PR Insider: 5 Tips for Giving a Great Interview

Melissa Baratta
Melissa Baratta

Landing great media coverage for your client or company is a key goal for most PR professionals. Most feature-type articles start with an interview, and there are a few telltale signs of a good one: the spokesperson represents his or her company well, starts to build a relationship with the reporter, entices the reporter to write an article now or down the road, and overall feels good about the conversation.

So after you hook a reporter’s interest with a good pitch, how do you ensure your spokesperson succeeds in that crucial next step?

Whether your spokesperson has been on a dozen media interviews or is getting ready for his first one, a quick refresher on the ins and outs of a good meeting can make a world of difference. Although there is no way to guarantee an interview will go completely according to plan, below are five tips that can help make the interview successful.

5 Spokesperson Tips for a Great Interview

1.     Take a Step Back

Has the reporter interviewed with your company before? Are they aware of the company’s background and products/services? If this is an introductory interview, it’s best not to jump right into specifics – ask the reporter if you can take a step back and provide a quick overview on the company, products, services and major initiatives (that are approved to share with the public) to set the stage for the topic you’re discussing. This will help give the reporter a better feel for the company’s brand and focus for the remainder of the interview.

2.     Build a Relationship

Yes this is an interview, perhaps even one specifically about your company, but it’s also a chance to build a connection and potentially become an industry source for future articles. During the conversation, reference past articles the reporter has written – and compliment or comment on them. Do a little research on their bio (their professional background as well as any hobbies, interests, etc.) so you can mention shared interests and be able to talk to them as a person. Thank them for taking the time to talk to you. In essence, make it a conversation – it’ll help start and end the interview on a good note and interest the reporter in talking with you again.

3.     Show Thought Leadership

Aside from the fact that reporters are not interested in promotional language about your company, the interview will be much more successful if you can position yourself as an expert thought leader on the industry as a whole. Reference current events or trends; offer an interesting nugget of information; share a compelling insight or a unique angle; ask a thought-provoking question; or provide more color and background on what’s happening in the industry and how it relates to the topic you’re discussing. Provide some food for thought and get the reporter interested in learning more. If they start engaging and asking follow-up questions based on the comments you’re making, you’re on the right track.

4.     Steer the Conversation

While you no doubt have prepared particular comments you want to share or points to make during the interview, in some cases the reporter may start asking questions that lead you down a different path or to a different topic. Read the conversation – and if it makes sense to take a different route than you had planned, go along for the ride. However, if the discussion starts going too far off track, remember that you have the ability to steer the conversation. Don’t abruptly change topics or say “no comment”, but in a conversational, authentic way you can transition back to the topic you’re prepared to discuss by using “bridges” like, “What I really think is important is…”, “This brings me back to what I mentioned earlier…” or “I think the key issue is…”

5.     Share a Final Thought

Most reporters end the interview by asking if they covered everything or if there is anything else you would like to share. Seize this opportunity to reinforce key points or takeaways, or share a little something extra – this is your chance to end the conversation with the main topic or idea you really want them to remember. You can also use this moment to let them know about other topic areas you’re an expert on or that you’re comfortable speaking to – setting the stage for them to call on you as a source for upcoming articles.

Every interview is different, so as a PR professional, remember to debrief with your spokesperson after every single interview. Reflect on the conversation, discuss what went well and where improvements can be made, and offer tips for the next time. Becoming a great interviewee takes time, but with preparation every interview can be successful.

Melissa Baratta is a vice president at Affect, a public relations and social media agency based in New York City. Established in 2002, the company specializes in technology, healthcare and professional services. She can be reached at mbaratta@affect.com or @mlbaratta.