PR Industry Trends

5 Steps to Nail Every Media Interview (Step 2: Develop Key Messages)

Last week I started my series of mastering media interviews with the first step – start with the questions. The key in that phase is quantity, not quality. The reason is quite simple, the more questions you develop, the less likely you will be hit with a question you didn’t prepare for. Now we focus on your answers, and the beauty of this step is you only have three.

Step 2: Develop 3 Key Messages (per subject area) That Answer Every Question

Deliver Key Messages

This is the rule that seems to stir the most doubt in the minds of my students. How can three answers possibly address every single question? It’s simple if you understand the Laws of Memory.

Memory Law #1: No matter how brilliant you may be when you open your mouth, your audience is likely to walk away with only one or two things.

As humans, most of us are incapable of remembering much more. That is why an advertisement has to run hundreds of times in order to be effective. Keep in mind an ad usually carries a single message and, according to studies, has to be seen or read at least six times for that message to sink in.

So, let me see if I can make that light bulb in your head go off with just a few key bullets:

  • If my audience is unlikely to remember more than two or three things, and…
  • I have to repeat my key points multiple times in order for them to remember it, and…
  • In most media interviews, I’m likely to get only eight to 12 questions, then…
  • It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out I need to reduce the number of answers that I deliver in order to create the repetition necessary to be successful.

Brilliant, right? So, how do I develop three key messages that answer every single question? The key is to look at the issue from a 50,000-foot perspective. Most people tend to get into the weeds and believe that a specific point is a message. The details are nothing more than supporting statements for a much broader message. To uncover the higher level key messages, you must use the “why” question. If you keep asking “why is that important,” you usually uncover the higher level message.

Now that you have your high level message, you simply line up your key messages to each question. If you discover you have a question that your messages don’t answer, you don’t have the right key messages. Review your messages with the why question and the answer usually emerges.

Now comes the killer part that will contradict everything I just said. In reality, the reporter’s questions don’t matter. If you doubt that, pick up a newspaper and tell me how many questions you see. The answer is almost always none. All that really matters is how you answer the question. That is what winds up in the story. If you want to simplify your life, stick with the three key messages that answer every single question.

About Brian Ellis:

Brian leads PadillaCRT's media and communication training consultancy. For more than a decade, he has coached corporate executives to become more effective communicators and presenters. As a former journalist, Brian offers a unique perspective on how the media operates during a crisis to such clients as Girl Scouts, Pfizer, Ford Motor Company, Atkins Corporation, The Federal Reserve, McNeil Specialty Pharmaceuticals, C.B. Fleet, Performance Food Group and Abbott Laboratories. His media training students are no strangers to national network programs such as ABC’s “Nightly News,” ABC’s “20/20,” NBC’s “Today Show,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” MSNBC and CNN. Prior to joining CRT/tanaka, Brian worked for 10 years as an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter, anchor and producer.

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