It all sounds good in theory. The CEO, VP of sales, chief marketing officer, or some other higher-up decides that the key to boosting sales, raising funding, or driving some other positive business event is to launch an interview-driven PR program.
“We need our executives to be viewed as experts by our target audience,” they declare. “Having them interviewed by trade publications, or even the national media, will help us build visibility and credibility, which will bring prospects flocking to our website.”
There is definitely some truth in that. Having your executives regularly commenting on industry news and trends, especially in the trade media, can have quite the halo effect on the company as a whole.
Here’s the thing, though. There’s more to it than hiring a PR agency and expecting them to set up interviews. Even the best PR agency in the world (notice where that description links to) can’t do it by themselves – no matter how much you pay them.
Creating a successful interview-driven PR program requires a lot of coordination and collaboration between the client (your company) and the agency. It also requires a few elements that your company is solely responsible for.
If you can’t deliver on them, the interview-driven PR program is destined to fail.
So how do you know whether you’re prepared to embark on that particular journey? Just like in playing poker, there are a few “tells” – involuntary actions or gestures that indicate how strong your hand is. Here’s a look at a few of them.
Your executives like doing media interviews
It seems rather obvious, but it actually isn’t. Some people don’t really like being interviewed, or talking about themselves. This is often true of technology experts who launch companies, or clinicians in healthcare and health IT.
Ideally the person selected to do media interviews enjoys the process to some extent. His/her enthusiasm for the company and the topic will be contagious, leading to great coverage.
If you don’t have such a spokesperson, and can’t hire one in, the other solution is to media train the executives you do have. Often the lack of comfort comes from being unfamiliar with or unaccustomed to speaking with strangers in that type of setting. Media training can help alleviate those concerns and turn a wallflower into a media star. Or at least a likable, credible spokesperson.
Your executives will make time for media interviews
This is often a tougher attribute to find, especially in a smaller organization where C-suite execs are not just running the business but meeting with customers, talking to investors, rallying the troops and perhaps even getting involved with product design and execution.
Yet it’s essential. Most reporters (and editors) operate on tight deadlines, and have multiple stories brewing at once. If your executive can make him/herself available when the reporter has time to talk, the reporter will likely move on to someone who can.
Most of the time the window will be a day or two. Sometimes, however, the window will be within an hour or two. And the larger and more desirable the media outlet, the more likely it will be the latter.
If your executives want a week’s notice (or more) to schedule an interview, you’re probably not going to get much coverage. Unless the executive is already incredibly rich and famous, it’s important to understand that securing the interview means being ready to speak whenever the reporter is ready. Of course, if the executive is already rich and famous, he or she can usually dictate the terms of the interview. For everyone else, it’s ask and react.
Your executives have interesting, non-self-promotional stories to tell
Unless the media outlet wants to do a profile of one of your executives or the company, most interviews are not going to be inwardly focused. Instead, the executives will most likely be asked to comment about the news of the day or longer-term industry trends.
For example, in healthcare if an executive is asked to comment about interoperability, the reporter isn’t especially interested in hearing about how interoperable the company’s product is. At least not at first.
Instead, the reporter is looking for insights about interoperability in general that readers or viewers can’t read or see anywhere else. It doesn’t have to all be original; it could be taking two disparate factors and showing a previously hidden relationship between them.
Whatever is said, though, it has to offer evidence of more universal, big-picture thinking that helps the reporter move the story forward. Even better if the reporter says, “I never realized that.”
This, incidentally, is why reporters are often reluctant to interview the VP of sales. They’re afraid they’re going to have a 30-minute conversation about the features of the company’s products.
Offer up great information and insights, however, and the executive won’t just get quoted. He or she will become a go-to resource for that reporter.
Your executives can customize the story to the audience
Most high-ticket products and services require several levels of approval before they can be purchased. There are also usually certain job titles that, while they can’t say yes, can definitely say no.
The executive being interviewed must be able to speak to each of them regarding things they care about in terms they can understand. A CIO at a hospital will likely have different concerns about an issue than the chief medical officer, or the chief nursing officer, or an emergency department physician, or someone in the business office.
In an interview the company executive must not only understand who the media outlet’s audience is but how to frame the discussion in terms they care about. The same generic talking points won’t work for all.
This is a skill all unto itself. It can be learned, but it most definitely must be practiced. The more the executive can customize the story, the better chance it has of finding its mark.
Your executives know they may not make the cut
Even if your executives do a great job in their interviews, there may be times they don’t appear in the story anyway. The focus of the story may have changed, or the editor didn’t like something about what was said, or the story may have been running too long, or a dozen other things may have happened.
They need to understand it happens from time to time and just move on to the next interview. Now, if it happens several times in a row it may be time to review the message and how it’s being delivered.
Most of the time, however, it’s just a glitch or an unfortunate circumstance. Even great poker players get hands they can’t bluff their way out of. Simply fold that hand and focus on the next one.
Your executives understand they can’t control the final output
At the end of an interview, company executives will often ask if they will be able to review a story before it comes out. With rare exceptions, the answer is no.
It’s nothing personal, it’s just not done. Which means the executives, and the organization as a whole, will have to understand there is some risk that the reporter will get something wrong, or write something they don’t like.
That said, most reporters, especially those in trade publications, are not looking to do a hatchet job on the executive or the company. But they’re not there to be cheerleaders either.
They want to present a fair and balanced story that conveys verifiable information to their audience.
If they get a fact wrong, spell the company’s or executive’s name wrong, or make some other object error most reporters (or their editors) will correct it. But if the company’s corporate messaging says X and the article doesn’t read that way, it’s likely to stay that way.
Knowing that, and being able to live with it, will drive a lot more interview coverage than insisting on controlling every aspect of the final piece.
Clearly, focusing on an interview-driven PR program isn’t for everyone. In some cases, a content-driven program might be a better approach.
But if you have one or more executives who are knowledgeable about the industry, love to talk about it (even on short notice) and understand there may be an occasional miss among the many hits, it’s time to start interviewing PR agencies so your media star can be born.