Saturday, January 9, 2010

Media Savvy Musts

Feel Confident at Your Next Media Interview

Believe me, there is nothing scary about a media interview. They just want your information. In all my years of being interviewed on radio and television, for newspapers and magazines, only once was a former friendly host hostile, catching me off guard. However, within ten minutes he was eating out of my hand. Keep to your facts, have a sense of humor and you can handle any interview with ease.
The first time I was in the media I was two years old, when my adventurous parents moved from Canada to South Africa. I grew up with the media around our family as we went searching for the Lost City of the Kalahari in Namibia every year. They were always nice and real people.
In my teens, I started doing nutrition interviews as a student because my professor asked me to. She was nervous when she was asked a question she couldn’t answer. As a student, it didn’t matter if I fluffed it. As it turned out, the questions were easy so I started off fearless.
This isn’t marketing to the media (another topic) but what to do if the media contacts you. The “musts” can be found in any media-training manual. These are the “musts” from my experience.
Newspaper, magazine and radio interviews:
a. Return calls immediately. Understand deadlines for newspaper and radio interviews; magazine interviews have a longer timeline.
b. If they are referring to an article or study, ask them to fax it first and call them back when you have your facts in order.
c. Prepare for the interview: Ask if it is live or taped and who is the target audience.
d. Research the subject and suggest questions. After your suggested questions, add ADA info: For a registered dietitian in your area, go to The American Dietetic Association’s website at
e. When answering, be honest, not perfect.
f. Be prepared for disappointments. Interviews of four hours or counseling a magazine reader for three months can result in a one-sentence quote,and not necessarily a good one.
Television Interviews:
When I gave a talk for the Nutrition Entrepreneurs on this topic, Media Savvy Musts, I showed an edited tape of ten of my television interviews. I explained the preparation beforehand, why I chose to wear what I did, what surprised me, and how good I felt afterwards. Even though the tape showed the best parts of my interviews in it, members liked to know I was normal.
a. Spontaneous interviews can be improved on if you know all the questions beforehand. Do the best you can and don’t beat yourself up afterwards. The tape can always be edited later.
b. Carefully worded and written facts sound better to your ear, spontaneity sounds better to the listeners.
c. Check with the producer that your name and credentials are correct. Add MS and RD but not FADA, CDE etc. MS, RD is confusing enough to the consumer.
d. Bring props, don’t be a talking head.
Spokesperson work - the difference:
a. You will be media trained. This can be a harrowing experience but prepares you for the worst (which has never happened to me). With practice it gets easier.
b. Food companies are not going to put words in your mouth you don’t agree with. They want the facts to be correct and for you to feel comfortable and confident with the message. Of course, if this is not the case, run.
c. Television interviews are about your message, spokesperson work is about the company’s key messages and their image.
d. Practice transitioning to your key messages when the host goes off the subject.
e. Don’t sound like you’re advertising, your client won’t want that either.
f. “Desksides” means sitting at the desks of health editors and chatting about the product or program.
1. For phone interviews, pajamas are fine!
2. For television: Bold colors are suggested in every media-training manual. Patterns “dance” and distract. My “must” for women: wear a jacket. When they mike you, you don’t need strangers wiring inside your dress/blouse.
3. Look stylish. If you don’t understand fashion, have someone with taste whom you trust, help you. I do.
4. No big jewelry that will tap the mike.
5. Neat hair. You cannot believe how attractive, natural-looking wisps look messy on a close-up. For women, overdo your makeup otherwise you’ll look washed out. The plus side is that it will wash out your wrinkles as well. Men will need some powder; no shiny faces here. If there’s a makeup artist, ask for a touch up.
6. Look under your shoes. The soles may be worn and show if you’re perched on a chair.
7. Look in the mirror just before you go on camera; sometimes a skew tie or necklace is distracting to the audience.
The interview:
a. Speak in short sentences (sound bytes). I still find that tough. Answering the question directly helps. After that, go into more detail.
b. Don’t look at the camera; look at the host, unless you are actually speaking to the camera.
c. Show enthusiasm, don't speak in one tone or you may sound boring.
d. Smile. Talk as if you are talking to friends in your living room.
e. Stay seated until they tell you to leave. Watch TV interviews. You will notice the host and guest continue talking while the music plays and titles scroll.
To further your career:
a. Start a database with your television, radio, magazine and newspaper contacts: name, company, address, telephone number, email, what was said and done. You may need them at a later date.
a. Send a thank you email (mail is not popular at the news media anymore)
b. Keep copies of all interviews and add to your resume.
c. Edit your tapes.
d. Laser copy articles and magazine covers. See how I’ve done it on
Enjoy and keep our profession in show business.