It’s a question that we’re frequently asked during our media training courses. We’re specialists in providing media coaching for lawyers. Many of our clients also include those in the fashion and apparel business as well as in retail generally. We also do media coaching that is tailored to meet the needs of architects. Our course participants often ask whether they can sell their products and services during a media interview.
The short answer is “no” but the longer and perhaps more interesting answer is: “Yes, but you need to do it subtly.” Journalists are normally very resistant to allowing people to use a media interview as a marketing opportunity. The BBC in particular has very strict guidelines. A few years ago, Eddie Mair was interviewing a spokesman for Ryanair on Radio 4’s PM programme. Ryanair had caused offence with an advert . As you’d expect from Ryanair, the interview was quite confrontational. But it was when the spokesman tried to turn the issue round rather clumsily into an opportunity to advertise its flights that Mair snapped back: “Don’t use this programme to sell your flights.” Smacked wrist!
Media coaching: how to do a media interview
Commercial organisations will take the view that if you want to use them to flog your products you can pay for advertising or sponsorship instead. They know as well that audiences don’t like to be given a hard sell. They want to they were going to be informed and entertained. Either way, shoehorning a sales pitch into a media interview can look tacky, clumsy and even desperate. Worst of all, it means that you’re unlikely to be asked back onto the programme or to do another press interview.
But, you might be thinking, why would I bother making the effort, suffering the fear and exposing myself to the risk of doing an interview with a journalist if I’m not going to get anything in return? As we say in our media coaching courses you’re essentially going to be doing a media interview for one of three reasons. You’re defending something, you’re promoting something or you’re commenting on something.
Obviously if you’re in defence mode because you’ve done something wrong you can’t really sell anything. However, you could show that you’re sorry that this has happened and persuade the audience that bad things happen to good people and it the event occurred in spite of your procedures and practices, not because of them.
Selling your services through the media
If you’re promoting something, it’s a lot easier to include a plug but again the media won’t like a naked sales pitch. You need to talk about the problem that you’re solving, and you must offer some general advice on handling the issue. Most importantly, the media is about “show” rather than “tell”. In other words, offer a story and give an example rather than just telling your audience “We’ve got this amazing product,” or “Our X service is absolutely brilliant”. Phrases such as “Clients are telling us…” or “More and more companies are asking for…” shows that you’re at the coal face and handling the issue in a practical way. Journalists like to hear this because it’s real. It’s what reporting is all about.
The law firms and professional services firms that we provide media coaching for are often asked to do media interviews because they’re commenting on something. A journalist needs someone like a lawyer, an accountant, an investment manager or a scientist to explain what’s going on, why it’s important and what their audience needs to think and do about it. Here you’re really selling your services just by commenting. Do it right and you can sound knowledgeable, experienced, authoritative, helpful but, most importantly, human.
Controlling a media interview
But you can go a stage further. “We’ve seen such a demand from customers for X in recent weeks that we’re now offering Y service,” you might say. Or “Because of the growing trend towards X, we’re doing more Y,” for instance, would be acceptable. Just make sure that it ticks the “unusual” box and that it’s relevant to the audience and the journalist will be happy.
Any media interview involves a quid-pro-quo. In our media coaching courses we look at how you can get the best deal when you’re working with your comms team or PR consultancy to negotiate the terms. That quid-pro-quo doesn’t involve a blatant sales job. However, with some careful thought and planning, it is possible to give the journalist what they’re looking for and derive some benefit from the interview yourself.