Media Training – Common Mistakes with Reporters

Speaking with reporters requires a much different approach and style than holding a conversation with your friends. Your friends will be more generous with your time, allowing you to meander from thought-to-thought.

But it doesn’t work like that with the media. You need to be concise and tight on messaging. If you veer off from the story line, most reporters will tune out. And if you’re speaking with a TV producer or reporter, it’s even more paramount to stick to the script.

During my time as a producer for NBC and CBS, I had to listen and log many interviews that went off track. The subject veered to a different topic, taking double the amount of time as I listened to it in person and on tape. As I became more experienced, I brought the interview subject back to the story. But in today’s world of journalism – where reporters are younger and younger – you might not get the chance to get guidance from the producer.

I wrote a story for Forbes last year, outlining the 5 biggest mistakes I saw leaders make during media interviews. You can read that story here, but if you’re short on time, here’s an outline of the tips.

Don’t Start the interview Chronologically

It’s our nature to want to tell a story from the beginning, but this approach doesn’t work with reporters. It’s critical to get to the story point quickly during any interview. 

It might not be in our nature to start a story with the end-result, but this approach will keep the interview more focused. If a reporter knows within the first two minutes where the story is going, he’s more likely to follow it.

Reporters want to understand quickly what the story is – or they will get lost. If you start the story chronologically – and it’s a long story – every additional minute of talking is another potential minute at risk of losing the story. 

Focus on the Sell

It’s critical to communicate to reporters why their readers will care about your story, product, concept, idea – or whatever you’re selling. You don’t have to be overt with your sell, but the story sell must be expressed somewhere in the interview.

All reporters are writing for their readers. And that means they need a payoff for their readers. If you don’t communicate the payoff in the interview – also known as the sell – the reporter won’t have a story.

Add Insight to the story

Reporters don’t write about information; they write about angles. The news angle is all about how you frame the story and support it. As a CEO, you have industry knowledge reporters want to hear. Facts and figures are not part of that knowledge.

A common mistake from many CEOs and CTOs is to jump into the facts or data without providing insight or color on what it means. Don’t diminish your expertise or knowledge by quoting industry stats or data points. Instead, tell the reporter what they suggest or reveal.

Take Time to Breathe

Many business leaders know they have a few minutes to tell the story to reporter so they try to compress a 30 minute thought into 10 minutes of run-on sentences. 

I have a general rule that I tell clients. Don’t speak for more than 2 minutes without checking in with the reporter. Ask if he’s following along. Of course, it’s a general rule so there are exceptions. When you’re speaking with an industry reporter who wants to take a deep dive, then the old rule of checking in doesn’t always apply.

Don’t talk about Yourself

Unless you’re getting interviewed for a profile story, stay away from situations where you talk about yourself. Sure, you can provide insight on what you’re hearing from the industry. Or you can give your opinions on the latest trends you’re seeing. But those situations are different from blatantly talking about yourself. 

ABOUT MACIAS PR

Marketing peers named MACIAS PR the 2017-2020 Strategic PR Firm of the Year. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, Finance Monthly named MACIAS PR the Financial PR Firm of the Year. The founder – Mark Macias – is a former Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York. City & State Magazine named him a PR Political Power Player in 2021.