The Media Interview: Four Essential Steps for Success.

Author: Cormac Smith
Date: January 22, 2021

When your organisation needs to get a message out fast, it’s hard to beat a media interview. With the right outlet and the right timing, few other methods can reach and engage so many people so quickly.

There’s just one catch: media interviews have the potential to backfire. Horribly. Spectacularly. Memorably.

Take, for example, this ghastly encounter between Green Party leader Natalie Bennett with interviewer Nick Ferrari. We defy anyone to get through the whole clip without curling their toes and feeling - no matter what your political persuasion - at least some degree of empathy.

No wonder many organisations approach media interviews with a real sense of trepidation, wondering if they are about to nuke their own reputation.

However, the good news – there are some tried and tested steps that we can take you through that will maximise your chances of getting your organisation’s message across and reduce the odds of ending up in internet ‘fail’ compilations. In true marketing tradition, let’s call it ‘four steps for media interview success.’

1. Be clear about objectives and key messages

It’s hard to have a successful interview if you don’t know why you’re doing it or what you want to say. That may sound painfully obvious, but it’s surprising how often this vital consideration gets lost in the flurry of preparation.

A media interview may have any number of purposes. Are you promoting a new product? Building brand awareness? Managing some negative news? Stepping back to consider what you’re hoping to achieve should inform the rest of your planning.

Next, clarify your key messages. A consistent set of messages helps everyone: your organisation, your spokesperson, the interviewer and the audience. Bear in mind that, unless the interview is very short, it’s likely that your spokesperson will return to your main themes several times. Therefore, avoid audience-alienating repetition by considering different ways to package the message.

2. Research the media outlet and interviewer

The real car-crash media interviews often result from a lack of familiarity with either the media outlet and/or the interviewer. Natalie Bennett, for example, seemed wholly unprepared for Nick Ferrari’s relentless pursuit of costs. Yet this line of questioning was completely predictable from Ferrari’s previous interviews.

As an organisation, researching the media outlet and interviewer is never time wasted. Before the interview, find out everything you can about

  • Its length and format
  • The focus of the questions
  • The type of audience
  • The interviewer’s background, interests, style and attitudes

If possible, find previous interviews by that outlet or interviewer. Watch out, in particular, for any biases or preconceptions that your spokesperson is likely to encounter. Even challenging interviews can be very successful if the spokesperson knows what to expect.

3. Choose the appropriate spokesperson

The most appropriate spokesperson is often dictated by the situation. In a full-blown crisis, a member of senior management usually faces the interviewers - because anyone else could be seen as trivialising the problem. Conversely, senior figures often aren’t appropriate for discussing smaller issues. If the CEO shows up to discuss a minor complaint, the audience may well conclude that its more serious than they’re making out.

When an organisation’s choice isn’t constrained by circumstance, it needs to coolly and carefully appraise the best spokesperson for that particular interview.

At a minimum, your spokesperson should have

  • Sufficient expertise in the areas likely to be covered.
  • Strong communication skills
  • An ability to stay calm

Of course, every organisation would like their spokesperson to have the charisma and wit of a Hollywood A-Lister (without the salary). In reality, these qualities are rarely necessary to execute a really good interview.

4. Prepare. And then prepare some more.

Armed with the organisation’s objective and key messages, girded with a solid understanding of the outlet and interviewer, it’s time for some preparation. Two crucial elements are mastering the facts and interview practice.

Mastering the basic facts behind your message is essential. Without persuasive statistics, your spokesperson awaits a slow death by waffling. Beware, however, of overwhelming your spokesperson with reams of indigestible information. They need to be comfortable and confident with what it all means.

If you can use real-life examples, so much the better. As every politician knows, nothing brings your narrative to life like a well-chosen human story.

But knowing your stuff is only half the battle. It’s key that your spokesperson has some practise in a realistic interview setting. This will help with everything from managing verbal tics and potentially distracting body language to dealing with tricky questions. The latter is particularly important, as it’s the unforeseen question that often sends an interview off the rails.

Videoing and analysing the mock interview can pay enormous dividends and highlight many potential issues.

Lights, camera, action

Our original title for this article was Media Interviews: Four Simple Steps for Success. But that seemed disingenuous – because in truth these steps aren’t simple. Nevertheless, our own key message remains that with time and effort, any organisation can improve its messaging in this incredibly powerful medium.

Baird’s CMC provides expertise in all aspects of communications, messaging and media management. Specialising in crisis management, we provide training to high profile clients throughout the world. Find out more at our website or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Your Project Team

Raquel Cruz and Cormac Smith bring significant experience in all aspects of strategic communication and public relations. Having worked across our organisation to develop our new product offerings, specifically aimed at the current challenges we all face, they will assemble and lead the strongest teams to address your issues. With our unique global network rest assured you will always be working with the best in the business.

Raquel Cruz

Project Manager

Raquel is a communications and project management specialist. She will be coordinating the introduction of our new services and supporting clients in the management and delivery of their projects.

Since working for Baird’s CMC, Raquel has been involved in communications, research, and project management for clients including Roche, IFPMA, ViiV Healthcare, Angelini Pharma and Gavi, with accountability for everything from conception to successful completion.

  • Speaks fluent Spanish and English
  • Masters’ degree in International Journalism from Cardiff University, UK
  • Background as a public relations consultant in a Spanish communications agency
  • Experienced radio producer and social media specialist

Cormac Smith

Skills Development
Project Director

Cormac is a highly experienced strategic communications specialist. He has been integral to the development of these new services and will be working closely with clients to understand their needs and develop solutions.

In a career spanning three decades Cormac has held a number of senior positions, including Deputy Director of Communications at the UK Cabinet Office, Strategic Communications Advisor to the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, and as Director of Communications for several UK local authorities.

  • Media training and public speaking expert
  • Experienced in crisis communications
  • Specialist in staff engagement and corporate leadership
  • Trusted adviser on reputation management and media relations