Preparing CEOs for media interviews: Do’s and Don’ts

Here are tips to make sure your CEO is set up for success in their next media interview.

If you work in media relations, you’re familiar with the unabashed glee that comes when a reporter positively responds to your pitch, and before you know it, you’re scheduling an interview for your CEO. While your first instinct might be to prop your feet up on your desk and call it day, the reality is that your work is just getting started.

Tight deadline or not, planning and preparation is key. With decades of experience preparing CEOs and other C-suite leaders for media interviews, we’re sharing our Dos and Don’ts that will help your CEO to make the most of the opportunity. After all, in this profession, there are few things better than reading a great story that you helped make possible.

  • DO research the reporter and outlet. Ahead of your initial outreach, take time to search through their previous articles to understand their approach and style. Head to their Twitter feed to get a feel for their personal stance on issues, who they follow, their hobbies and interests, etc. Once you’ve secured interest for the interview, ask the reporter if they would be willing to share specific topics they’d like to cover.
  • DON’T assume your CEO knows the talking points. Keep in mind that a CEO has a lot on her plate. Clearly lay out the three to four main points you’d suggest she h in the interview – no matter what. She may know her stuff, but make sure she focuses on no more than three key messages during an interview, no matter the questions being asked. Under each point, add some color with supporting facts, stories or data that will paint the whole picture in a compelling way.
  • DO anticipate all questions – especially the controversial ones. Based on your research, develop a list of potential questions to share in advance of the interview. These should include the questions the reporter has shared, questions related to the news your company has released, pressing questions about your industry and any other hot-button, controversial or trending questions in which your company or CEO could have a relevant perspective.
  • DON’T provide scripted answers. The talking points and supporting points should guide the answer. The goal is authenticity and a scripted response won’t achieve that. By sharing potential questions in advance, he can prepare and practice his responses.
  • DO remind her of the ground rules. It’s important to remind the boss that anything that is shared with a journalist is fair game to be reported. In some cases, not all information is ready to be shared, whether for legal reasons or not wanting to thwart additional coverage down the road. Staying on message and on topic is essential.
  • DON’T forget the on-camera prep. Whether it’s Skype or in-studio, it’s important to think of details like wardrobe, background, technology, body language and eye contact. Keep those arms uncrossed, look at the interviewer (or at the camera), have a tidy, brand-friendly backdrop and, of course, be as natural as you can
  • DO manage expectations. There’s no getting around the fact that not all news is positive. Don’t sugarcoat it.  Apologies can go a long way, as can detailed explanations, though it’s often better to simply move on.  The point is, your boss should not expect the reporter to simply fall in line or share the same perspective.  Be ready for tough questions, and don’t raise expectations that the result will be more positive than what you can realistically expect.

Take these dos and don’ts to heart, even if your CEO is dismissing the idea that they need to prepare.  It’s your job to see that they take full advantage of every media opportunity, and you may need to count on your powers of persuasion to convince them that focusing on these dos and don’ts ahead of time will make all the difference.  For more in-depth information and actual worksheets on how you can prepare your CEO for their next interview, download our latest offer here.


Lindsay O'Bar

Lindsay’s work focuses on community relations, internal communications and media relations for companies like Kroger, Virginia’s Community Colleges and the Virginia Department of Transportation. By marrying research and strategic thinking, she helps clients thoughtfully engage audiences and the community while driving business results.

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