility, similar to how you would strengthen your thoughts in a guest-contributed article. While memorization isn't mandatory, you don't want to read these notes mechanically, so practice covering your points in concise, memorable sentences that aren't stuffed with jargon.
At Influence & Co., we provide our clients with briefing materials and encourage them to practice their introduction (including name, title, and a brief description of their company) to ensure they sound confident right off the bat. Like a virtual handshake, a solid intro is a great way to start strong and establish momentum to last throughout the interview.
Given Edelman's 2019 Trust Barometer reading that only 47% of people trust the media, one-on-one interactions with reporters can stir up anxieties. This seems like a no-brainer, but strive to keep your interactions positive by respecting the reporter's time and agenda. After all, the writer's work isn't done; after the interview, a high-quality story must be written up and approved by a publication editor.
Part of respecting an interviewer's time is identifying when you're providing off-the-record information before you share it. Prior to the interview, make note of any information that shouldn't be shared on the record. Prepare responses that will address an anticipated tricky question, bridge to your on-the-record answer, and communicate your strategic message on the subject.
If you need to retroactively invoke an off-the-record agreement, understand that your interviewer is not obligated to follow through. Ask nicely whether something you said can be taken off the record, and let the interviewer know you'd be willing to share further information when you have the green light. You don't want to make demands or turn the conversation sour. Instead, finish the conversation, and then notify your internal marketing communications team in case they need to get ahead of a story that wasn't supposed to break.
Unless the interviewer reached out to you to solicit your sales pitch, don't fall into the trap of derailing the interview by using it to promote your services. Tell stories about your company that tie it back to the discussion topic. If you're being asked about culture or leadership, share examples of your employees' experiences and feedback.
Often, these interviews are happening so you can add to the conversation, whether you're discussing an industry trend or a recent news story. Here you need to focus on how your expertise sheds new light. You want to advance the conversation rather than rehashing what's already been said.
Put your content strategy to work in the interview by referencing your past articles, blog posts, or whitepapers that cover your thoughts on the current conversation, and then give the interviewer some new or exclusive information that you haven't published yet.
As the interview comes to a close, check your notes to ensure you've covered all your points, and offer your final thoughts or a summary of the conversation and your intended contribution. This is especially valuable for a podcast or recorded interview because it ties your message back to the reporter's angle and gives listeners a conclusion that they would expect from the finished piece.
Thank the interviewer for talking with you, and ask about timeline for the story. Reporters may share details regarding their deadline and editor review process or even give you an expected publishing date — but you shouldn't expect this. Let them know how to contact you or your team for follow-up questions; keep in mind, however, that providing your personal email or phone number may open up an avenue for them to contact you in the future about any news related to your company, including crises. You can always offer the contact information for your public relations team instead of your own.
Once the interview is live, share it out and utilize it in your content strategy. Your public relations team can use your quotes from the interview to pitch editors and journalists, and your content marketing team might be able to pull article topic ideas from your insights as well. Don't forget to link back to the interview to encourage clicks — it benefits both you and the interviewer!
Finally, keep in mind that the interviewer isn't out to get you. Journalists interview sources to learn more about subjects on their beat, and what better way is there to prove your expertise? The exposure you gain is worth fighting through any interview jitters.
This blog post was developed and co-written by Meagan Nolte, Maddie Hirsch, Kayla FitzGerald, Craig Jaworski, Rachel Price, and Karen Pasley.
I'm a PR and media relations strategist at Influence & Co. I love cold brew coffee, dogs, breakfast foods, watching crime dramas, puns, and checking off tasks on my to-do list. Sometimes life is a PR pitch, but I love having the opportunity to tell our clients' stories to the media each day.