How to navigate your first media interview

You’ve perfected your brand story and pitched your idea. And bingo, a journalist loves your story and wants to interview you for a feature. Nice work! When the excitement settles and the nerves start to creep in, take a structured approach to preparing for your interview so you can confidently tell your brand story and build a quality working relationship with the journalist. Here’s a guide to help you navigate the first of hopefully many media opportunities.

Before the interview:

  • Get a list of questions from the journalist, even if they’re indicative, and practice your responses. This preparation will help you to be more relaxed, more confident and more capable of delivering a quality interview. 

  • Research your interviewee. Know their experience and journalistic history, note any hobbies (maybe they’ve authored a book or worked across the world), and read a few recent articles they’ve published. If it’s a face-to-face meeting, find a photo on one of their social media channels or public profile, so you know who to look out for. 

  • Prepare three to five key points about your business and be sure to communicate them during the interview. These should include simple, concise sentences about what your business does, what makes it different to other (potentially similar) organisations and what inspired you to establish the business in the first place.

At the interview:

  • Don’t be late. Arrive at your destination five or 10 minutes before your meeting or if it’s over the phone, have notes, a pen and paper or your laptop in front of you at least five minutes before calling the journalist. This is not only professional courtesy, but it will also give you time to compose yourself before the interview starts. 

  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ to a question. It prevents you from lying, exaggerating or being evasive. Just be sure to follow up with an answer later.

  • Clarify if the information you’re about to share is confidential and state explicitly that it’s ‘off the record’. Never assume that a journalist will know what you are and are not willing to have published.

  • Agree on next steps before leaving the interview. Do you need to clarify any points? Does the journalist need examples, case studies or more information? Note this down and remember to deliver. 

After the interview:

  • Write a ‘nice to meet you’ note within 24 hours of meeting, specifying any information you will send them and when. Add any questions you want clarified, including when the journalist anticipates publishing the story.

  • Don’t assume your story will be top of the pile. If your story isn’t considered ‘urgent’, there’s a chance it will get pushed if a bigger news story swoops in. Be patient and don’t hesitate to follow up if you don’t hear anything for a couple of weeks.

  • Once your story is published, share it! Use it as content on your social media channels, email it to stakeholders as an article of interest and share it with colleagues. 

Your first media interview is an exciting step in building the reputation of your startup. While it can be a daunting experience, being prepared, confident and persistent is key to ensuring that this is the first of many successful media opportunities.

Article published on SmartCompany:

What startups and SMBs can learn from Gillette’s new ad

You’ve no doubt watched Gillette’s new ad about overcoming toxic masculinity, overhauling the way the brand positions its 30-year tagline ‘the best a man can get’.

Love it or hate it, this ad is a powerful reminder of the importance of change and the need to think bigger than the vocal minority. This is particularly applicable to startup founders and small business owners, who are at the beginning of a long journey of building, managing and defending their brand’s reputation. What can founders learn from Gillette’s new ad? A great deal, but here are a few thoughts to get you started:

Not everyone will support you – and that’s a good thing.

Commentary about the ad has been incredibly heated and why wouldn’t it be? It challenges the very essence of populist masculinity and taps into the heavily scrutinised #MeToo era of accountability. While your startup might not be so controversial, there is a growing expectation that brands have an opinion on one of the many social and political issues dominating the news. In fact, a 2018 study found that one in two people choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on social issues. As a new or growing business, this large portion of potential customers should be a real consideration when planning your marketing and content strategy.

Of course, taking a stand has implications. You’ll never please your entire customer base – in fact, much like Gillette, you’ll probably lose a few. But you’ll earn the respect and loyalty of those who support you. And you’ll develop a brand with greater depth and resilience.

Change is hard, but vital.

Gillette’s ad reflects a very different position on masculinity to what it’s been known for these past 30 years. And this has been difficult for many people to come to terms with, because on the whole, change is hard. Our brains are even hardwired to prefer negative consequences over uncertain ones. Does this mean a brand should never change? Absolutely not.

As your business model, customer needs, social expectations, technology and industry requirements change, so too must your brand position and narrative – if you fail to adapt, you run the risk of losing relevance while other more agile brands take the lead. As a new business, you have a unique opportunity to create a business model and culture that thrives on change. Regularly evaluate whether your brand still fits. Consider broader social, political and news narratives to understand and respond to changing customer expectations. Look to industry trends and new technology to prepare for major disruptions in the future. Finally, look to the successes and failings of other brands and learn from their experiences. 

Never make audience assumptions based on a vocal few.

If you scroll through the comments on Gillette’s Facebook announcement of its ad, you’ll see a backlash of aggressive, determined, soon-to-be ex-customers. Based on these comments, it would be easy to make assumptions about what Gillette’s customers think of the ad – it’s a flop. Too controversial. Painting all men with the same, destructive brush. Some media outlets would even have you think that “most people” hate the new Gillette ad. But does this reflect the majority of customer sentiment? No, it doesn’t. In fact, social media analytics of online conversations indicate that the large majority of comments about the ad have been positive.  

At some stage, you’ll no doubt experience a brand cynic and justified or not, the negativity will sting. But don’t make a knee-jerk reaction until you know more. Do your own analysis of customer feedback or if it’s large-scale, use one of the many social media analytics or research agencies to investigate whether these brand cynics reflect a growing customer sentiment. Once you have the data, plan your next step. Make it strategic and considered. This doesn’t mean ignore the vocal minority – in some instances, it’s better to address and manage them head on. But whatever you do, don’t make assumptions. The reputational risk is just too great.  

As a new business, you have the unique opportunity to start fresh and learn from the experiences of brands around the world. While managing your startup’s reputation won’t always be easy, the right approach and mindset will help you to create a brand that’s fluid, responsive and resilient.

Article published on StartupSmart: