Make an impression when briefing executives for media and analyst interviews

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As public relations (PR) and communications professionals know, senior executives are busy. So much so, the limited contact you have with them is an occasion to show your value. If you use an agency, you also want to make sure execs see the services that you’ve enlisted are worth the expense.

When it comes to preparing execs for media and analyst interviews, you particularly want to make a strong impression. After all, it’s through journalists and high-profile influencers that their words and thoughts can have an impact on a company’s reputation and target audiences. 

Enter the briefing document, an overlooked opportunity to demonstrate depth of knowledge and strategic expertise. Too often it’s viewed as a perfunctory exercise, with descriptions that are copied-and-pasted directly from a publication’s site, accompanied by reporter interview tips that don’t do much more than describe the topic.

It’s a terrible waste of one of the few times when communications pros get to directly counsel a C-level executive on something that quickly has the ability to reach so many.

Don’t cut and paste.

Never provide a briefing doc that simply copies media outlet descriptions from their website or your media database. These are usually rife with marketing language that, if used verbatim, makes it sound as if you’re a cheerleader instead of a savvy professional. There’s also the plagiarism problem. If an executive visits the publication and sees you’ve just copied, not only does it make you look lazy, it calls into question how well you truly understand the media landscape. This is not a conversation you want to provoke. 

Ask yourself some key questions before you pass along briefing doc descriptions, such as:

  • How influential is the publication? The unique views per month can help answer this question, but also be aware of the caliber of the interviews it’s able to secure, advertisers it attracts and subscription price, if any.
  • Who is their typical reader? If it’s a strong publication, the media kit should contain basic readership data, but you’ll gain a deeper understanding by reviewing content that it typically publishes.
  • Does the publication have a unique voice? Is it just the facts or is there lots of editorializing? A comedic bent or serious tone?
  • Who are the competitors? Which publications are aiming at the same audience?
  • Has the publication changed something significant about itself recently? Has it recently undergone a redesign? Did it lose or gain a marquee reporter or columnist? Was it recently sold?

Use multiple sources for your reporter/analyst bios.

When providing reporter and analyst bios, again, the backgrounder shouldn’t rely exclusively on descriptions provided by a media database or outlet’s website. Be sure to read reporters’ most recent articles in order to provide a better sense of their editorial focus and awareness of any current subjects in which they have particularly strong opinions.

A LinkedIn page can provide useful career information and be sure the Twitter page has been reviewed. Journalists and analysts are usually far more open about their interests, pet peeves and biases on Twitter than in day-to-day reporting.

Key questions to ask include:

  • How much do they know about their beat? If this is a new beat to the reporter or analyst, this could provide your executives with a golden opportunity to educate them on the industry and position themselves as a go-to source in the future. On the other hand, if the reporter or analyst is a recognized expert, this knowledge can prevent executives from appearing condescending.
  • What are their interests, both professional and personal? Understand trends and developments the influencer is following within their beat, but also keep an eye out for personal interests. If it turns out both your executive and a reporter enjoy cave diving on weekends, that could go a long way toward creating a positive, long-term relationship.
  • What does their previous experience say about their current position? Just because they no longer report on a topic doesn’t mean they’re no longer interested in it. The more your executives know about the reporter or analyst, the better they can adjust their conversation to be more appealing.
  • Have they written recently about competitors? If so, make sure this information is included in the briefing doc and, in a tips section, highlight excerpts from reporting that will help your executive understand any potential biases.

Provide your executives with a strategy for the interview.

The meat of any briefing doc goes by many names, but its function is to familiarize the executive with the topic of the interview and provide a strategic plan and tactical advice to ensure it’s a success. Most briefing docs, however, stop after describing the opportunity. Anyone can provide that. You, or your agency, is being paid for expert counsel - so make sure you provide strategic guidance.

How much depth should you provide? That depends on the situation. Some executives prefer limited input, while others want much more detailed counsel on how to handle an interview. Whatever their preferences, here are some tips to help ensure that the counsel you provide is valuable to them. 

  • Include standard best practices for any interview: Even if your executive is an experienced interviewee, it never hurts to include reminders of basic dos and don’ts, such as: Never go off the record; the interview should be a conversation, not a monologue; don’t feel like you have to answer every question, etc.
  • Give advice that’s specific to the opportunity: Is this going to be published as a Q&A? Make sure the executive has concise and snappy messages at the ready. Will this be the exec’s first broadcast interview? You might want to include some advice about appropriate attire.
  • Provide guidance for managing the interview: Again, the amount of detail will depend on your executive’s needs. But for an important interview with an inexperienced interviewee, you may want to provide a complete playbook for the interview’s flow, with suggestions for introductory small talk (“I saw you’re also a Longhorns fan. Hook ‘em horns!”) to the primary messages they need to communicate, complete with sample sound bites.
  • If you expect the interview to be contentious, provide the executive with clear counsel on how to handle difficult questions: Make sure the reporter’s work is evaluated to see how executives from other companies handle pointed questions, and generalize from those who succeeded to provide targeted advice. Try to anticipate the most troublesome questions and provide clear advice on how to respond.
  • Warn the executive of any biases the reporter may hold: If the reporter or analyst has previously written negatively about similar businesses, for example, be sure your executive is aware of important critiques and has potential responses.

Not all briefing documents need to be heavily detailed. Interviews with familiar, friendly reporters and analysts most likely will call for a lighter touch. But don’t discount the value of a strong briefing sheet. Opportunities to communicate directly with top executives don’t come around very often. Make the most of it.

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