April 24, 2019  |  by Beth Phillips

Congratulations! After weeks of stalking reporters and pitching producers, the stars aligned and you finally landed a hard-won media interview for your client. Now it’s time to kick back with a cold glass of prosecco and wait for the impressions and kudos to roll in. Your work here is done.

Yeah, no.

There still remains the small matter of making sure you prepare your client well enough that he or she feels comfortable in front of the camera or behind the microphone. Going the extra mile to coach your client and help build his or her confidence before an interview is the best way to ensure you both hit a public relations home run.

If you’ve gotten any kind of response from a reporter after sending a pitch, chances are you’ve already learned a few things about them: how to get their attention, what beat they generally cover, what stories they’ve written lately, and their approximate work schedule.

While all of this is great information to have when formulating a pitch, there is a bit more research you should do prior to sending your client on their merry way to a media interview. Knowing a little more about the reporter’s background and personality will not only help create solid icebreakers (good small talk = less nerves), but it will also help your client reduce his or her chances of encountering any unwelcome interview surprises.

Here are a few questions you should consider when preparing a client for a media interview:

Will the interview be live or taped?

In a taped interview, the interviewee can stop and start again if he or she gets tongue tied or doesn’t like how something was said. It’s important to know whether or not your client will need to be prepared to think on his or her feet or if the interview format will be more forgiving. Also, consider location. If possible, choose a spot that is convenient for the reporter but that also suits the client. During the interview, don’t be afraid to speak up if you don’t like the way a shot is framed. Your job is to make your client look and sound his or her best.

Is the reporter knowledgeable about the topic?

Depending on the reporter’s experience in writing on a particular topic, it may be helpful to supply him or her with collateral about your client’s business or organization (annual reports, media fact sheets, brochures, etc.) to drive home main points or highlight important statistics. However, if you’re not sure if the reporter understood something you said, do not ask to approve the story before it’s published. Asking to see a reporter’s story before it is filed is not only insulting, but in some circumstances may also border on prior restraint. However, if you’re explaining a topic or process that is particularly technical or complicated, it is perfectly acceptable to ask a reporter to read your quotes back to you.

Has the reporter’s past coverage of this topic been positive or negative?

The last thing you want to do if you are hit with a tough question is to say, “no comment.” If after reading a reporter’s tweets and archived stories, you get the sense that he or she has a less-than-favorable view of your client’s organization or industry, you should anticipate worst-case-scenario questions. Pick three main points you want to get across during the interview and help your client practice using a bridging statement to stay on message no matter what type of question comes their way.

What should my client wear?

The general rule of thumb for appropriate TV interview wardrobe is a conservative business casual outfit in a solid color, such as navy blue. Steer clear of white  — it can wash out the skin on camera. If your client will be sitting in front of a green screen during the interview, he or she will definitely want to avoid wearing green, unless the two of you are working on a floating head gag for Halloween.

What is my client’s message?

Have multiple talking points for your client before the interview and also create an archive of facts and examples to reference. Although asking a reporter for questions ahead of time may seem like a good idea, remember that reporters are usually slammed with deadlines that don’t leave a lot of time for extra tasks. A better strategy is to ask the reporter for the angle of the story and then generate a list of sample questions for your client to study ahead of the interview. Don’t like the reporter’s questions? Feel free to throw in your own questions at the end of the interview when the reporter inevitably asks, “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

It’s always a good idea to practice with your client by doing a mock interview, especially if he or she is not a seasoned interviewee. Pay attention to body language, tone, and vocabulary. Are their arms crossed in a defensive stance? Are they swaying? Do they talk with their hands so much that it’s distracting? Are they smiling when appropriate? If the interview is for television, make sure your client does not look straight into the camera. He or she should look at the reporter and speak in conversational, clear, and easy-to-understand language (no industry jargon). Another good rule of thumb to share with clients is to answer in complete sentences as to provide the best possible sound byte(s).

What visuals does the reporter or producer need?

If you have high-resolution photos, graphics, or video that go along with the story topic, don’t be shy about offering them up to reporters or producers. Sometimes reporters will still want to take their own b-roll or photos, but often, ready-made visuals that cut down on hours in the field are more than welcome. The more assets you can offer a busy reporter to make his or her job a little easier, the better.

Now, go forth and guide your clients through winning interview after winning interview!