Small Biz Owners: Ace That Media Interview with These 5 tips

As a small business owner, the odds are likely that at some point in your position, you’ll be approached for a media interview.  This could be anything from an influential trade journal requesting your  viewpoint on a particular Microphone freemarket segment within your industry, to a local television news show wanting to cover a milestone of your family owned business. Either way, it can be a terrific opportunity to generate positive brand awareness and showcase your expertise.  Unless an interview request is surrounding a tragedy or has a negative slant, I typically encourage my clients to talk to the media.

Note that in this article, we are not talking about a hostile type of interview akin to the one depicted in the funny, fictitious SNL skit starring Martin Short as a sweaty, chain-smoking oil lobbyist nervously dodging very tough interview questions from Robert Kennedy Jr. (see the hilarious clip here: http://bit.ly/uZX4X ).  That genre of interviews requires much more thorough and intense preparation (though you can check out a prior post on “Preparing for a Crisis” here: http://bit.ly/13OyafA ).

For this purpose, we will focus on the instances when the media wants your point of view on a newsworthy topic related to your area of expertise.  We see this often – an obvious example of this is when James Gandolfini died recently from a heart attack and local and national news outlets scrambled to get cardiologists to interview and explain the causes and symptoms of heart attacks. Another type of media request might come because your industry’s top trade magazine wants your point of view as they write a feature article on a broader topic. In any case, whatever the reason you’re speaking to the media, it’s important to be prepared so that your message is clearly and appropriately communicated.

Following these 5 simple tips can make a world of difference in how your interview turns out.

1.  Familiarize Yourself with that Show or Publication
You don’t necessarily have to be an avid viewer of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” but if you’re booked on it,  do try to watch a few shows in advance to get a flavor for the format as well as to see how the hosts interact with their guests.  This also helps in not calling the host by the wrong name, which once happened with one of my clients.

The same goes true with trade journals – take a peek at some past articles written by the reporter with whom you’ll be speaking so that you may familiarize yourself with that publication’s format so that you may then provide your expertise in that genre.  Reporters typically respond more favorably when they know you took the time to understand their material.

2. Whenever possible, find out the topic you will be asked to discuss
Be sure that you clearly understand the topic and angle you’ll be asked to comment on so that you may prepare accordingly.   Most reporters will provide this to you (in the case of a non-hostile type of interview of course). In the case of trade publications, the interviews are usually scheduled a few days or weeks in advance, giving you time to prepare.  Be sure to use that time to develop your key messaging points as well as pull any research statistics that would help drive home your point.

3.  Prep & Practice
Your interview is scheduled so now you and your team can develop your key messaging points.  For example, if your company is announcing a special partnership with a non-profit organization, prepare to explain how your company is getting involved with this particular charity, why it’s relevant and the benefit to the audience.  Know your elevator speech and any other important statistics you want to convey and be sure to keep all of your talking points short and succinct. If the interview is a broadcast one, go ahead and ask a colleague to help you practice by acting the interviewer.

4.  Relax and Be Yourself
Yes, it’s nervewracking.  Of course you want to make sure you know your stuff and don’t stumble over your words.  However, realize that you are being interviewed because you are an expert at something.  This alone should give you the confidence to  help you to stay unfettered and do your thing.

Do whatever it takes to keep your voice calm and steady in the minutes before the interview (deep breaths, clear your throat, etc.).  If you interviewer partakes in light banter before the start of the interview, by all means be congenial with him or her in order to build rapport.  While it is a nice surprise to discover you both went to the same small college in New England, don’t let that trip down memory lane distract you too much from your task at hand.

Also, know that anything you say is usually fair game.  Some journalists adhere to the ‘off the record’ notion; others do not.  I always caution my clients to choose all of their words wisely.

In the interview, if you’re asked a question and you don’t know that answer, don’t try to make up something and ramble on.  It’s best to say you don’t know the answer but will find out and move on.  This then provides you with a reason to later contact the interviewer, which leads to the next tip.

5.  Be grateful and patient
After the interview, thank the interviewer and let them know you’ll follow-up on anything you promised to provide them.  Don’t ask them if you can see their story before its published which is often insulting to most media – although there are instances with trade publications where they will let you see it beforehand to make sure the facts are straight.

You may ask for a general time frame of when the article or program will appear.  If they don’t have a specific date, follow up once in a couple of weeks, but do not badger them – sometimes stories don’t make the cut or get pushed back for a variety of reasons including more pressing news or the fact that an editor wants to save the article for a bigger series or industry feature.

Once the article comes out, try not to nit-pick too much.  Unless something is a flat-out error, don’t complain about style issues or words you’d rather have attributed to you.  If you generally are pleased, go ahead and send a quick email thanking the reporter and offering your expertise in the future.  See, that was easy, wasn’t it? Now go ahead and give yourself a big pat on the back!

Remember, relationships with the media can be mutually beneficial.  You are providing them with the expertise they are looking for, and they are capturing that expertise to help you bring awareness and credibility to your brand.  Go get ‘em!

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Part 2 – 7 Tips for Planning and Executing a Successful NYC Consumer Media Tour :

MY NYC PicYesterday, I wrote the first part of my suggestions for a successful NYC Media Tour.  Here are the rest of my tips:

4.  Securing appointments – be persistent but not annoying!

It’s easy to secure appointments with editors with whom you have a good rapport; it’s much more difficult to get them with those you don’t know.  This is why having relevant information is important because usually an editor will listen and consider it when you do get them on the line. I usually send an email recap of what I want to meet with them about and then follow up with a phone call. If I get their voicemail, I leave a message, knowing that I’ll have to keep trying to get them live on the phone.  I always chuckle to myself when a junior PR executive complains that they haven’t been able to secure editorial appointments because the editor won’t call them back.  Editors receive hundreds of calls and emails per week; they don’t always have time to call you back, especially if they are the editor for a department. When that’s the case, I’ll call an assistant or associate editor (in that same department) to schedule appointments because I’ll invite them as well as their boss– this can sometimes ensure if one of them has to cancel, you’ll still be in front of the other one.  And, don’t eschew meetings with “just the associate editor” or with interns – I met with an intern only once and she ended up having a lot of clout (because of the skeletal staffs now) and we received nice coverage.

5.  Plan carefully what message you want to convey, but keep it simple.

It’s very rare that an editor will have more than a half hour block to meet with you.  So, you need to be concise and cognizant of their time.  About half of the editors I meet with conduct the “meeting” on the waiting couches in their lobby!  Meeting space at publications is typically limited, so your chance to hook up and present a 40-slide power point presentation is not going to happen. You need to know your talking points by heart. I’ve seen many PR pros caught off guard and tongue tied because they planned to go off of the power point and didn’t bother to really know the content.  Make sure you respect the editor’s time – don’t drone on and on and go over the time limit.  Also, be sure to define roles with your client; for instance, you’ll do the introduction and take notes and they’ll give the demonstration.

6.  Always be prepared for Plan B.

Editors are busy and things come up. It’s likely one will cancel or try to push back a meeting time.  Accept that this will occur and be flexible if your schedule permits.  If an editor does cancel and you cannot reschedule, still let them know that you’re going to drop off the press kit materials and product sample (if applicable).  For good measure, I like to get a dozen cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery (several locations in Manhattan) and drop them off with the kits. They will remember that! And always follow up with them to make sure they received your package – sometimes things (cupcakes 😉 can end up in the wrong hands and you want to get credit for that).

7.  The follow-up is sometimes more important than the meeting!

Within a day or two of returning back to the office, send a thank you note (or email) with a recap of what you talked about in the meeting and any next steps that need to occur, such as sending more information or other product samples.  Pay close attention in your meeting and take judicious notes for your client so that you can follow up at various times with any news or information that they spoke of or that you know would be of interest to them.  Usually, the magazines have anywhere from 4-6 month lead times so you can check up on them occasionally to see if they’ve spoken with their boss and what might be covered in what future issue.  To keep yourself top of mind without badgering them, email them any useful follow up information or suggestions for another angle.  Just remember – there is finesse to media relations – badgering editors is not part of that.  Your goal is not just editorial coverage, but a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship with the editor.

Oh and one more thing, make sure you visit an ATM and bring cash for cab rides and tips in NYC – you don’t want to stick your client with those.

Successful travels!

7 Tips for Planning and Executing a Successful NYC Consumer Media Tour – Part 1:

ImageDespite the current array of online and social media channels with which we can communicate with media, there are still times when it’s important to meet with them face-to-face. I believe it’s beneficial to keep yourself and clients in front of editors on a regular basis in order to establish and maintain a good rapport and a professional relationship that’s mutually beneficial.

Tours are preferred if your client has a new product that’s very demonstrative and/or is also the first of its kind in the industry. If it’s a complex product, it’s advantageous to meet with media in person to show them all the features and benefits of the product, and why their audience would be interested.  It also helps them put a face with a name, so when you call or email them in the future, they’ll likely remember you.

Much of my career has been spent promoting an array of housewares and household products – from vacuum cleaners to painting tapes and supplies to DIY caulks and adhesives. I’ve worked closely with home editors at national consumer women’s magazines, parenting, and home shelter publications, most of which are headquartered at major publishing houses in New York City (with the exception of Meredith’s Better Homes & Gardens and its special interest publications which are in Des Moines).  Most of the products I’ve represented target women, whom we called the CHOs or Chief Household Officers.

With the exception of a few publications that have recently shut down (Parenting, Baby Talk), much of these publications aren’t going anywhere though they are stretching smaller staffs with more responsibilities.  This makes editors’ time sparse and precious which means you need to be very strategic when planning out your tour.

Here are some tips for getting appointments, having successful meetings and setting the tone for your client’s brand to get media coverage down the line.

1. If it isn’t new, at least make sure your “news” is relevant and interesting to that editor’s audience. 

New products in general can be newsworthy in and of themselves. When I worked for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, we came out with several upright vacuum cleaners that made it first to market with unique and convenient, new features.  However, keep in mind that a change in color or model number is not newsworthy – in that case you can get away with an emailed news release.   Also, consumer editors typically don’t find useful or relevant, industry data such as how many units were sold or the company’s market share or growth.  Having relevant content and news gives you a better chance of securing an appointment with an editor.

2.  Put yourself in that editor’s shoes and think of what info is important to him or her.

Besides having relevant information to the editor’s particular beat, make sure that you put yourself in their shoes and understand what would help make their job a little easier.  First, do your research and know their columns, writing styles and what they usually cover.  In addition to a straight new product release, I also like to include tips for using that product and/or ideas of how to include the product in a wider theme.  Help them come up with a feature story angle. For example, a new air purifier product requires a news release, but I know it’s rare to get a feature article written just about that product. So, I’ll focus on a broader theme such as Spring Allergy Solutions or Indoor Air Quality in which I can research good stats from reputable agencies (like the CDC or EPA) and make a case for why an air purifier is part of a solution for allergy sufferers.  The product may not be the “star” of the article, but its relevance and importance in a broader topic gives it even more credibility and likelihood for coverage.

3.  Strategically plan out your appointments so that you give yourself plenty of time to avoid frustrations that could impact your presentation.

Most of the editorial publishing headquarters are located in a fairly compact radius in mid-town Manhattan.  In many cases, a number of the publications you may be meeting with will be at the same address, but on different floors.  Hearst (located on 8th Avenue & 57th) houses magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Country Living, O, and House Beautiful among others.  Planning appointments at Hearst always saves me some time because I can schedule appointments only 15 minutes apart (note that you will need to keep going back downstairs to the lobby after each appointment and go through security for your next appointment). However, if you’re going from Hearst to say “Ladies Home Journal,” which is located more downtown on Park Avenue, you’ll need to schedule at least a half hour – time to grab a cab, travel and get registered at the security desk.  I like to use car services which are both time and cost-effective.