Journalists generally know why they’re interviewing a CEO. And CEOs usually have a decent idea what they want to say.
Below that level, journalists interview thought leaders and business experts week in, week out. The quality of those interactions is mixed. The journalist often has less idea what to expect – sometimes it’s like a blind date. And the expert or thought leader is busy and can be underprepared to make a great first impression.
The sad truth is that in financial services and professional services especially, the format of that expert interview – its branding and packaging – is often underwhelming. The meeting room is slick, the coffee well organized, but overall it’s empty and bland. There’s no technology (the coffee machine can be the highest tech thing in action), and no real effort to foster a memorable experience. This despite the fact that so many financial services and professional firms want to communicate messages around technology, disruption and collaborative working: The typical interview experience does not match the messaging.
Without question, the best and most engaging experts can make up for all of that, without any clever formats or backdrop. If the story and insights are compelling, the reporter will not only write, but remember to come back for more. But most experts or thought leaders need a bit of help, not least because they have day jobs, are often restricted in exactly how outspoken they can be, and are in competition with others for media attention.
At a time when we often talk about ‘peak hype’ around nascent technology in financial services - it is even more important to show a journalist a new product, tool or platform.Quite simply, it is a proof point for what you’re saying.
Tech companies’ product launches and demos are known for their glitz. Industrial and energy companies take reporters to facilities, and in luxury and travel reporting, trips are central to the job. Financial and professional services firms need to think more imaginatively about the interview experience, otherwise journalists will simply want to speak briefly on the phone.
Every situation is different, but here are some things to consider:
Demonstrate your technology in some way, rather than just talk about it. Mobile can be more powerful than a big screen.
If a live demo is not possible, have a (short) intro video (which can also provide screen grabs).
While powerpoint is a blunt weapon, a few slides can help structure an interview. Even a one page handout can be a talking point. Or use a white board to explain the story (just don’t have old workings on a whiteboard you don’t explain or refer to).
Take the journalist on a short, relevant tour – of a trading floor or something you can reasonably position as your lab.
Get a much more junior colleague to talk to the journalist for a few minutes in a controlled way. They can bring your story to life: how they use and develop your tech, what they’re working on. Reporters understand they shouldn’t be quoting visibly junior staff – they’re actually less “dangerous” with a reporter than senior people.
Have team and individual photos that match the image you’re trying to project. If you’re a new fintech start-up don’t send an interested reporter bland corporate headshots
You can also do most of these things at events. Many firms have increasingly fancy multi-media stands at industry events – and then simply taking a reporter into a bland meeting room on the stand that replicates your headquarters. Make sure you’ve worked out how what you’re showing or demoing on the stand and how that can be used with reporters.
If you have no booth, your laptop tech should enable the expert to put his or her best foot forward if there are some unscheduled media meetings.
If you ask reporters about such format issues, many will claim strenuously that all this doesn’t matter at all, they are only interested in the story. They would say that, wouldn’t they? Experience shows that they are much more likely to remember a meeting with some visible colour and experience – and reporters increasingly need multimedia materials from interviews.
Finally, as important as the format is the visible personal engagement of the expert with the reporter – that greatly increases the likelihood of the reporter getting in touch again. That can mean a follow up email from the expert (not the PR people) to the reporter, connecting on LinkedIn or even tweeting about the interview and following the reporter.
Most of the time, a media interview with an expert can only aspire in that direction. But there are plenty of practical ways to make such interviews less one-dimensional, resonating with reporters to enhance the results, both immediate and longer term.
Andrew Marshall is Cognito’s Deputy CEO