Q: How Should A PR Exec Prepare For An Interview? A: See Below


"There are no bad questions, only bad answers." - Eugene O'Neill, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1936. The truth in this message is ominous for PR execs, who, based on the intrinsic media-relations component of their roles, carry the weight of good and bad answers on their shoulders. Whether they are the spokespeople for their organization or the Cyrano for another senior exec, metaphorically whispering key messages from the shadows, their responsibility is to ensure that every turn of phrase uttered is quotable - in a good way. This truism was the backdrop of the January 11 PR News Webinar, "How to Present Yourself and Key Executives to the Media," during which Lou Hampton (CEO, The Hampton Group), David Kalson (executive managing director, RF|Binder Partners) and Christy Phillips (VP, communications manager, Wachovia Corporation) offered best practices for identifying PR executives' responsibilities when in the media-training trenches. Be a reliable source. Phillips emphasizes the importance of building relationships with reporters, meeting deadlines and acting as a source before acting as the subject. This builds a foundation of mutual respect, and, as Phillips says, increases the likelihood that "those who get quoted, get quoted again." Train executives on an ongoing basis. Kalson defined the characteristics that a PR professional must have to be an effective media trainer: understanding the media and its motivations; understanding the audiences; understanding where the media's interest and the spokesperson's interests overlap; and understanding the importance of proper messaging and of staying on message. Therefore, when preparing a spokesperson (or yourself) for an interview, practice is essential, and it should be done on an ongoing basis, not just in the hours before an interview is to take place. For televised interviews, focus on eye contact and body language, both of which can betray a message if not properly controlled. For print interviews, always train executives to bridge questions to the key points that they want to make. Hampton highlights a few key phrases to keep in your back pocket that will facilitate transitions: "The key point is..." The bottom line is..." "One trend we see is..." "Let me repeat that, because it's such a critical point..." "What is especially surprising is..." Develop messages. Once the executive is comfortably armed with the appropriate ammunition for delivering a message - knowledge of the reporter, control of body language, awareness of transition vehicles - it's time to develop the message itself. Kalson's strategies for doing so include identifying with public interests; simplifying messages and transmitting them continuously; widening the base of support with third parties; restating positives and not lingering on negatives; and being alert to developments that affect messages. When preparing a message, it is essential to make it clear, concise and focused. Having too many messages will clutter the story and dilute the key points. Then back up messages with research, if possible. Finally, anticipate challenges or arguments, and come up with responses that strengthen your own platform. Final preparation. All of the above activities can (and should) be done far in advance of an interview. Training should not be an on-the-spot thing; rather, it should be done on an ongoing basis to foster a sense of comfort, which will translate into confidence once the curtain goes up or the mike is turned on. An organization's intrinsic missions and messages should already be defined; it's just a matter of framing evolving messages - a crisis, a product launch - to meet the needs of the media's interest. But the time before a schedule interview can be spent tying up loose ends. Hampton offers a checklist for doing just that. (See sidebar.) By following these best practices, communications professionals can take giant steps toward controlling their messages and ensuring their quotes are on-target. Total control is impossible, of course. But if you approach an interview with the belief that any question is fair game, and it's all in how you answer it, you will gain confidence. Consider Sir Noel Coward's take on "seducing" the media: "Treat [the press] with tact and courtesy ... Never fear or despise it. Coax it, charm it, interest it, stimulate it, shock it now and then if you must, make it laugh, make it cry, but above all ... never, never, never bore the living hell out of it." Contact: Lou Hampton, 202.686.2020. lou@hamptongroup.com; David Kalson, 212.994.7513, david.kalson@rfbinder.com; Christy Phillips, 704.383.8178. christy.phillips@wachovia.com Pre-Interview Checklist Here is the information you need to know before the interview: What is the program/publication? _______________________________________________________________ If TV or radio, is the show: Live Live to tape Edited Call-in Who are its readers/viewers/listeners? _______________________________________________________________ What is the focus of the piece? _______________________________________________________________ How long will the piece be and when will it run/air? _______________________________________________________________ Who will be the interviewer and what is his/her deadline? _______________________________________________________________ How much time does she/he want to spend with you? _______________________________________________________________ Why have you been asked to comment? _______________________________________________________________ Who else has been or will be interviewed? _______________________________________________________________ c 2007 The Hampton Group, Inc.; all rights reserved.

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