While the coronavirus pandemic has completely changed the way we live, an unintended plus has been the democratisation of press interviews – presenting a unique opportunity for businesses to step up their profile-raising PR activity like never before.

Just look at the major news channels such as Sky, BBC, Channel 4, where press interviews via video calling software are the norm – an interesting point of view, a spare half hour and a strong internet connection are now the new prerequisites.

As a former journalist, I’ve been on both sides of the microphone. Here are my five tips on giving a great press interview.

1. Understand what journalists want

Simply put, journalists are chasing that great news story.

The best interviews involve company spokespeople who are not only full of lots of insight but ultimately have some strong opinions. Stay on brand, yes, but don’t be afraid to put your head above the parapet.

Jes Staley recently showed us how it’s done. At a time when businesses are cautious about a post-COVID recovery, the Barclays boss made the bold claim that UK economy will grow at its fastest rate since 1948.

2. Preparation is everything

As the adage goes: ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. Ahead of any press interview, it’s important for spokespeople to learn as much as they can about the journalist and publication/channel they’ll be speaking to.

Request a list of questions ahead of time, but here’s a few generic questions which often come up – what challenges is the sector facing? Where do you see growth? Your trade body has recently released stats showing xxxx, what’s your view?

A briefing document or a ‘cheat sheet’, usually prepared by your PR agency is a good way to bring this research together and help you feel confident about that interview.

3. Establish your key messages

Many spokespeople find press interviews a minefield and we often get asked by clients – what should I say?

When it comes to establishing your key messages, consider the following:

  • What do we stand for? This is the most important question as it highlights your brand’s vision, values and purpose.
  • Exceptional expertise – leverage your track-record in the sector, what is your business good at and how can you communicate that?
  • Unique perspective – how can your message stand out from competitors? Whether its innovation, technology, partnerships or customer service – think about what you’re doing differently.
  • Lead the debate – showcase your market knowledge. Often senior spokespeople have spent decades building careers in a particular sector which means not only can they tell you how the industry has changed but they have a very good idea on where it’s going. Bring the journalist on that journey.

4. Focus on delivery

Media interviews aren’t just a great way to build relationships with the journalist but ultimately, your end customer.

To do that well, leaders or spokespeople should present themselves as a clear thinker. The advice is simple: be natural and be yourself.

Creating trust and building gravitas comes from showing your true personality and using natural language. Avoid jargon, technical terms (yes, even if it’s for the trade media) or sales and promotional materials.

5. Everything is on the record

As a rule of thumb, those being interviewed by the media should always assume they’re on the record. Often journalists will throw in a curveball question – but that doesn’t mean you need to answer it.

Some control phrases for dealing with tricky questions include ‘I’m not in a position to comment on this, but what I do know/can say is…’ and ‘I’ll have to look further into this, but it’s clear…’

Monira Matin is an account director at Whistle PR which offers a range of integrated communications services including strategic consultancy, PR, social media, community engagement, internal communications and issues management. For further information, email info@whistlepr.co.uk or contact us here.