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A freak deep freeze happens in Texas.. A flash flood rushes through parts of New York City. A hurricane decimates parts of Florida.
Since these weather events happened in recent years, it’s not unfathomable that local reporters will call upon your home service company to get your expert opinion. It could be about how to prevent frozen pipes, what maintenance should be done on sump pumps, or how to tell if your plumbing and mechanical system is safely operational.
If you’ve never been interviewed by the media, chances are you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. This is why it’s best to be proactive and seek media training from a public relations professional before you’re called upon to comment. And you will be called if you’ve done the public relations work to make sure you are known as the local expert.
• Be prepared. You may think you know the subject well; after all, you are commenting on the issues you have solved as a business owner many times before. When we take on new clients at Ripley PR, we offer media training as one of the first agenda items so that our clients feel comfortable talking about their expertise on camera or over the phone. We teach them how to demonstrate their knowledge and confidently answer questions about their business.
• Take a breath and try to sound real. When you’re being interviewed and asked a challenging question, take a breath to give yourself a short time to consider the question before you answer. This also calms you down a little so you aren’t nervous.
However, don’t be so calm that you sound like a robot. It’s best to be prepared for any question that could come your way, but don’t write out a script. You will come across as inauthentic and, frankly, uninteresting. Nothing is worse than listening to someone who sounds mechanical.
• Listen to the interviewer. Although you’ve probably rehearsed it a thousand times in your head, make sure you listen to the actual questions the interviewer asks before answering. One word can change the whole meaning; if you answer a question you anticipated instead of answering the question that was actually posed, you might end up saying something completely incorrect.
It’s also good practice not to get something stuck in your head. Catchphrases or cliches should be used sparingly and only when they make a point. You want to sound like yourself and not a stereotype of your profession.
• Tell your story. Think about what makes your story compelling and unique. For example, instead of saying, “we’ve been in business for 50 years,” you should start with a bit of history and use your company’s name often. Say, “In 1972, my father started AAA Plumbing after inheriting the building from his great uncle,” instead. Being in business for 50 years is an accomplishment, but it’s not as interesting as how the business was started.
• Ask for clarification. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. You shouldn’t respond to questions that you are unsure about. If you don’t know the answer, be honest. Admit you don’t have a response at that moment and promise to call the reporter back with your response once you have researched the answer.
• Dress for success. As a home service professional, you probably don’t wear a suit and tie to work, so don’t wear one to an interview. However, don’t dress in jeans and a T-shirt, either. It’s best to wear a button-down shirt or polo with your company’s logo on it and some casual dress pants — like khakis. Avoid sunglasses and novelty ballcaps, as well. You want the interviewer and audience to pay attention to your words and not to the flashiness of your outfit.
• Avoid the hype. An interview is not a commercial, so don’t treat it like one. Stick to the subject you are there to comment on and leave the sales pitches to your advertising team.
• Don’t automatically assume the reporter is adversarial, but be prepared. Many business owners often perceive that the media is out to get them. While this is not the case when a reporter is asking for your advice because of your expertise, there are times when the media may call upon you to ask a tough question. Media training and a business crisis plan can help you overcome an adversarial interview.
• Keep it simple. Most industries have their own jargon easily understood by others in your field but not necessarily by the general public. Be cognizant of using too many acronyms that aren’t widely used, and use terms that laypeople can easily understand.
Media training is a must for anyone in your company who may face the press — from the C-Suite to the spokesperson. If you are trained properly, you will be able to communicate better with the men and women of the press.
Once you have established yourself as someone the media sees as a credible source of information, they will call on you often when they have a story relating to your industry. Having an effective spokesperson makes your business appear as though it is the leading authority on information in your market.
Just remember that a media appearance is your chance to tell your story and tell it as effectively as possible.
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