Own the interview
This is part one of a multi-part “More from media” series.
You’ve just done something great, something notable, something newsworthy. A member of the outdoors media is calling you to do a story. You might even wind up on the cover of your favorite magazine!
This is a big opportunity for you, your sponsors and your supporters. You need to make the most of it.
Maybe you’ve heard of the writer or media personality or maybe you haven’t. Maybe he’s been in the industry for decades or maybe he’s new. Maybe he’s really good at his job or maybe he asks all the wrong questions. None of these things matter when you consider this question:
Who does the interview belong to?
It is your interview … always.
Yes, the writer called you. Yes, the writer has a list of questions he wants you to answer. Yes, the writer has an idea of the story he wants to do.
But it’s still your interview. If the story that comes out of your interview isn’t what you wanted it to be, you share in the blame.
Have a plan
You should never be surprised when a media person calls you. You need to anticipate these calls and questions and be prepared for them. It’s part of your job as a professional and as a pro staff angler.
Sometimes you know the calls or questions are coming because you just won a tournament or are attending a media junket, but even when the timing is not so obvious you have to be ready. If you’re not, you’ll lose a lot of great opportunities and fail to build the relationships necessary for a solid career in the sport.
Preparing for an interview is not difficult, but it does require some thought and a professional familiarity with the tools of your trade and how you use them. You also need good communication skills to convey your key messages to the media person. Some writers are outstanding anglers with a thorough knowledge of the sport. Others are not. Some of the people who will interview you have never been fishing or caught a fish. Many will have major misconceptions about the sport.
You need to be able to size your interviewer up quickly and determine the best starting point and communication level to use. If you aim too high (assuming he knows more than he does), you risk confusing him and having your message lost in translation. If you aim too low (assuming he knows less than he does), you risk insulting him and pushing him away. Be careful and work on this ability to assess your interviewer’s understanding of the subject. It’s one of the most important skills you can develop as a professional angler, but it’s one that almost no one talks about or teaches.
Here are some guidelines that will help:
- The more basic the technique or bait you’re being interviewed about, the more likely your interviewer knows something about it. The newer or more sophisticated a technique or bait, the less likely he is knowledgeable about it or even aware of it.
- The more experienced your interviewer, the more likely he knows the subject. An older interviewer or an interviewer whose work you’ve seen in magazines or newspapers, is more likely to know his stuff than a younger person or person without a significant history in the industry. If you know the “players” (see Part 3 of this series), you’ll have a better idea of who and what you’re dealing with here.
- Listen to the way your interviewer brings up or talks about the subject. Does he seem to have command of the jargon or is he confusing terms and concepts?
- When in doubt, aim a little low. Rather than risk talking over the head of your interviewer, go a little more basic than might be necessary but listen for impatience in the interviewer’s voice or questions. If you hear it, be ready to step up your answers and get more technical or sophisticated.
- If you’re lost on where to begin or with how knowledgeable your interviewer is, ask him … politely. Then listen very carefully to his answer. A lot of interviewers will be too embarrassed to admit they know very little about a subject and will overstate their expertise or experience. Others may be more knowledgeable than you are but answer with false modesty. Again, size them up. If you ask about their knowledge early on, you’re less likely to embarrass or insult them.
Never forget that your interviewer is sizing you up at the same. He’s wondering if you’re the real deal or a flash in the pan. He’s wondering if you’re knowledgeable and articulate enough to give him a good interview or if he’ll have to pull every word out of you and translate it into English before it can be used. He’s wondering if his first interview with you will also be his last.
How do you control an interview?
If your interviewer is doing a good job (and that’s for him to determine since he knows the story he has in mind), he should be driving the interview. Part of your job is to put a third hand on the wheel and to take some control over the subject and substance of the interview. You have a story to tell, and it may or may not line up perfectly with the story the interviewer wants to get from you.
The first step in taking some control and ownership over your interview is to have a priority. What is the key message you want to communicate? If the writer understands nothing else, what do you want him to know? What is important to your key sponsors? Without the answers to these questions, you cannot steer the interview in a way that best serves you.
If you have the answers, if you know your priority, if you’ve spoken recently to your pro staff managers, you can go into the interview with a plan that will help you and the interviewer get the best story possible. If you don’t, you’ll end up disappointed. More importantly, your sponsors will be disappointed.
While it’s important to have your own priority when a media person calls, it’s dangerous to have a preconceived idea of what the interview will be about. Let the interviewer tell you. If he doesn’t start by explaining the story behind the interview, politely stop him and ask, “What is the story about?” You might even ask, “Who is the audience?” Without that information, it’s tough to give a good interview. If the story is all about spinnerbait trailers, but the questions are very general and all about prespawn fishing, it’s hard to zero-in on what you need to be talking about. If the story is targeted at beginning anglers, you don’t want to spend time talking about sophisticated electronics.
The more you know about the interviewer’s goals and audience, the better interview you can give.
Three rules for answering interview questions
You’ll never run into interview problems if you can follow three simple rules.
- Listen carefully to the question. Don’t guess or anticipate what the interviewer wants to know. Pay attention to what he’s asking and don’t start to answer until you are certain you know what it is. If there’s any confusion at all, ask that the question be repeated or rephrased.
- Tell the truth. This is a pretty simple rule, but way too many anglers break it. With cameras and co-anglers and other witnesses everywhere these days, you can no longer get away with lying about how, where or when you caught fish in a tournament (other times, too). And once you’re caught in a lie, the media will lose respect for you and may stop calling.
- Don’t go “off the record” … unless you know the interviewer very, very well and trust him absolutely. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a media junket fishing with a professional angler who was sponsored by the ABC Company, but when we motored away from his pro staff manager he broke out some baits made by XYZ Company and we used them instead. A lot of times the pro said something like “Here’s what I use when I really want to catch ’em!”
If you do something like that (and you should never, ever do it), you set yourself up for disaster. You are putting your sponsorship and your career in the hands of a media person. If you don’t know and trust him completely, don’t even think about doing it. Two things are likely to happen, and neither is good for you or your sponsor.
First, the story or stories that come out of the junket won’t focus on your sponsor’s products like they should … or they won’t feature your sponsor’s products as strongly as they might.
Second, the next time that media person gets a call from a manufacturer asking him to recommend an angler for a pro staff position (and this happens quite often), he’s not going to recommend you. He’s already seen you betray a sponsor.
Going “off the record” is something to avoid if you can. If you know the writer well and trust him completely, sometimes sharing this type of confidential information can build trust and the relationship, but be very careful.
An advance copy
Ask if you can see the story before it’s published. This isn’t always (or even often) possible, and some writers will be insulted by the request if you don’t ask delicately, but if you can see the article before it’s published, do so. You can save yourself — and the writer — a lot of heartache and embarrassment.
How do you ask for that privilege? Very carefully. Your best bet is to say something like this: “I know you’re working on a tight deadline, but I wonder if I might be allowed to take a look at it before it’s published. It will give me a chance to make sure I did my job in answering your questions and getting you the right product information. If you could send it to me in an email, I’ll look at it immediately and respond to you right away.”
A lot of writers are willing to give you an advance look … if they have the time. Deadlines are the main reason they would decline, so you have to be available to look it over as soon as you receive it and reply to them within minutes — not hours or days. Writer deadlines are like tournament check-in times. Most writers turn their work in at the last minute, just as most tournament anglers check in with just a minute or two to spare.
Most of the mistakes anglers make with media are due to failures covered in this article. They fail to properly assess the interviewer, fail to understand the nature of the interview, fail to have a plan for the interview or fail to tell the truth. Each of these will cause problems — with the interviewer and your sponsors. Luckily, each of these is easy to avoid … if you’re smart and prepared.
- It’s your interview. Make sure the interviewer gets what he needs but gets your message across, too.
- Have a plan for every interview. What do your sponsors want?
- Size up your interviewer and speak to his experience and expertise level.
- Listen, tell the truth and don’t go “off the record” without a great reason for doing so.
- Try to get an advance look at the article before it’s published.
Tags: advance copy, article, audience, communication, deadline, goals, interview, knowledge, listening, lying, magazine, media, media junket, members, message, mistakes, more from media, newspaper, off the record, outdoor writer, phone call, players, pro staff, relationships, sponsors, story, tournaments, trust, truth