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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Commercial Edition   |   June 2014

Media Relations 101: Preparing for an Interview

Convey your message effectively with advance planning and strategy

Media Relations 101: Preparing for an Interview

Corporate executives are often used to doing press interviews, and many of them have undergone training to master the art of speaking effectively to reporters. Although it’s less common for other professionals in the commercial mortgage and financial services industries to find themselves the subject of a press interview, understanding how to interview effectively is just as important for them as it is for executives.

There are a few simple lessons you can learn before your next — or even first — interview to help you manage the situation and ensure a more productive outcome.

You should approach all media interviews with three main goals in mind:

  1. Showcase your knowledge about a particular subject
  2. Demonstrate expertise about yourself and establish credibility for your company
  3. Enable a journalist to create an informed and insightful story

The following guidelines will help you prepare in advance and stick to your key messages, regardless of what questions are asked or what approach the reporter is taking to the story.

Prepare

Request background information on the proposed story or sample questions to help you prepare for the interview. Questions to ask: What type of story is being written? What is the angle? Who else is being interviewed for it? What is the reporter’s deadline? Also, see if you can locate and then read other stories that the reporter has written to understand that person’s style, tone, etc.

Map out your key points in advance and make them early in the interview — you may run out of time, so it’s imperative that you get your messages across as quickly as possible. Use research to support the issues and trends you plan to cite, and be prepared to give solid examples. For example, if you are being interviewed for a story on a specific type of mortgage structure, be sure to illustrate your points with examples of deals you’ve worked on that support the story.

Remember that an interview is an opportunity to tell your story. Use every question as an opportunity to further your agenda, but don’t be too obvious about it. Touch on the reporter’s questions with a general answer first, then bridge to your point.

For example, should you be asked about trends in debt financing for affordable multifamily housing, you may answer along the lines of, “While I can’t speak about other companies that are in the market, I can tell you that we have provided record volumes of debt financing for affordable properties this year, including [details about your point].” Be sure to use this opportunity to showcase some of your most interesting and unique deals.

Anticipate difficult questions, and consider presenting an opposing point of view. Opposing perspectives help make a news story more interesting. Learn about the other side of the issue or topic being discussed, and be ready to present your point of view without appearing defensive.

Avoid negativity

Never speak negatively about competitors or mistakes made by others. Always take the high road. If asked to comment on a controversial issue involving a competitor, simply say something like, “I am not in a place to comment about that company or the decision it made. But I can tell you that at my company [description of how the situation would have been handled].”

Few things are worse in a published story than a negative quote presented completely out of context and used to cause industry or personal conflict. An example of this was a case where a financial professional commented on how difficult it could be to conduct business overseas in a particular country. He noted that the local financial entities could be “tricky to work with.” The quote did not play well with the corporate offices when it was made public because the corporation engaged in other business dealings in that same country. In the media, as in life, disparaging others usually reflects poorly on you.

Communicate effectively

You don’t have to know everything. If a reporter asks a question you cannot answer, don’t fudge. Simply say something along the lines of, “That is an interesting question, but outside of my area of expertise.” For example, if your expertise is lending within the multifamily sector and a reporter asks about trends in different asset classes such as office or hospitality, it’s fine to answer that the question doesn’t pertain to your background. If possible, have somebody from your company get back to the reporter with an answer later.

Be brief. News is presented in small bits of information. Keep your messages down to a few sentences and repeat your key points. Use facts to back up your claims, and be sure to interject your company name often so it gets captured in a quote.

Use examples to explain your points. Examples are a compelling way to convey information and bring facts to life. You may even reference real-life case examples without compromising your client. For example, if you are introducing a new type of flexible financing to help clients secure mortgages, you may say you recently helped a client with the new product in question and outline the transaction, but not mention the company’s name. The identity of the client is not important; the concept, process and favorable outcome are.

Speak in a language everyone understands. Each industry has its own terminology that some reporters may understand, but the general public may not. Be careful to explain abbreviations and acronyms, and take care to avoid jargon.

Finally, beware of hypothetical statements. If a reporter prefaces a question with, “Would you say?” and then quotes a statement for you to agree or disagree with, don’t accept it. Don’t let anyone determine your agenda or put words into your mouth. Make your own statements. Also, never repeat a reporter’s negative statements.

Stay in control

Be on your guard at all times. Journalists are looking for a story. Never get too comfortable or treat an interview as a chat with a friend. Remember that nothing is ever off the record. Anything you say may be used. If you are being interviewed over the phone, stand up for the entire interview. You literally will be on your toes, and will not relax or be lured into a false sense of comfort and security. If being interviewed in person, sit on the edge of your seat for the same reason.

Lastly, consider having another person in the room or on the phone with you during the interview. This person should preferably be your public relations counsel. A third-party observer may refute any subsequent erroneous quotes that might appear, help follow up on open questions or additional information requests and, should the interview turn aggressive or negative, intervene on your part and bring it to a swift conclusion.  


 


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