Key messages are essential for your success in an interview. This is especially true if you find yourself cornered by the journalist or, for that matter, if you have strayed from your subject. First of all, get yourself some breathing space by saying something like: “A very good point” or “That is an important issue.” Though these lines can sound patronizing, they are permissible when you come under pressure. Next, provide an appropriate key message and, if necessary, something topical. In some cases, however, the key message alone will create the perception that you have answered the question, and that’s all that matters. Other times, the journalist may confront you with a misperception. In that case, stop him politely but firmly. Say something like “Not at all. What is true…” and so on followed by a key message.
If you have something to tell the press go to them. If not, don’t. If there is one thing journalists hate, it’s being fed a story that is irrelevant or does not warrant a trip. In that case, just send out a press release. Many companies still seem to think that it’s reason enough to call a press conference because the last one was a long time ago. That’s not enough, it’ll just get journalists’ backs up and get you bad press.
To judge whether a subject is relevant, ask yourself whether it’s enough to warrant an article more than a few lines long. To find out whether a press conference is called for, ask yourself if the subject is likely to generate questions and whether you have some good answers. A press conference also makes sense if the subject has pictures to it (preferably moving ones) and if company representatives are willing and able to speak in front of a camera. In all other cases, a telephone conference or a press release will be enough.
Planning for an interview may sound self-defeating. After all, isn’t conversation about the unexpected? Still preparation isn’t just possible, it’s essential. First off, get information about who is coming to talk to you and what he or she probably wants to find out. Most importantly, however, decide what you are going to tell the other person, and in what order. Picture an interview as if it were a tour of your company.
Most of us dislike change. Most of us, however, will accept change if we think we can cope with it. This means change can only be welcome if it isn’t just foisted onto us. So when you have some news that refers to change, the first thing is to actually get it out. Don’t put this off or the office grapevine will do it for you, and then it’s too late. But before you publish, decide what your actual message will be. There has to be a positive aspect in it for your people, and that’s the one you should focus on. Put the good news first, then give them the not-so-good news, and, finally, loop back to the good news.
When professionals hold press conferences or give interviews they usually prepare by compiling key messages. Many times they will write them on cue cards. The pack of cue cards will then be structured into three parts, labelled something like must, should and can.
The must category will contain no more than three messages, which the professional will insert into the interview whether he is asked about them or not. The should category will typically contain not many more, because three is what the human brain can handle unconsciously. Anything more, and it needs to switch on special circuits. The rest of the cards (the “can” cards) can hold an indeterminate number of statements.
This is the ammunition you need to fight your way out of a corner or build a bridge to an area you are more comfortable with. Together, this pack of cards makes up your agenda. Just having it will not necessarily make your interview or press conference a success, but not having an agenda is a pretty sure recipe for a failure. So make things easy for Lady Luck: prepare and make sure you play with a full deck of cards.