Recently, during a live stream of Facebook’s weekly internal Q&A meeting, Mark Zuckerberg shared, “I do such a bad job at interviews.” When the CEO of a company with a market cap of over $500 billion admits that he does a poor job at press interviews, it makes you wonder: What makes for a good interview?
For starters, the quality of an interview should be judged from both the perspective of the interview subject (and their company) as well as the reporter (and their publication). I’ve worked with dozens of spokespeople over the years and have facilitated good, bad and, quite frankly, ugly interviews.
The likelihood of a good interview increases greatly if you identify spokespeople with certain innate qualities. Good interviews are also the result of proper preparation and training.
4 Requirements of Good Brand Spokespeople
Whether a company is big or small, there should be an arsenal of spokespeople to cover a variety of topics that will boost the corporate reputation. The best place to begin selecting your spokespeople is with these four requirements: interest, availability, knowledge, and title.
If a spokesperson isn’t interested in participating in interviews or doesn’t see the value, then guess what? They won’t be good at them. Public relations teams should educate their spokespeople on PR goals and share examples and results, especially over time, to maintain interest.
In the digital and social media age, the news cycle is rapid. If a spokesperson can’t respond within minutes or hours, they will miss out on opportunities.
Don’t assume travel means a spokesperson isn’t available. I’ve worked with colleagues who are road warriors, but make the time for interviews from airports, hotels, and cars. I’ve even done chat and email interviews with spokespeople who are in-flight.
An interview is an opportunity to share knowledge specific to a story topic. If a spokesperson doesn’t know what they’re talking about, they make themselves and their company look bad. A brand spokesperson should be a subject matter expert and, in partnership with the PR team, the interviewee should do additional research ahead of time.
Not all brand spokespeople are created equal in the eyes of the press. Certain roles and titles garner more media interest than others. More often than not, reporters prefer the opportunity to speak to a CEO or other member of the C-suite. It’s very difficult to get a reporter excited about speaking to a sales leader.
Going From Good to Great
Now that you’ve got someone who is a willing participant and knows what they’re talking about, there are a number of other factors that will make for an engaging and valuable interview, for both the company and the publication.
Unique and Timely POV
Contrarian and provocative points of view make for more interesting stories and help reporters provide a balance of ideas. A brand interviewee should be able to speak to relevant and timely matters, and provide perspective on what’s to come.
A good brand spokesperson, much like a good politician, is likeable, genuine, and sincere. When Mark Zuckerberg sat down with CNN in March 2018, following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, he was robotic and dodged a lot of the issues, as noted by the BBC.
Interviews can last a few minutes or hours. However, that doesn’t mean a brand spokesperson should ramble. It’s important to be clear and concise. The best spokespeople repeat their key points and pause periodically to allow reporters to ask follow-up questions. Training and preparation provide an opportunity to pinpoint key messages and practice concise delivery.
Even with extensive preparation and a public relations representative facilitating an interview, there’s onus on the brand spokesperson to exercise good judgment when asked a tough question, or in general. Elon Musk’s erratic behavior in interviews and with the media makes him a liability, not an asset, when it comes to interviews.
Open to Feedback
There’s always room for improvement, when it comes to interviews. Feedback, during the pre-interview prep work and post-interview, is critically important for a successful partnership between the brand spokesperson and the PR team.
Journalism has transformed in the last two decades. Many publications have shifted to digital platforms, while numerous publications have folded. Reporter deadlines are tight and workdays are long. Spokespeople who can empathize with the position a reporter is in will be better interview subjects.
To help my spokespeople understand the reporters they speak with, I’ve not only focused on general media training (i.e. message development, interview tactics) but have also shared “a day in the life” of a reporter.
Ready for Prime Time
Rarely, will you find a brand spokesperson who has all of the skills and characteristics outlined above. However, with the right partnership between PR and spokespeople, companies can be well-represented in press interviews and can forge relationships that will help tell their story and improve their reputation.