Meet the Press!
By Lisa Readie Mayer
Sometime past, some point, you may have received a call from a local newspaper reporter, or a television reporter, or a radio producer that went something like this: Hi, barbecue retailer! We’d like to come to your store tomorrow to interview you for a segment on grilling trends.
Perhaps you immediately responded Yes! and considered it an amazing opportunity to market your brand, establish your store as a leading authority, and score free publicity. Or, maybe that call struck dread in your heart, turned your knees to jelly, and made you break out in a cold sweat.
If you fell into the latter camp, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 73% of the population has some level of anxiety about speaking in public – a feeling that is often heightened when facing a camera, microphone, or reporter’s notebook. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help you feel comfortable and confident when speaking to a reporter, so you can ace the next interview.
Practice Makes Perfect
Preparation and practice are the tickets to poise in a media interview, according to Eric Davis, senior vice president at FLM Harvest, the public relations agency for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.
Whenever accepting an interview invitation, Davis suggests requesting a list of questions or discussion topics, so you can organize your thoughts and prepare responses in advance. Although it’s a good idea to outline your talking points, don’t memorize or deliver messages word for word. Responses that seem obviously scripted sound stilted and inauthentic to the viewer or listener.
It’s also a good idea to ask how long the interview will last. While print interviews are usually longer and allow time to get into more detail, television interviews are typically brief – often just a few minutes – and comments must be short and concise. It’s important to plan your talking points so you can convey your key messages in the allotted time.
“Be brief, be brilliant, be bold,” says DonnaLyn Giegerich, an adjunct professor of public speaking and a consultant who coaches executives on business presentation skills and media training. “By brief, I mean be focused and succinct in what you want the audience to know. Readers and listeners are over-stimulated and short on time, so share information in an organized way that adds value to consumers’ busy lives.”
In an interview, retailers should aim to offer a “headline” that introduces or explains the topic, then deliver three supporting messages. “More than three key talking points can be overwhelming, so focus on the most important messages,” according to Giegerich. She says retailers can “be brilliant” in an interview by sharing a trend, fact, or statistic about the topic that audience members likely don’t know, and explain what’s in it for them.
“Boldness” comes from being confident and excited about the topic, and not being afraid to slip in a subtle brag, such as mentioning an award, that will encourage the listener to buy a product or visit your store.
For instance, if the interview is timed for Father’s Day, you might note that, “Father’s Day is one of the top five grilling days of the year,” and then discuss three cool grilling accessories that would be great gifts for dad, mentioning how each is fun, solves problems, adds convenience, or makes food taste better.
If the interview is about what’s new in grills, you might point out, “About one-third of consumers actually own more than one grill today. People often use their gas grill on busy weeknights. But they’ll use a charcoal, pellet, or wood-fired grill or smoker on weekends when there’s time to relax and enjoy the smoky aromas and ritual of lighting the fire.”
Then spotlight three solid-fuel grills, such as a pellet grill, charcoal kamado, and wood-fired pizza oven, with a brief explanation of each. If it’s true, don’t forget to tell the audience, “This new grill just won a barbecue industry award for innovation.”
Always deliver your messages and supporting examples in pyramid form, covering the most important first, just in case time runs short or the reporter takes the conversation on a tangent. If the discussion veers off course, try to regain control using a “bridge” to redirect to a topic you prefer. A “bridge” could be something like, “Another thing you might find interesting is…” or “Yes, but what backyard grillers are really excited about is…” Politicians have mastered the art of “the bridge.”
Practice for the interview by role-playing. Have someone act as the interviewer, asking the questions that were provided by the reporter, while you respond. If no questions were provided, develop your own list, and be sure to include some odd-ball questions along with ones you anticipate. Better to over-prepare than be caught off-guard. Videotape the mock interview, then watch it for areas you need to improve. Rehearse until you feel comfortable.
It’s estimated that 60 to 70% of contextual meaning is derived from non-verbal communication, so pay attention to your facial expressions, demeanor, and body language. Smiling, nodding in agreement, maintaining eye contact, and leaning forward convey engagement, enjoyment, and positivity. Arm-folding, slouching, a monotone voice, or fidgeting suggests boredom or distraction. On the other hand, you don’t want to appear so high-energy that you seem agitated or fake. The goal is to come off calm, confident, and enthusiastic about your subject.
“A good spokesperson is someone who knows what to say and how to say it in a memorable way,” according to Davis. The more interesting and colorful the quotes, the more likely you’ll be called again for another interview.
If you’ll be cooking on camera, practice to ensure you can grill, talk, and stay on-message simultaneously. You may be experienced at conducting in-store demos or cooking classes, but on-air cooking is more challenging, with only a few minutes to get through the recipe and convey your messages. You’ll need to prep ingredients in advance for assembly on camera, have the fire just right, and have a finished dish already cooked and plated for the “beauty shot” at the end.
If possible, spotlight an accessory product in your cooking segment and talk about it while you’re grilling. Likewise, it would be ideal to conduct the interview in your outdoor kitchen display, so you can work the Outdoor Room trend into the conversation. Make sure your workstation is clean and orderly, any tablecloths or decorative linens are neatly pressed, and you have all necessary grilling tools, serving utensils, and platters at hand. Drive traffic to your website by referring viewers or readers there to get the recipe, a coupon, or other exclusive offer.
More pointers to keep in mind
- The goal of an interview is to provide valuable and useful content to readers or viewers. Your messages should not sound like a commercial.
- If you have a “brain freeze,” don’t panic. Take a breath and try to get back on track.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, better to say, “I don’t know,” than fake it.
- Never criticize a business, organization, competitor, or product in an interview.
- Assume everything is on-the-record; don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to appear in print or on-air. If it’s a TV or radio interview, always assume the camera and/or sound are rolling.
- Check the mirror before a television interview. A shirt or apron with your store’s logo is good exposure for your brand, but don’t wear clothing with another company’s logo (e.g. a Nike shirt). Solid, pastel colors are good choices – blue always works – but skip stripes, checks, and tiny prints that create “movement” on-camera.
- Avoid baseball caps and sunglasses, even if you’re outside, because they obscure eye contact. Dangling earrings can be distracting, and clunky necklaces can hit your microphone and make noise as you move. Clothes should be pressed and wrinkle-free.
- Wear socks that extend above the calf, so a swath of leg doesn’t show if you cross them during a seated interview. It sounds trivial, but as the experts caution, it’s not a good look. Hands should be neatly manicured in case of a close-up shot – especially if you are preparing food on camera.
Be proactive, make the first move...
If you have an idea for a segment or article, you don’t have to wait for a reporter to call. Retailers can proactively contact local television and radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and bloggers by email to pitch a story idea, and offer their expertise and insight on the subject. Before you reach out, do your homework by researching the show’s format, reporters, target audience, and previous segments, so you can tailor your pitch appropriately.
A story idea must be timely, relevant, have a newsworthy “hook,” and be interesting or educational for the audience. Some sample pitch topics might include:
- May is National Barbecue Month
It’s the time to spring-clean your grill and replace your grill brush. A wire-bristle brush should be replaced annually to prevent bristles from weakening, dislodging, and possibly getting stuck in food. There are lots of new, alternative, bristle-free grill-cleaning products available that we can tell you about...
- Memorial Day
Outdoor kitchens and Outdoor Rooms are top home trends today, according to both the American Institute of Architects and home-design platform Houzz. It’s not just about a grill on the patio anymore, people want seamless indoor/outdoor living with complete outdoor kitchens, entertaining areas with fire pits or fireplaces, comfortable furnishings, and more. Here’s what you need to know about creating an Outdoor Room…
- Father’s Day
Dad doesn’t want a new tie. We can highlight the best grilling gear and gadget gifts for Dad.
- Fourth of July
It’s the number-one grilling day of the year, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Nearly three-quarters of consumers say they grill because of the flavor, but they’re ready to go beyond burgers. We can show viewers how to grill pizza, veggies, breakfast, even dessert…
- Labor Day
Barbecuing doesn’t stop at Labor Day. The live-fire grilling trend is hot. Here’s how to cook over a fire pit grill in your backyard during all seasons.
To expand opportunities for media coverage and solidify your positioning as an expert, you might consider registering as a “source” with Help a Reporter Out (HARO, www.helpareporter.com). The service connects journalists seeking information for a story, with credible sources and experts willing to share their knowledge in an interview.
HARO sends emails to registered sources three times daily with queries from journalists. Sources able to speak on the topic can respond directly to the reporter. There are over 55,000 reporters and 800,000 sources registered with HARO, with 200 to 300 press inquiries fielded daily.
If you’re interested in gaining media coverage for your store, but feel like you’re not ready for prime time, consider enrolling in a public-speaking class at a community college, or a local adult-education program. Or join a public-speaking club such as Toastmasters International, or find a private coach such as Giegerich (www.donnalynspeaks.com) to help hone your skills.
The benefits to your store will last far beyond your 15 minutes of fame.