The media training that The Lowe Group provides organizations takes different forms, ranging from short presentations to a firm’s entire professional staff, to intensive, one-on-one sessions for senior executives that include mock broadcast and print interviews. But regardless of the format, we always start from the same place—understanding where the journalist on the other side of the table (or the other side of the camera) is coming from and leveraging that knowledge to get your message across effectively—to them and, more importantly, their audience.
We know interviews can be intimidating. Turn the camera or the tape recorder on and we’ve seen some of the most accomplished and articulate business leaders in their field clam up or forget what they wanted to say or adopt an unwarranted confrontational posture toward their interviewer.
But we’ve found that the more an interview subject knows and understands about their interviewer, the more in control of the process they feel and the more likely they are to have a successful outcome. For any interview we schedule, we brief our clients on the reporter, including their bio, our previous experiences with them and the background of the interview—how it came about, what it’s expected to cover and how long it’s likely to run. We also furnish examples of their recent work.
But there are some broader traits to bear in mind about reporters in general that inform every relationship. Following, then, are three characteristics of the species financial journalist (or, using the Latin taxonomy, Diurnarius pecuniaria) and some thoughts on how to turn those characteristics to your advantage in an interview.
Busy. Of course, we’re all busy, but it is fair to say journalists have never been busier. Newsrooms have been gutted and the natural rhythms of the daily or weekly deadline have given way to the constant demands of digital media—and oh yeah, after they file their story, reporters are expected to promote them on social media and, in many cases, create video content to accompany them.
The takeaway: If you can make it easy on them—by being responsive, providing tight and impactful materials ahead of your interview and making yourself available for follow-ups—you have a good chance of shaping the story. (The staffing cutbacks also create an entrée for submitting your own content, but that’s a topic for another blog.)
Hard-nosed. Even though they are busy, no self-respecting reporter wants to play stenographer. Many financial journalists have internalized efficient market theory, so they are going to push back if you claim to be the first to do something or try to present your for-profit enterprise as being all about altruistically helping clients. And reporters are going to ask the questions they want to ask, not the ones you would like them to ask.
The takeaway: A big part of our media training is teaching you how to pivot—how to answer the question that was asked, but quickly bridge to the message you want to get across.
Highly literate; often innumerate. It’s totally unfair to brand all journalists as math dropouts and one of the fastest growing areas of the media, data journalism, is highly quantitative. But the figures don’t lie. According to Pew Research, more than three-quarters of U.S. journalists studied humanities. The percentage may be slightly lower in financial journalism, but chances are the person interviewing you studied English or history … or journalism in school. They may have been covering your market for years. They may, in fact, even have a broader, more sophisticated understanding of it than many of the compartmentalized MBAs and math whizzes at your firm. But, at the end of the day, it pays to remember that they are usually word people, not number people.
Two takeaways: i) Be extra careful and thorough when explaining mathematical concepts and offer to review highly technical material before publication (reporters share a common interest with you in not making mistakes, so if they believe you are on their side, they may well send you a draft of the story to review) and;
ii) You’re more likely to feature prominently in the article if you can tell them a good story. It may go against your instincts as a data-driven, empirically minded business leader, but analogies, anecdotes and real life tales about how you picked a stock that doubled, or helped a client solve their problem, are more likely to resonate with your interviewer and find their way into the story than a lot of statistics and financial ratios.
There’s much more to our media training than just learning about reporters. We dig deep into your firm’s custom “message triangle” of key differentiating points you always want to pivot back to, and we provide practical advice on setting up the interview, handling yourself on-camera, artfully avoiding common traps and when to go “off-the-record” (short answer, almost never!).
But in our experience, it all starts with putting yourself in the reporter’s shoes. Understanding where they’re coming from and what they are after will put you in a better position to deliver.