By Tim Focas,
You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours – an old adage any spokesperson should abide by on the long and often bumpy road to building a media profile. With some very notable exceptions (#Trump), history tells us that those that play ball with even the most challenging reporters are much more likely to reap the rewards. From New Labour in the 90s to Arsene Wenger in the mid-00s, there is a reason some get an easier ride from the press than others. In the case of both the aforementioned, it was intricate details that made all the difference. When did you ever hear Blair (call me Tony) fail to address a reporter by his first name? And can you remember a post-match interview or pre-game press conference that Wenger missed? Or a question he refused to answer?
The point being that, while these examples may seem a world away from that Monday morning phone interview with a trade reporter, the same principles apply. A good one, and a personal favourite is always remembering to reference a specific point made in a previous piece by a reporter. It, of course, has to be relevant to the topic of conversation and can’t sound forced. No reporter wants to be patronised. However, delivered in the right way, it can really set the right tone the interview and future interactions with the journalist.
Overarching all the “I’m doing all I can to help you land the best possible story” hints, needs to be a plan to give yourself the best possible chance of landing those key messages. To coin an overused interview cliché, “at the end of the day” all the journalist wants is an engaging story. The secret is to align your answers with the reporter’s key questions: What is the new element to the story? Why should people care? Who is involved and when did the event take place? How does what has happened change things?
If your responses can endeavour to help a journalist answer these questions – then the chances of coverage increase. As for getting your message across, there is no guarantee. This is why underscoring, an interview technique that involves repeating core messages throughout an interview needs to be embedded into your strategy. The classic ending question of “anything else you wanted to add?” is always a great excuse to underscore. However, make sure do not fall into the habit of trying to push your messages too early. The opening questions should all be about getting on the right side of the reporter. Responding too early with a self-serving plug will kill you before the interview has got started. Use the middle part of the interview to get across and reinforce your messages and ensure there is a rise in voice intonation when doing so.