A Guide To Media Interviews
The past few weeks have seen me giving several media interviews about "It"s A Stray Dog's Life". These have taken various forms ranging from video calls to answering written questions. It's not something I was expecting to enjoy, as I'm not used to being the subject of an interview. Thankfully, I could use my skills and experience gained from working with the media over the best part of 30 years in my 'other' job to make the most of the opportunities.
A life in PR has meant there've been very few days where I haven't spoken to a journalist. I've also trained many executives worldwide on how to interact with a journalist in an interview. There are many stories I could tell from those sessions, but I take client confidentiality seriously so it won't be happening anytime soon. Maybe, one day, I'll change the names to protect the guilty and prove even the most polished performers have their off days.
With the level of experience I have, you'd think media interviews would be a walk in the park. They're not. It's easy talking on behalf of a client, but a whole different ball game when I have to step out of the shadows into the spotlight. I'm not the world's best at being the centre of attention. I'm becoming even more nervous writing this, as I'll be doing a video Q&A with a room full of school children in a few days' time. I've already prepared my escape plan if it isn't going well. Technology is great, but technology failures can be a very useful tool.
I've made media interviews sound as if they're something to fear. They aren't. The key is preparation. Every interview gives you the chance to tell your story. We're authors so should have a distinct advantage. You aren't, or are unlikely to be, a politician so no journalist is trying to catch you out. They just want to write an interesting article with you and your book as the heroes. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of the interview opportunities you get.
Those of you with an eye for detail will have already spotted the first tip. It's also a trick lawyers use when questioning witnesses in court. You need to build your credibility, as I've done by telling you of my 30 years PR experience around the world. A best-selling author already has a sales record to give them credibility. Most of us are still aspiring best-selling authors so need another hook. The question to ask yourself is what made you qualified to write your book? For me this was simple. I look after several stray dogs and cats. The Hertfordshire Mercury even alluded to it in the headline for the book launch (Stray dogs homed by Watford writer inspired him to write a children's book). If you can't create credibility or the so-called, hook then there's no story. You wouldn't let a surgeon operate on you unless you knew they were qualified. In the same way, a journalist needs to know you have the credibility to talk about your book.
If you think the next stage is talking about your book, go to the bottom of the class. It isn't. Your brand isn't your book. It's you as an author. My brand is Maximilian Sam. You need to create a persona around the brand. I'm not talking about a false personality, as people will see through it in seconds. Think of the part of you that made the book happen. For example, if you're writing a spy book, do you want to come across as a little mysterious? I've already mentioned I've worked all over the world including the UK, the Middle East, and South-East Asia. Was I really working in PR, or was my job focused on something else? Thinking about it, most of my old employers would give sworn testimony I was working in anything but PR. Obviously, if I wasn't I wouldn't be able to tell you. If I was would you now believe me? I've created mystery. It adds an extra dimension to the crucial credibility. The true answer to why I've lived in so many countries? Well, I'll plead the 5th on that.
Now we can talk about your book. You'll have seen a plethora of advice on creating an 'elevator' speech. The term comes from the scenario of being stuck in an elevator for 10 floors with your boss. In the time you have between the doors closing and opening you have to sell your idea. I constantly see people from all walks of life struggling with this stage. As an author, you shouldn't have a problem. You've already written it. It's on the back cover of your book. If you've got that right, why reinvent the wheel? If you haven't I'd advise revisiting your back cover blurb.
We are now at the crux of the interview. We've all seen those excruciating responses given by politicians where they seem to be answering a completely different question. There's a wonderful example with Jeremy Paxman and Michael Howard (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyqnu6ywhR4). It's the best example I can give of how you can be so focussed on your own messages the interview rapidly becomes a car crash. Whether you're doing the interview for yourself or on behalf of whoever you work for, please, don't make the same mistake. There is an art to getting your message into your answers. Ask family and friends to practice with you. It's amazing how quickly you can master this vital skill. Also remember you don't need to get your key message into every answer. I promise you, journalists will spot it and make it harder for you to do so.
There are three more things to bear in mind:
A journalist's job is to create an interesting article people want to read. The same as our job is to create a book people want to buy. You can help them with anecdotes alluding to your key messages. That way everybody wins.
KISS. No, do not sexually assault a journalist. Keep It Simple Stupid. The easier your messages and anecdotes are to understand, the more people relate to them and consider buying your book. Don't overcomplicate things, leave that to the professionals and the dreaded PowerPoint presentations. "Next slide please." Argghhh!
Always say thank you to the journalist once the interview has been published. A quick email will do the trick, although I've had long chats over a drink with journalists talking about the article they've put together in my time. Journalists are writers too and it means as much to them when someone likes their work as a good review does to us authors. I've rarely seen PR people doing it for reasons I can't fathom. It's helped me stand out from the crowd and is why I still have close friends in the media I made over 20 years ago.
Media interviews aren't scary or complicated. A journalist is doing a job benefitting you. So kick the nerves into touch, tell your story and have fun. Everyone likes a fun day at work. The results will surprise you.
Here's a brief checklist to help you:
Preparation and practice. Journalists have deadlines. If you can give them what they need easily and quickly, the article will be much better as they have more time to write it.
Build your brand credibility. If you can answer the question as to why you were qualified to write your book people will listen. It also makes you feel more confident about the work you've put out there for others to judge.
Brand persona. Which part of your personality does the author come from. Tying your background to the book always helps.
Elevator speech. Ensure your back cover blurb works. It's your key sales script after all.
Have fun. You and the journalist are working together and results are always better when people have smiles on their faces.
Say thank you. It's good manners anyway.
I will, in future blogs, talk about other marketing tools such as press releases and events. If there are any other topics you'd like to hear about, let me know.
I've been thinking about the best way to progress my writing career. I already have several books written beyond the 'first draft' stage. I need to decide when to publish them. The only concrete decision I've made so far is they'll be self-published using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). I've given a lot of thought as to the timing of publishing them and realised I was putting myself under far too much pressure. The deadlines in my head were of my own making. As such I've taken the pressure away and they'll be published when I'm ready and have everything in place to give them a chance of being a success. I can tell you there'll be more on the stray dogs and cats as well as books for Mum and Dad too.
You can, of course, still buy "It's A Stray Dog's Life" (and many of you have for which I'm eternally grateful). There are some of the more common links on my website (just click the picture above and the webpage will magically appear), but all major stockists and many bookshops will happily sell you a copy.
As For The Strays
It's been a funny old week. Princess managed to get herself stuck behind some plant pots in the garden. I'm glad I quickly heard her squeals and was able to free her without any damage being done. She promptly sat down and brazened it out pretending nothing had happened. She soon started smiling again when I gave her a few treats.
Smokey has claimed my balcony as her own bedroom. Thankfully, she has worked out how to get down now too so I don't have to act as a human lift quite as often.
As for Lucky. A picture tells a thousand words. I'm not sure if Princess tolerates her or if they are as close as they seem.
That's a wrap folks. Stay safe and we'll see you soon.
MaxS and The Strays