When someone well-known puts their foot in their mouth, the media delights but the public relations pro cringes. The reps for Charlize Theron and Gwyneth Paltrow had very good reason to cringe this week when they both made ill-thought-out remarks about the nature of fame.
When SkyNews brought up her Google results, Theron replied, “I don’t [Google myself] – that’s my saving grace. When you start living in that world, and doing that, you start feeling raped.”
A few days prior, remarking on harsh online comments lobbed at her, Paltrow stated that such attention is “a very dehumanizing thing. It’s almost like how, in war, you go through this bloody, dehumanizing thing, and then something is defined out of it. My hope is as we get out of it, we’ll reach the next level of conscience.”
In case you needed us to point it out, fame is not like war or sexual assault. So why did they give these answers to what were certainly not hardball questions? Herein lies a very important public relations reminder: when you prep a client or spokesperson for a media interview, prep them on the hard questions and the easy questions.
No one is too good for prep
No matter how accomplished a person is at being interviewed, they’re never too good for practice. Jim Miller, formerly SVP at Dentsu Communications and current president at Momentum Communications Group, says that “the best value you can provide is to cover the basics: review anticipated questions, reinforce key messages” and get in a practice run. A good rule of thumb is one hour of prep for every minute of air time. If someone is interviewed frequently, prep them regularly to keep them sharp and prevent any lapses.
Consistency and Sincerity
Interviewees who get a lot of coverage are likely to be asked the same questions multiple times, and even if they’ve answered a question countless times, it could be the first time a particular audience hears the answer. In order for the audience to be compelled to care about the interviewee, he must be sincere and relatable. Sound bites, even for the repeat questions, are a great aid for avoiding feigned interest or any perceived defensiveness. Your subject needs to connect to the audience and if they get stumped on the “What are your plans for the holiday?” then the rest falls apart quickly.
Rephrase common questions
When you’re prepping, always reframe the same questions to ensure you don’t fall prey to reiterating a negatively asked question and fumbling your response to fit into how the question was asked. practice tailoring canned responses. For example, “Do you Google yourself?” and “How do you feel when you Google yourself?” or “What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen when you’ve Googled yourself?” Using the same talking points with different delivery will keep your interviewees thinking.
Keep everyone up-to-date
Your client or spokesperson may be asked to comment on a topic that is related, even if tangentially. Make sure they know how to respond with a key message or are adequately trained to bridge back to the primary topic.
Assess what works, then build
The post-interview debrief is equally as important as the preparation. You can get the best assessment of “what we can do better next time” of “need to hit that issue harder” of “have more resources about X to demonstrate expertise on the matter.”
Storytelling is a very powerful tool in the media relations arsenal; unfortunately, when placed in the wrong hands can be lethal. Work with subjects to make sure the images they conjure are relevant and on target. What other tips do you have for prepping answers to the easy questions?