Media interviews: The care and feeding of the CEO
Count me among those who ascribe to the adage that it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes than your own. Which puts me in the perfect position for blog readers to take advantage of the wisdom I’ve acquired during the times when things didn’t go just right.
I’m thinking about the moment during a live interview on Fox Business News when the host of the program (who will remain nameless since he’s still holding forth) thought it would be a good idea to begin drilling the CEO of the Fortune 500 company where I toiled as director of corporate communications on a whole new line of questioning – questions that had nothing to do with the matter at hand but that were a point of some controversy years earlier. I can remember sitting off-camera, wringing my hands, clenching my face and wondering where my career would take me next.
Of course, there are never any guarantees that a reporter (or maleficent host) keeps to the agreed-upon topic, but I felt that I had let the CEO down by not adequately preparing him for the possibility that such a thing could happen.
So, my mistake. Your lesson.
When it comes to the care and feeding of executives for whom you’ve arranged a media interview, here are some other tips that may keep you from making some mistakes of your own.
In most cases, your CEO or other exec knows their subject matter cold, and as such, you may discount the importance of adequately preparing him or her for the interview. Instead, do the opposite by briefing the boss with a lot of the following:
- Background on the media outlet and the reporter, including links to some recent articles, especially those that expose a point of view. I also like to make it a point to see what the outlet or reporter has reported on the very morning of the interview. The interviewer may likely see if CEO has any of his own perspective on the matter.
- Get the latest data. Make sure the numbers that are relevant to the subject are up to date and correct.
- Brief her on the context of the story and the likely line of questions, including some that you think will logically be asked. And to the point above, go over answers to questions that may come out of left field.
If possible, tape the interview and, whether it’s being recorded or not, take good notes, including parts of the conversation that may not ring true to you. If it’s a phone interview, you may have the luxury of sliding a note to the boss to remind him to mention X or Y or to clarify a point she may need to restate. If it’s not a live on-air interview, you also should appoint yourself referee of sorts. You may need to remind the reporter that a question is off-topic or that the boss has just a few minutes left to talk.
Reach out sooner than later to the reporter and ask her if she got what she needed. If there were questions the exec were unable to answer, tell the reporter you will get back to them with what you can find. If there was an answer that seemed muddled, go ahead and offer a clarification consistent with your boss’s POV. Get the reporter’s deadline, and see if they can give you any sense of when the story will run.
Remember, a key component of media relations is relationship-building, but your first and foremost priority should be the care and feeding of the boss. If not, that may be a mistake you may never get to make twice.