We were training delegates at an international company recently, ahead of a major launch. They wanted some of their brightest brains from the research and design departments, who had helped create the complex product, to be available to journalists at a glitzy launch event.
It was clear these technical people did not realise this would be a chance to sell the product to potential customers, via the media, rather than just explain to journalists how it worked.
But this is how the vast majority of media interviews should be regarded – whether it’s a government minister discussing a new policy, or a spokesperson announcing the appointment of a chief executive, that interviewee is selling an idea, gizmo or service.
However, we’re not talking about blatant advertising here. We’re not advocating that the next time you court the media to tell them about your new widget, your first words, as you stand in front of the camera in your branded shirt, are: “Buy the brilliant new widget from XYZ – it’s simply the best and is in all good department stores NOW!”.
You’ll be off the screen before you can shout “Ofcom” and will probably never be invited back.
Subtlety is required. Appeal to the audience in a more sophisticated way. Use phrases such as:
“The benefits this offers are…”; “This policy will really make a difference to people’s lives because from now on they’ll be able to…”; “Customers will find this widget is simpler to use over rivals’ widgets because…”; “I think this will be of particular interest to any parent who has tried to…”; “If, like me, you’ve ever wanted to…but never found a bank account/phone/car/energy provider that lets you do that, this one will.” Make it sound like you’re helping, not selling.
Use “everyday-speak”, not jargon. For example, nobody “accesses products” – they buy things; businesses don’t “operate in numerous markets” – they sell in lots of countries; a gadget doesn’t have “seamless functionality” – you can simply do lots of things with it really easily.
And don’t think that just because you work in the R&D/engineering/graphics/HR/accounts/customer service department, journalists won’t want to talk to you. Quite the reverse: it’s because you’re at the “coalface” that we’d rather talk to you than the PR/corporate comms person.
But you must cast off your tight job description and don the cloak of the salesperson. So when asked, “What’s so great about the new XYZ phone/car/computer game?” you don’t reply, “It has the latest media transfer protocol/brake modulation etc.” Eh? You’ll come across as remote, out of touch and possibly arrogant. That’s a big fat fail for you, your company and above all your customers.
Instead, try something like, “Customers will find they can download videos twice as fast/the brakes will feel so much smoother because…”
A liberal sprinkling of words like “unique”, “first”, “biggest” and “unprecedented” will pique the journalist’s interest too.
Never forget where your interview will appear – it’s not advertising, it’s editorial and that’s so much more powerful than advertising. And so much cheaper.
There, I’ve sold it to you.