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6 “Tells” to Determine If You’re Ready for an Interview-Driven PR Program

6 “Tells” to Determine If You’re Ready for an Interview-Driven PR Program

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.

Going all-in

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.

Mastering Unspoken Messages

What Are You Really Saying? Mastering Unspoken Messages

Have you ever heard the phrase, “it’s not what you say but how you say it?” This “how,” or nonverbal communication, accounts for more than 90 percent of what we convey. In fact, former UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian found that the use of one’s voice makes up 38 percent of what we communicate and body language comprises up to 55 percent. By not paying attention to cues, you could be mixing messages or sending unspoken messages in ways that go beyond the Oxford comma debate.

Depending on how the words are delivered, carefully crafted messages can be disregarded, along with an expert’s credibility. This spokesperson could instead appear disinterested or worse. Is that person carefully pondering the question or thinking of what is for dinner? That answer lies in the interpretation.

Conference calls

A major part of work days, including a high percentage of media interviews, are spent on the phone. Many of us jump from one conference call to another without a second thought. However, just because someone can’t see you, does not mean your actions are unnoticed. Here are some pointers for navigating these interactions:

  • Know your key messages: Don’t memorize them; rather, internalize the main three points you want to leave behind. That way, they will naturally integrate into the conversation.
  • Smile: This truly does change how your voice projects and can be heard on the other end.
  • Speak calmly and confidently: Voice tone can portray openness, knowledge and legitimacy of the person talking. Using frequent ‘ums’ or sounding overly emotional can have the opposite effect.
  • Mute the sound track: Background noise can distract both ends of the conversation and take away from the main points. This may also come across as though the call was not a high enough priority to find a quiet location.

In-person Meetings

Whether you are embarking on a media tour, going for coffee or taking meetings at tradeshows, these in-person encounters are a great way to make a lasting impression – make sure it is a positive one. Your audience, including reporters and business prospects, can now see you in addition to hearing you, so there are more messages being conveyed in meetings that typically run longer than telephone interviews. Make sure they are all working in your favor.

  • Speak with your body language: No, this does not mean the cha-cha, floss or any other dance du jour. This refers to how you carry yourself, so you appear approachable but not sloppy; confident without coming across as arrogant. It is the details, including making eye contact and leaning forward a bit to the person you are speaking with to show you are engrossed with the conversation.
  • Appear engaged: Smile periodically and occasionally nod your head in agreement with the person you are meeting. Beware of crossing your arms – you may be cold, but it will come across as disinterested.
  • Respect personal space: Provide enough distance to keep the other person comfortable but not so far away that you lose the connection.
  • Remove distractions: Show the reporter, analyst or prospect that they are important enough to have your undivided attention. Turn the cell phone off, or keep it on vibrate, and put it away. The temptation to check messages is strong, so remove it from the equation.

Many of the points discussed above are subjective. More than anything else, read how your nonverbal communication is being received, so you can adjust as needed. Great spokespeople leave an impression because they know how to present themselves and understand how they are being received. Listening to the unspoken messages of others will help you become a master communicator.

It's important to become a candid CEO

8 Tips to Become a Candid CEO

We recently wrote about PR tips from the Donald, whose strategy continues to be, it seems, any PR is good PR.  It baffles many media watchers how Trump can continue to enjoy broad public appeal even when many of his statements turn out to be less than 100 percent truthful.

One of Trump’s secrets is that he’s been able to carefully cultivate a reputation for candor. He speaks directly, and holds nothing back, or so it seems. He keeps talking to any reporter that will listen and he always has an answer (except about those tax returns).

This is in stark contrast to how Hillary Clinton has sometimes dealt with the media. In my experience covering her as a reporter when she was a New York Senator, it was extremely difficult to get her to make any substantive comment. Her defensive posture towards the press included tactics like filling the Senate elevator with her staff, so no reporter could jump on for an exclusive two-minute interview. I often wonder if Secretary Clinton would have received better press over the years if she had been slightly more open.

So I understand why Trump is catnip for reporters. Having also worked as a business reporter, I often encountered CEOs who were so reluctant to utter a single opinion, prediction, or colorful deal detail that interviews became painful tug of war exercises where no one wins. I had no story, and I was unlikely to call that CEO again, so he or she lost out on potential coverage in the future.

Caught in the middle of this tug of war is the public relations agency, which is keen to provide coverage opportunities and may be blindsided by how close-lipped the CEO turns out to be once the tape is rolling.

The solution is for company leadership, under the gentle guidance of its PR agency, to learn to be more candid, within reason. There is a wide swath of territory between the loquacious Mr. Trump and the reticent Secretary Clinton. It’s territory worth exploring to build trust, establish rapport and lay the groundwork for coverage when it counts. Learn how to be a candid CEO and reap the rewards.

  1. Come clean with your PR team

There probably are many things you don’t want to share with the media, but opening up to your PR team will enable them to guide interviews around sensitive topics. Are you facing a potential merger, departing CFO, or product recall? We need to know, sooner rather than later. Your PR team can help determine whether a potential negative piece of news can in fact be turned into a turnaround or redemption story. For instance, a divestiture of a non-core business may be an indication that a leadership team is laser-focused on expansion of its core product. A less than stellar third quarter may mask an overall growth trajectory if three delayed deals will close in December.

  1. Review what is in the public domain

There is nothing more frustrating, for a reporter, than a CEO’s refusal to answer a question on a topic that has already seen the light of day via a regulatory filing, news release, etc. On the other hand, there may be news already out there – for instance in a dense proxy, or in a rival’s lawsuit – that the reporter hasn’t seen. The CEO may be able to gain candor points by talking about a completed hire or deal instead of one that is still in the works.

  1. Use the whole animal

Remember that new details about old news are considered new news! In today’s 24-hour news cycle, many reporters are expected to submit multiple posts per day. A couple of new colorful details can extend the news cycle on an old story while gaining candor points along the way. Reporters love to get the backstory.

  1. Offer a trade

When my three-year-old whines that another kid won’t share a toy, I tell him to get smart. Find another toy the kid may want and offer a trade. Don’t want to talk about a product launch delay? Maybe you can instead offer a unique insight on the unintended consequences of a new regulation. Reporters love unintended consequences.

  1. Occasionally, be vulnerable

Once I interviewed a famously candid CEO of a health IT company for a profile. Throughout the interview, his internal PR team chewed their fingers off, as the CEO lobbed expletives at a high profile health care system and then rehashed his complicated childhood and messy divorce. But I didn’t include those details in the profile, I didn’t need to. These raw tidbits helped me to understand what drove him as a healthcare executive and I could convey that in a much more interesting way than simply airing dirty laundry. To this day, I have a pretty soft spot towards this very candid CEO.

I’m not suggesting Kardashian-level oversharing for healthcare execs on a regular basis. But letting journalists know you’re human is sometimes a good way to bring out their humanity as well.

  1. Say no, but nicely

Don’t shut down the interview when it wanders into uncomfortable territory. Explain gently that you can’t talk about that topic. If it’s news that will soon be public, offer the reporter an exclusive second conversation. Or if fielding several requests for comment, you could promise to release the news to everyone simultaneously via conference call.

  1. Realize reporters are reporters

In the end, reporters will report on what they want to, with or without your participation, as long as they are able to get sources to talk. There are some companies that are airtight, leak proof ships. But if a deal involves another company, there could be leaks there. Lawyers, accountants and other vendors are also frequent targets. As one former colleague told an angry CEO who refused an interview (only to find the story in the paper anyway) – “I don’t have to ask permission to publish news.”

  1. Get some advice

The bottom line is that CEOS must decide for themselves, do I want to let others tell my story, or do I want to tell it myself?

How effectively you tell your story will depend on scores of variables—everything from your tone of voice, to your appropriate use of humor, to the color of your shirt or blouse.  Luckily, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. An investment in media training, for instance, can help leaders ready to make the leap to candid CEOs to project the kind of candor that will endear them to reporters, elevate the brand, and optimize opportunities to transmit the company message to key audiences including customers, potential leads, shareholders, potential investors and the public.

Amendola Unveils Redesigned Website and Thought Leadership Blog

Amendola Communications, a nationally recognized, award-winning public relations, content creation and marketing firm specializing in healthcare and health information technology (HIT), has redesigned its website to create an immediately meaningful experience for visitors. Along with information about Amendola’s services and capabilities, the new site showcases the agency’s broad portfolio of successful client campaigns, plus incisive, insider advice for healthcare and technology organizations seeking to effectively communicate their message.

Following website best practices, Amendola’s new site emphasizes visual impact over text-heavy content, and features distinctive graphics and a color palette of rich ambers and other desert hues in a nod to Amendola’s Arizona headquarters.

Thought leadership advice from PR and marketing veterans

Just in time for HIMSS, Amendola’s free guide “Hacking HIMSS: Your Guide to Conquering the Annual Conference & Exhibition” and free eBooklet “Can I Quote You On That? Becoming a Media Interview Rock Star” are both available for download at the new website. Additionally, the new site includes a weekly blog from Amendola’s team of public relations and marketing veterans on all topics related to delivering an effective message in the healthcare and healthcare technology arena.

A platform for agency’s client work

An experienced agency, Amendola has a long track record of success and a portfolio of referenceable client work to prove it. The new site includes a prestigious collection of Amendola’s PR, marketing and creative work for clients like Health Catalyst, The Joint, Greater New Orleans Health Information Exchange, Bernouilli, Recondo and many others. A library of case studies outlining Amendola’s successful campaigns for public relations, marketing, content marketing, social media and strategic counseling initiatives is also on the new site.

“Every facet of Amendola’s redesigned website was created with the visitor in mind, from the eye-pleasing layout to easy access to samples of our work and a blog that answers the questions we most consistently hear from clients and the industry-at-large,” stated Jodi Amendola, CEO of Amendola Communications.

Visit Amendola’s new website at www.acmarketingpr.com.

 About Amendola Communications

Amendola Communications is an award-winning national public relations, marketing communications, social media and content marketing firm. Named one of the best information technology (IT) PR firms in the nation for times by PRSourceCode, Amendola represents some of the best-known brands and groundbreaking startups in the healthcare and HIT industries. Amendola’s seasoned team of PR and marketing pros delivers strategic guidance and effective solutions to help organizations boost their reputation and drive market share. For more information about the PR industry’s “A Team,” visit www.acmarketingpr.com, and follow Amendola on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Media Contact:

Marcia Rhodes, Regional Managing Director | (480) 664-8412, ext. 15 | mrhodes@acmarketingpr.com

 

Media Interview Tips from a Former Journalist

By Michelle Noteboom, Senior Content & Account Director

Media interviews can be quite fun – or they can be a disaster if the interviewee is not adequately prepared. Over the years I have interviewed dozens of CEOs, CIOs, and clinicians while writing for The Health Care Blog, Health IT News, HIStalk, and other publications. Fortunately, most of the subjects did a great job, though there were a few that left something to be desired.

I recall one CEO who took 12 minutes to answer the first question. Well, he actually answered the question in under a minute; he then spent an additional 11 minutes sharing every talking point he ever memorized about the company and its products. It felt more like a brain dump than an interview.

Then there was the CIO who put me on hold three times during the interview because people kept walking into her office to ask her questions. Her time was clearly more important than mine – in her mind, anyway.

Now that I am with Amendola, I’ve hung up my journalist fedora. Rather than conducting interviews, my role includes helping clients prep for their media interviews. While I am well aware that many people don’t see the need for prepping in advance, the journalist in me is quite sure that a little upfront preparation can make the difference between a fun and informative interview and one that leaves both the interviewer and interviewee shaking their heads. With that in mind, here are a few interview prep tips to consider:

Know the publication. Spend some time checking out the publication and understand the audience. If the readers are mostly C-level execs in health systems, there’s no need to explain what an ACO is. On the other hand, if an article is for a mainstream publication, avoid using a bunch of acronyms and industry buzz words.

Talking points vs. talking head. Explain your product or service and its value proposition very clearly and succinctly. Talking points are great but they should not keep you from expressing your personality and passions. Use your own words, share your personal story, and include interesting analogies to avoid sounding like an over-rehearsed and insincere talking head.

Chuck the jargon and marketing-speak. An interview is not a commercial. Again–be sincere and real.

Don’t multi-task. Here are a few things you should not do while being interviewed, especially if the interview is over the phone: drive a car, check your email, or welcome somebody into your office to ask a quick question. The more present you are, the better you will sound.

Logistics. Ideally you should be in a quiet place free of ambient noise. Also, a landline is best. Avoid using a speakerphone or blue tooth and do ask the interviewer if he/she can hear you okay. It’s also okay to ask the interviewer if you are being recorded – and if you are not, your interviewer will love you for talking a bit slower. Be on time because, just like you, the journalist probably has other time commitments.

One last tip: it’s best not to lose your cool like this gentleman!