5 Secrets to Talking to the Media (And Not Sounding Like a Fool)

Talking to the media can be terrifying, causing many entrepreneurs to sound like rambling fools. Don't be that person. Here are five tips on how to be a media pro.

learn more about Sabrina Horn

By Sabrina Horn

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has often been quoted saying, "If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on PR." He has a point.

Companies like Facebook, Google, Oracle, and Salesforce were all once unknown companies who put their trust in PR to help build their reputation. Their strategies all had one thing in common: They knew the way a company communicates would profoundly impact their business and brand.

But for most entrepreneurs starting out, there is rarely a budget for a communications firm or in-house hire. This does not mean you can't create a meaningful story or get the word out to attract prospects and build awareness. You are just often left to your own devices to make things happen.

As someone who has spent more than 20 years running a communications firm, I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly.

Related: Need to Make a Presentation? Start By Telling a Great Story. (Video)

To avoid any media mishaps, here are the five pillars entrepreneurs should use.

1. Create your story. Write down the answers to these basic questions:

  • What are the three things about your business that matter?
  • What are the three things that are different about your product or service and what are your proof points?
  • What are the two or three problems your customers have today that you will solve or improve?

Write one or two paragraphs that summarize these answers and run it by a trusted advisor who knows your market and will give you honest feedback. Your end result is a story that is worthy of your customers' attention. It's what you need to communicate in every interview.

2. Know the media. Identify five media outlets where your customers would go to get information about you. Which reporters cover companies like your own? Research them, learn what they write about and see if your story might be interesting to them. Start simple. Don't blow your first (and potentially only) attempt with The Wall Street Journal or Good Morning America.

If you get a call from a reporter asking to provide context for a piece, ask what they cover, what their story is about and what their angle is. You don't want to get quoted in an article that isn't aligned with your business. Find out what their deadline is. It's okay to ask for 10 minutes to think about your answer and then get back to them.

3. Identify three top messages and keep them short. Before any press interview, identify the top three messages you want to convey, and then craft your talking points around them. Everything you say during an interview should point back to those key messages and support your "story." These messages should be short and quotable. Find examples to illustrate them. Use industry data and statistics. Stay away from stream of consciousness responses, as it makes the reporter's job more difficult to capture the essence of what you want to say.

Related: 7 Power Tools of Persuasion

4. Don't say anything you don't want to read in tomorrow's paper. Avoid saying anything that could negatively affect your company, employees, customers or investors, such as overtly bashing the competition or commenting on rumors. Similarly, avoid commenting on events that haven't yet occurred, like a deal or a partnership that is imminent but isn't signed. Finally, there is no "off the record." This can be a dangerous game that even the most seasoned communications pros avoid. Bottom line: If you don't want it out there, don't say it.

5. Put yourself in their shoes. Reporters are often on tight deadlines, and if they feel like their conversation with you wasn't valuable, they won't call again. Find out what other topics they cover and offer to be a resource. If you say you will call them back in 10 minutes, do so. If you offer one of your customers as a reference, make sure they are available to speak with the reporter. Engage in a dialogue, not a monologue, and ask them what they need. At the end of the day this is about relationships.

Related: Why TED Talks Are Impossible to Resist

Sabrina Horn

Sabrina Horn is the founder, president and CEO of the Horn Group, inc, a digital-communications agency that combines public relations, social and interactive services to help companies in the technology, digital media and consumer markets. 

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