Many companies and organizations dream about getting a (positive) story about themselves on the news, splashed across the front page of a newspaper or featured on a popular blog. And there’s good reason why: It can be an effective way to reach your target audience.
To do it effectively, though, requires planning. Otherwise, you have a greater chance of mixing your messages, not being clear during the interview and/or confusing your audience. So before you pick up the phone or send an email to pitch the story, it’s important to sit down and prepare, whether it’s a single story or a comprehensive media relations campaign. Here are three simple things you can do and how they can pay off for you.
The first step in your planning needs to be research, which will involve gathering information about the topic that you’re planning to pitch to the media. While you might be the expert on the topic, you want to ensure that you have all the facts about it. When I did my first radio interview with WITF in Harrisburg, Pa., years ago, my boss told me they just wanted a quick soundbite on a topic. I gathered way more information than I needed, and I was on the phone for 3 minutes at the most.
Research also means taking a look at the media outlets where you want your story to appear. Are you going on a particular program? Many TV stations have links to videos of the programs on their websites. Watch a few to get a feel for the program so you know what to expect. Also research the reporter who will interview you. Read some of their articles or watch some stories and see what their style is.
Payoff: You probably won’t use all of the information you gather about your organization or topic, but you’ll feel confident that you have it just in case. And knowing more about the program, publication or reporter will hopefully set you at ease because you won’t head into the interview cold.
Write down talking points
After researching everything, the challenge is synthesizing it into talking points. Media talking point contain your three most important messages tailored to your campaign or issue, with several facts listed beneath each one to support those messages. When you – or your PR professional – writes them, think in simplest terms that people outside your business will understand. Also, think about pithy statements and quotable soundbites that reporters are more apt to use and that your audience will remember.
Payoff: If you’re using the talking points in preparation for several media interviews, or to have them ready just in case, you just pull them out of your file, and you’re good to go. In one recent case, I prepared talking points for a client who did a radio interview and then a few weeks later landed them on a news program. I filled out a production sheet for that show, which included a request for talking points. Since I already had them prepared, I simply pasted them into the production sheet. This was a real coup for our client because the producer and the show’s hosts had the exact messages we wanted to publicize, and they tailored their questions directly to those points.
Review and rehearse
You are an expert in your business or organization, and you might think that is enough to carry you through a media interview. If you don’t at a minimum think about the interview beforehand – and read through your talking points – you run a risk of not getting your key messages to your audience. Ideally, take some time to anticipate the questions a reporter will ask and how you will work your messages and talking points into your response. If you have time, work with your PR professional to coach you through a brief rehearsal.
Payoff: You will be confident going into the interview, knowing that you’ll get your messages out to your audience. The confidence will show if you’re on camera, and there’s less chance of stumbling and fumbling for an answer.