The Resolution Issue Learning to talk the talk

Jessica Perry//January 3, 2017

The Resolution Issue Learning to talk the talk

Jessica Perry//January 3, 2017

Kyle Kirkpatrick remembers the incident well: One of his clients was conducting an interview when he made a dry, offhand remark that was meant to be funny.
“It didn’t translate to print,” said Kirkpatrick, director at Beckerman.

Kirkpatrick said mistakes like these are common among emerging businesses or anyone not used to the environment of a media interview. Business leaders need to know how their comments will (or will not) resonate with people, depending on how they are delivered.

The good news? There are things anyone can do to prepare themselves for these situations.

The first thing, Kirkpatrick said, is to give oneself the distance to gain a new perspective.

“It’s likely that, as an interview subject, you’re too close to your business, because you’re performing your job role day in and day out,” he said. “That can cloud what is clearly digestible, not just to a reporter but the readers of a publication.”

Kirkpatrick said that even goes for companies speaking to publications from within an industry, such as a tech startup speaking with Wired.

“Things can be so specialized that, even for a technology trade publication, it’s beneficial to take a step back in all cases and really help to contextualize and explain your business from a very basic and general level so that it’s digestible for a reporter and readers,” he said.

According to Kirkpatrick, that’s the true work of those in the media relations field, despite prevailing cynicism.

This is … the year I learn how to promote myself through the media

“There’s a cynicism that a public relations job is either (to) embellish or skew the truth in a way that is favorable to a business, and I think the vast majority of the time, that’s not the case,” he said. “The job of a public relations professional is to come in as a third party, look at a business from an outsider’s perspective and be able to determine what about them is newsworthy for a broader audience beyond those that are directly involved with the business.”

The first step, then, is to know the story to tell.

“When you’re a business owner or executive, you’re working almost every day to grow your business or revenues, expand or whatever your business goals are,” Kirkpatrick said. “By the time you’re ready for an interview, you may be so in the weeds that you can lose track of the fact that there is a real human element to what you’re doing.”

Odds are, he said, there’s something noteworthy about that work.

“Almost in all cases, that business is impacting people outside of your company,” he said. “So, I think you should be reminding yourself of where you started, why you started your business and how you’re intended to impact the marketplace or your customers.”

Communicating these ideas about a business can be a delicate art: The interview subject needs to know the story — and have it tailored to the style of the specific publication he or she is speaking to — but also needs to be personable and quotable.

In short, a subject needs to be rehearsed, but not stiff.

“Any interview is a balance between having an honest and organic conversation, but also putting forth a message that, as a business owner, you feel is important for a publication’s readership to know,” he said. “We often advise our clients to jot down the core messages that they want to convey during the interview.”

At the same time, he said, don’t go overboard.

“It’s very important not to completely script oneself because, again, you can lose track of the human element of your business and what makes it truly unique and special,” he said

One way to maintain that balance, Kirkman said, is to take a few moments to build a rapport with the reporter ahead of the interview.

The interview checklist
Have a media interview coming up and want to make sure you really stick the landing? Here’s a quick checklist of steps to help you prepare for the daunting task of communicating yourself and your ideas.

Know your story: What’s the human element to your business? What drove you to start it in the first place? How does what you do affect the reader? All of these things can help you connect the things you do day in and day out to your audience in a profound way.

Know your audience: It’s hard to connect if you don’t know with whom you’re speaking. Read old stories from the publication with which you’re about to interact. If possible, read some stories by the specific reporter. Taking the time to get familiar with their style and voice can help you determine the best ways to frame your story.

Build a rapport: If at all possible, don’t just get right down to business. An interview needs to feel organic while still communicating your core message, so take your time to settle into your conversation with the reporter. It can help to keep things lively and natural. This is where talking over coffee or a meal can come in handy.

“It really helps to have a conversation with the reporter ahead of time,” he said. “It’s beneficial to, whenever possible, to conduct an interview over coffee or a meal, where it’s more of a relaxed setting.”

But even if a subject is able to hit the target, Kirkpatrick said there’s an important fact that must be remembered: Press is not advertising.

“A lot of people, when they get an interview, they think it’s an opportunity to drive more business, but that’s what advertising is for,” he said.

“Interviews are for telling your story in an honest and clear way by understanding the audience that you’re telling that story to.”

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