Question: What do many new spokespeople at technology companies
have in common? Answer: they make similar mistakes and fall into
similar traps. Based on my experience as a media trainer, the most
common ones include:
- Misunderstanding the Media. Too many spokespeople
confuse PR opportunities with free advertising. Ouch! No reporter,
editor, or host wants to be a billboard for your products or service;
their job is to provide interesting and useful information to
their readers or audience. And if you help them do so, you'll
maximize your chances of positive coverage.
- Misunderstanding the Spokesperson Role. Some
spokespeople think that they're on a sales call when they meet
the press. So they toss out puffery and hyperbole or try to "close
on the objection." Then they become frustrated by the "poor"
coverage, if any, that they receive. The key is simple: inform,
- Lacking Message Points.At first blush, it
might seem that telling spokespeople to have message points is
as obvious as telling them to wear clothes during an interview.
But in fact, many spokespeople do arrive metaphorically naked
for interviews - bereft of key message points. Deliver several
strong messages well, and you might just see them in print or
on the air.
- Unleashing a Core Dump. When spokespeople feel
the need to educate the interviewer about everything that could
be known about their products, services, or companies, the interview
loses focus. An effective spokesperson knows when to cut to the
chase and assess what level of detail the interviewer is seeking.
- Over-Answering. Most inexperienced spokespeople don't
know when to stop talking. By babbling on, they increase their
chances of being misquoted or driving the interview off-topic.
Don't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory - keep answers short
and to the point.
- Failing to Listen. A guaranteed way to irritate
an interviewer is to interrupt or finish his or her questions.
You need to establish a rapport and communicate respectfully -
just as you would with a colleague or friend.
- Speaking in Jargon. It's often tough for spokespeople
to adjust their technical level to that of the interviewer. But
it's also critical. If you talk over the interviewer's head, you'll
decrease the chances of an accurate write up; if you "dumb
down" the information for a technologically-sophisticated
interviewer, you'll likewise decrease the chances of getting the
kind of coverage you desire.
- Missing the "So What?" Too often,
spokespeople focus on the intricacies of their technology and
forget that ultimately, the game is about offering a better value
proposition for your customers. Demonstrate how your products
and services solve your customers' problems and help them achieve
- Trashing Competitors. Spokespeople can easily
lose credibility if they boast about overthrowing the 800-pound
gorilla in their market space. Far better to talk about the unique
features and advantages of your offerings and how you plan to
increase market share. In short, take the high road when it comes
to competitors - you'll do more to increase your chances of obtaining
the good press you deserve.
- Playing Tug of War. Some spokespeople believe
that they need to come across as "tough," so that they
can control the interview through intimidation. Bad idea; you
might win a battle or two, but you'll still lose the war. Victory
goes to he or she who controls the ink. So be a smart player and
check your ego at the door.
Are there other mistakes spokespeople can make during an interview?
Sure. But if they can avoid the "Big Ten," they'll maximize
their chances of a successful experience with the media.
Steve Bennett is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based media trainer
who specializes in helping spokespeople of high-technology companies
deliver effective strategic messages to: the trade, business, and
consumer media; analysts; stakeholders; and the public. An active
journalist in the computer field, Steve is also a sought-after freelance
spokesperson by major corporations. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by calling 617-492-0442.
Copyright © 1999 Steve Bennett.
Permission is granted to reprint this article in whole or in part,
provided that you attribute the material to Steve Bennett, Media
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