It’s a bit surprising, but executives at your company can unwittingly sabotage your publicity and communication strategy. Obviously, this can have detrimental effects, but if you work ahead and prepare you’ll be well prepared to amplify your company to the masses. Before you ambitiously seek to get executives interviewed in the media, make sure you get full buy-in from them.
You might be wondering why it’s necessary to get buy-in from an executive. Shouldn’t they want press for their company and understand their role in the process? The answer is no. Many executives who have no prior experience don’t see the need, and don’t know the value. Consider their life stage, they are a successful owner without media interviews. Why would they change? That’s why you need to put yourself in their shoes, be a great communicator and get full buy in and understanding before you start.
My former boss turned down an interview in Bloomberg
First, let me give you a personal anecdote of learning this lesson the hard way. I got a contract building out a new comms role at a high-tech manufacturing company. As I set up comms, one goal was to get executives interviewed in the media for relevant topics. I got the head of IT interviewed in Inc. The head of HR interviewed in HR Executive, the warehouse/sustainability director in Quartz, and then it happened: I booked an interview for the CEO in Bloomberg for a live in-person interview in their world headquarters in New York City.
I had asked him ahead of time if he’d be willing to do interviews, and aligned with his assistant to get the time booked. But one week out, I asked why plane tickets weren’t booked yet. She said she’d ask him and that’s when he came to see me with some bad news. He was going to take another meeting and told me to cancel. Yes, cancel on Bloomberg. I begged him not to cancel and reminded him of our ability to reach 2.5 million people, many of which were his core customers.
Sadly, his decision was made—he did give me the option to cancel at the last second, and ask to reschedule. He and I both knew that was unrealistic. (Irony: the meeting he took instead of Bloomberg actually ended up canceling on him.)
How to get executives aligned on press goals. (and why)
Only months later did I piece together what had happened with the CEO of the company. Because I had not fully prepared him and didn’t get buy-in, there were misunderstandings I didn’t see and therefore didn’t address. If you want to get executives interviewed in the media, you need to be aware of and address these before going after interviews.
1. Help executives understand media timelines
Journalists are servants of their consumers, not to you or your CEO. Unless you’re Tim Cook or Satya Nadella, they will not adjust their schedules to accommodate you. They understand their readers want information right now, and their job is to get them that information. If they’re asking your executive for an interview on a particular day it’s your job to make yourself available. They have a pile full of executives they can interview, a mountain of story ideas and a job to do. If your executive can’t find the time, they’ll move on.
I’m not suggesting your executives put their lives on hold, they also have a job to do and priorities. You simply need to communicate with them clearly this reality. If you want to get executives interviewed in the media, they need to know opportunities can come on quickly and may require them to hop on a plane with only a few days notice or less.
2. Help executives return communication promptly
In line with the media timeline issue, executives need to understand when it comes to media interviews, they need to return communication promptly with you. As stated, journalists have tight deadlines because their readers, viewers, listeners and watchers want to know about developments in their community as they’re happening not two days later. If your executive can comment on current news, you must respect the journalists’ timeline.
To plan for this, you can help the CEO by tagging incoming emails, using unique subject lines, or directly calling/texting them to alert them of an opportunity that should take priority.
3. Discuss the interview process and get training
Many executives simply don’t know how the press process works. As a PR person, you want to get executives interviewed in the media because you know the value and have studied the data behind getting a major press hit (hopefully) and you understand the mechanics of the entire process. They don’t. So, discuss the plan ahead of time.
Explain to them what the travel plan looks like, what questions will be asked, and how to answer difficult questions. Make sure they understand they need to give value for the journalist and lightly weave in a plug for the company when convenient. Build them a picture of the green room, how fast the interview will go, and when stuff will publish. Make sure they know how editing works and how to talk in soundbites. If you’re not qualified, get them some media training. My friends Andrea Woroch or Troy Dunn are great choices.
4. Address their fear… without questioning their leadership.
In the case of the CEO who turned down Bloomberg I found out later, he was terrified. He thought the likelihood of him damaging the company on this interview was greater than the positives that may come. I later found out it’s because he watched a lot of news channels that were really aggressive with their guests. He pictured himself getting torn apart.
Although you can’t come out and address their fear, you can send them clips of the particular program, or a list of the journalist’s work and give them a summary of how they interview and what they like to discuss. You can tell them they don’t go negative or try to tear people down (if that’s true.) By giving them information and communicating clearly, you can quell their fear.
5. Most importantly communicate organizational VALUE.
The single most important thing you need to prioritize when you want to get executives interviewed in the media, is to ensure you’re on the same page regarding organization value. In the case of the CEO, he had absolutely no idea the kind of reach Bloomberg had, who listened to their show, and why it mattered to the organization. He wasn’t an arrogant person, so he tended to avoid the spotlight. That actually became a problem for us.
I had assumed he knew the impact an interview would have. After all, he was a CEO at a 20 million dollar company, but he simply had no idea and he didn’t care. But this story has a happy ending. I ended up getting the Bloomberg interview rescheduled by some miracle of PR magic. Only after the interview, which he knocked out of the park, did he realize the impact it had when he started receiving a flood of emails from strategic partners—someone even stopped him at Chicago O’Hare who had heard his interview! (He later explained he was hesitant to tell me in fear I’d get a big head!)
To get executives interviewed in the media don’t assume anything!
To get executives interviewed in the media, communicate clearly what company marketing goals are, how their participation is crucial, your expectations, and step by step how the process will work. Never assume they are aligned on any part of the process. I’d also recommend getting yourself added to my list, to get my free PDF on how to get more press in just 10 days.