It’s always on the checklist for a business and startup founder — get media attention. And of course, you want that attention – it will put eyeballs on your product, which may lead to users, which can bring money, potential investors, and all the other wonderful things that can come from matching the right product with the right audience.
But once you land that interview opportunity – what next? How do you actually talk to the media? It can be intimidating, and obviously, you want to hit it out of the park.
I spent more than a decade in the news business, and a lot of that time was spent talking to people who were trying to launch new businesses. They were people with big dreams – to operate their own restaurant or speed-dating service (for real) or to sell an app appealing to recreational golfers. They all had an entrepreneurial streak and a desire to succeed.
What they weren’t necessarily ready for was how to handle a reporter. Talking with these fine folk could be like pulling teeth. While they were excited about the media attention, once I got them on the phone or in person for a chat, they would clam up. Or they would be unsure how to answer my questions. It might have been a lack of confidence stemming from little experience dealing with media, they might have been wary of how a reporter would interpret their words, or perhaps they were just naturally shy.
If you are a company or startup founder who has successfully secured the attention of a reporter and you’re nervous about your first real media interview, fear not! We’re here to help with tips to help you prepare for your interview.
1. Be Informed
This sounds obvious, but you need to go into the interview knowing your stuff. You know how you got to where you are, and you know your product. But you should also make sure you are up to date on your industry, your competitors, and any recent developments or controversies in the marketplace.
A reporter may try to throw you a tough question or a bit of a curveball just to see if you really know your stuff, especially if your industry was recently in the news. So be prepared to tackle just about any topic revolving around your industry.
But – and this is important – if you don’t have an answer to something, just admit it! Don’t try to fake it, because the reporter will see right through you. Say you’re not sure, but you’re going to look into it and get back to them in an hour, or later in the day.
And then, make sure you get back to them as soon as you can. A reporter will appreciate your honesty, and unless they are on the strictest of deadlines, they will likely be willing to give you the extra time to give them an informed answer.
2. Be Real
Be yourself. If you spend the interview trying to spin or sell, just hammering home how awesome your product or service is and not really answering questions in a sincere way, you’re only going to turn them off, and possibly kill the story before a word is ever written. Reporters have finely tuned “BS detectors,” and they don’t appreciate an attempt at being snowed by anybody.
You can be passionate about your product without being overbearing. And you should absolutely let your passion show – just be careful not to overdo it.
So relax a bit. Be yourself and be honest. Your story likely includes challenges and failures you’ve endured, so mention those and explain how you were inspired to keep going in the face of adversity. Don’t hesitate and stammer or show that you’re uncomfortable with a particular line of questioning. If you’re prepared, as we’ve already mentioned, you’ll be ready for anything.
3. Keep it Simple
No doubt, there is a long story behind your company. And you know all the intricacies. Resist the urge to dive into every detail or side tangent. Doing that may water down your narrative and leave you unfocused when you’re talking with the reporter.
Instead, as Andre Bourque explains here, you should create an outline of your key message so you can keep yourself on track.
“Many companies make the mistake of saying too much or going off on unrelated tangents which bury the more important information,” Bourque writes. “Create powerful analogies, use precise statistics, and be prepared to provide the reporter with a strong, usable quote.”
Memorize some highlights in order to remain on point. That doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from your main message based on how the conversation goes and based on what the reporter asks, but if you go in focused with a key message and clear narrative in mind, you’ll be more confident and clear in telling your story.
4. But be Colorful
“Color” in a story is interesting information or comments beyond the basic, necessary facts.
When you’re telling your story, give examples to back up what you’re saying. Go in armed with anecdotes about when you started your business, how it has changed, or what you have learned along the way can all add color, or a little extra zest, to your narrative.
Interesting anecdotes and little details are more likely to interest the reporter and the reader (potential future customers) than the basic history of your company. They can also lead to other, future stories if you’ve really piqued the reporter’s interest.
5. Respect the Media’s Role
Sure, you want the reporter to write a glowing piece about how amazing your company is and how you are revolutionizing your industry. But that is not their goal, and it’s certainly not their job. The job of the media is to inform their audience about the news that may interest them and to give them the full picture on the topic with a fair, balanced story.
Putting pressure on a reporter will not work. Respect their role and understand that they have their own goals and their own bosses. Be thankful that you’re being included or being featured; it could snowball into many more opportunities.
Another tip: it’s OK to ask a reporter when they think a story might run, but refrain from being pushy about it. Don’t email or call them repeatedly to ask about the status of it. You can check in now and again (say, every couple of weeks), but don’t badger them.
And remember this: if you impress a journalist by being honest, real, informed, and reasonable, you will undoubtedly be a source of information a reporter will return to. As Ksenia Chabanenko writes here, “Next time the journalist has a request, you might be the first founder he/she calls simply because you were the most cooperative and prompt.”
Like most reporters, I usually had little time to turn around several entrepreneur stories at once. And while I would try to switch things up and interview a wide variety of sources as much as possible, I wouldn’t hesitate in a pinch to call up a source I knew was informed and able to think on their feet.
You could be that source for a reporter, by sticking to some of the concepts we’ve mentioned here.
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