Despite investing significant time and energy to prepare for a smooth media interview, many subject matter experts (SME) have stammered and stumbled through a reporter’s questions. Even the most seasoned spokesperson can get tripped up when put on the spot. When preparing for an interview with a reporter, it’s impossible to predict every question you may be asked. But, knowing that there are always key “go-to” questions a reporter will likely ask is a great place to start.
There are a few different types of interviews reporters conduct and knowing what they are most interested in is critical to understanding the types of questions that could be asked. Interviews typically fall under the categories:
When it comes to preparing a client and spokesperson for a media interview, it’s important to consider the type of interview at-hand and the kinds of information the reporter is most interested in.
This type of interview usually occurs when a reporter is newly assigned to your client’s industry and doesn’t yet have a story in mind, but wants to develop a longstanding relationship with your SME. During these interviews, the reporter will likely focus on common questions about the company, the industry, trends, and other general “getting to know you” questions.
To prepare for this, consider having your spokesperson explain the company’s value proposition and be able to provide a succinct overview about the company in two to three sentences. Depending upon the spokesperson’s role—executive, founder, product manager, engineer, etc.—be sure they are prepared to answer questions tailored to their specific function within the business. If the spokesperson is the founder, be sure to refine the story about why and how they started the business. If they’re the product manager, be sure they can explain the benefits of the company’s products, R&D, and what’s on the product roadmap.
Lastly, when finishing this type of interview, be sure to ask one question back to the reporter—what information do you want to know? The reporter may focus on a particular area and proactively feeding them information is a great way to establish or strengthen rapport.
An M&A, IPO, or some other important company announcement is usually associated with a media frenzy of activity. In this case, the reporter will usually ask different, somewhat provocative questions, too. Again, depending upon the type of news announcement, the spokesperson could be different, so always try to prep based on their expertise and scope within the company.
If the announcement falls under something that differentiates your client’s company from competitors (let’s say your client scooped up a hot startup), prep them with competitor-specific questions. For instance, the reporter may ask specifically who the competitors are and how this acquisition makes them a stronger contender against their competition.
Tip: Always be sure to never speak negatively (or at all) about a competitor and instead focus on your own differentiating value prop.
One of these announcements could also fall under something more negative, like a reporter gets wind that your company laid-off multiple people. It’s okay to address this and client’s should be prepared to be able to answer even if the interview is focused around something else. As a PR professional, coach your client to be concise and quick-hitting. There is no need to belabor or overshare.
A product or service launch is an exciting time for a company and its spokesperson. Depending upon the type of launch and its caliber of impact, the media interest surrounding the launch can be significant both in credibility and authority (think: big name media outlets) and number of reporters looking to capture the story (so be choosy about who gets the exclusive first interview!).
For an announcement like a new service or product launch, consider what makes this launch important. Work with your client to draw out its benefits, key differentiators, and how it will impact or solve challenges for the company’s customers. If it’s something truly revolutionary (and lots of SMEs think their offer is revolutionary when it’s truly not, so caution!), consider prepping your spokesperson to speak to what this significant milestone does and how it helps grow the company or better serve its customer base.
One caveat for any interview: it’s perfectly okay to say “I don’t know”, or “let me get back to you” (one of my favorite statements) if your client is caught off-guard or feels unprepared to accurately answer a reporter's question. Reporters are there for a reason—to draw out answers to items the public wants to know. If your client is unsure about a response, prep them to know how to react with a response that is courteous, but firm. Many reporters will ask the same question a few times, hoping to eventually get an answer. Standing ground is important so as not to misspeak and have to do damage control after the fact.
An SME can feel confident speaking with media with the proper preparation. PR professionals can help SMEs determine the type of media interview at-hand, the typical questions that may be asked, and then refine and practice the appropriate responses. With proper preparation, companies, brands, and their spokespersons can help promote a positive image, generate buzz, and create more credibility.
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