Interviews with print or broadcast media are usually excellent opportunities to increase your business’ name recognition and appreciation in the community. Despite the recent popularity of combative and sensational journalism, it’s important to realize that all legitimate journalists are trained professionals. They’re not for you or against you – but they are after a story, and will keep after you until they get one.
Interviewing 101: The Basics
- Get ready in advance. When a reporter calls to ask you for an interview, ask what it’s about. (But don’t be surprised if other topics pop up during the actual interview!) If the reporter is vague, be warned: the story might be negative. Prepare accordingly – try to anticipate “trouble spots.”
- Keep it short. Before the interview, prepare a few soundbites – short memorable sentences of 10 seconds or less. If you ramble on, you’ll sound unfocused, distracted, and what’s worse, you’ll force the reporter to re-edit your words to fit them into the story. And don’t feel compelled to fill up silences in the conversation. If you’ve answered a question fully, stop and wait for another.
- Use bridges. Be sure to answer any question asked as best you can. But if you feel the question is off the mark, or doesn’t ask for the information you’d really like to give, then use your answer to “bridge” to other points you want to make.
- Ask your own questions. Before the reporter wraps up the interview, get his or her name and phone number. Ask for his or her best guess of when the story will appear.
- Never assume anything is “off the record.” From the moment you start speaking with a reporter to the moment he or she leaves or hangs up, you are being interviewed. Never mind about cameras or tape recorders that have been turned off – the reporter is still listening. Never offer to make any comments “off the record.” If you don’t want to see something in the news, don’t say it.
- Choose a good site. If you are being interviewed on TV, it’s especially important to choose a good background for your interview. Flowers give the story visual appeal and you’ll have examples of what you’re discussing right at hand. If you’re being interviewed in response to a crisis, however, you may find it useful not to use a floral background – doing so would reinforce the negative image caused by the crisis.
- Stay available. Take advantage of whatever media opportunities arise. If you establish yourself as an articulate and available source, reporters will call you in good times as well as bad.
Fortunately, hostile interviews don’t happen quite as often as tabloid journalism would have you believe. Still, it’s smart business to do your homework and make the most of an unpleasant situation.
- Never say “no comment.” Your lawyers may say otherwise, but “no comment” is never a good answer. In many situations, “no comment” roughly equals, “I’m guilty.” If you don’t know the answer, simply say that: “I don’t have all the facts right now, but as soon as I do, I [or someone you designate] will call.”
- Ask for the negatives. If you sense a reporter’s calling you about a negative story and you don’t know what it is, go ahead and ask: “What’s the story? What are the potential negatives?” Even if they don’t tell you the full extent of what they know, you’ll be better prepared.
- Look the part. How you present yourself says as much about you as what you’re saying. Look the interviewer right in the eye when you answer. (For TV, don’t look at the camera.) Don’t fiddle with your hands, lean back in your chair, or if standing, draw back from the camera. Be assertive but pleasant.
- Be a team player. If a story has singled out one segment of the floral industry for criticism, don’t join in. The industry appears stronger and more credible when all its members present a united front.
- Don’t repeat buzz words. Unprepared people easily fall into one of the oldest interview traps: repeating the question, which the reporter will sometimes phrase for maximum effect. For example, if the reporter says, “Why do florists gouge people with high holiday prices,” don’t begin your answer, “We don’t gouge…” The negative word, gouge, has now been said twice, and that’s the word that will stick in the audience’s mind. Instead of saying, “We don’t gouge people,” decide what’s at the root of the question and then address that. “Many things factor into the cost of providing beautiful flowers year-round…”
Making Your Own Story
- Position yourself as an “expert” with local members of the media. Most reporters are not specialists in any particular area, and they appreciate the knowledge of outsiders.
- One caution: don’t overstep your bounds. Don’t offer opinions or advice you know nothing about or skew information in such a way that it seems like little more than an advertisement for your business.
- Reporters like doing “unique” stories, so if you think you have an interesting angle, bring it to their attention. When pitching “unique” stories to different news outlets, don’t offer the same story to several stations. They won’t appreciate being “scooped” by a competitor – especially if they think it’s an exclusive.