How NOT To Blow Your Big Media Interview – 7 Key Success Strategies

By on December 7, 2013

When my book Breakdown, Breakthrough was published in September 2008 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, I was as green as they come about how to be interviewed by top media (or any media, for that matter).  My seasoned publicist Patti Danos helped me get some amazing interviews and features on my book (including pieces in the Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times, USA Today, and more), and at the beginning I was scared to death.   I remember calling Patti before the first interview and saying “What if I totally blow it?”  She laughed, and reassured me that that wouldn’t happen.  Thankfully, Patti had prepared me with some very important basics about how to connect successfully with the media and build a mutually-beneficial relationship that lasts.  These principles stand me in good stead even today.

After scores of interviews, and now being on the other side through my work as contributor for Forbes Leadership, Huffington Post and AARP Life Reimagined for Work, and in my own Work You Love video blog, I’ve learned what it takes to rock your interview.  I’ve also observed what causes media newbies with very high expectations to blow their interviews, and lose important media connections for life.

Here are 7 things you must do to ensure you won’t “blow” your interview or lose a great media connection for good:

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1. Overcome your narcissism – it’s not all about you

First and foremost, when you’re on the phone with a media person for your interview, realize that your interviewer is a person too, not just someone who’s going to sell books for you or promote your brand.  I’ve been SO turned off by top celebrities and so-called industry movers-and-shakers who think they’re all it, and don’t take one second to build a personal connection.  When that happens, the result is that the story about them and their work is not nearly as favorable as it could have been.  No matter how “big” you become in your field, don’t ever act like you’re doing your interviewer a huge favor by condescending to talk to them.

2. Do your job – Develop rich content that extends beyond your narrow focus

What is your job as an interviewee?  To be thoroughly prepared, and able to extemporize and converse about whatever direction the interviewer is compelled to take.  If you want a great story, your job isn’t to hit hard only the points you wish to share, but to support and captivate the readers or viewers of your interviewer.  Provide rich, deep material that make great reading or listening.  That takes flexibility, openness, preparedness, smarts, and savvy.

When I conduct an interview, it’s almost always something completely unplanned in what the interviewee shares that gets my attention and draws me in.  That’s what I then build the story around.  So don’t come to the interview only ready to talk about 10 things about your book or your work.  Make the interviewer want to learn more by sharing compelling information, research, or background that reveals something completely new, fresh and untapped.

3. Don’t make ridiculous demands

Some of my media friends in TV have shared that potential interviewees who are unknown in their industry have made ridiculous demands such as wanting hair, makeup and wardrobe assistance for their TV spot.  Don’t be absurd – think about how lucky you are to be selected to share your story, and don’t make demands that will turn off your media connection.   And if your interviewer gives you a chance to review your print interview before it’s published, don’t demand a week to return your comments. Do it that day.  You’re fortunate they’re showing it to you at all before it’s published (that’s very rare and a courtesy).

4. Research, research, research

When I was in the development stage of writing my book Breakdown, Breakthrough, a great editorial expert Janet Goldstein shared with me this tip: “Kathy, before your write this book, you need to research, research, research.” I scratched my head at this recommendation, totally perplexed, wondering why I had to research professional breakdown when I had just lived it and knew everything there was to know about it.

Ah, but that was Janet’s point.  When you’re focused only on your own personal story, you’re missing out on thousands of insights, findings and revelations that come when we get outside ourselves and realize we don’t know everything.  Make your work more than your personal story – reach outside yourself to find the critical connections, themes, threads and commonalities that connect you to hundreds of thousands of others.  As Janet suggested, research, research, research your topic and become a student again. In that way, you have much more to offer – in your book, work, and writing, and in your media interviews – then one single point of view. (In the end, thanks to Janet, I conducted a yearlong in-depth national research study with over 100 professional women on Overcoming Professional Crisis, and my socks were knocked off by what I learned.  My book was much better for it).

5. Realize that your new book (or new product, new research) is not news unless you make it news

I learned this the hard way, but it’s a vitally important fact – your book, or product, or invention, simply isn’t news unless you make it news.  When we write a book or develop or launch something new, we’re so engrossed in, and utterly in love with it, that we can’t believe the whole world wouldn’t die to learn about it today.  But as I learned in the fabulous screenwriting workshop Story, by Robert McKee (highly recommended), while everyone thinks their own life is fascinating to others, sadly, very few lives are.

What to do? Find the angle that will captivate.  Create a story about your work that taps into thousands of people’s needs, desires and longings.  Get your finger on the pulse of what matters to people today, and build your story around something that is about more than just you, and touch the universal through your specifics.

6. Be your most inspiring self

Some of my most favorite interviews for this blog have been with folks like Richie Norton, Shawn Achor, and Cheryl Hunter who are deeply inspiring, captivating and motivating just being themselves.  I know…not everyone can inspire and uplift just through their own authenticity, wisdom, and depth, but the reality is that you’ll attract fabulous media exposure and be well-served by all your media connections when you seek to inspire rather than to sell and promote.

Focus on being of service.  Bring everything you are – all your talents, passions, gifts, and skills — to your work, and get your myopic focus away from how to be a commercial success, and more on to how to become a person who enlightens, uplifts and enriches, just by being who you are.

7. Review, listen and learn

Finally, after every interview, conduct a postmortem on how it went  and for ways to improve next time.  If you can, tape your media interview (ask permission to do so first, of course) and then review the recording to identify specifically what went well, what could be improved and how you can come across more confident and comfortable in future interviews.  (Thanks to Forbes contributor J. Maureen Henderson and brand management expert Adam Ritchie for that great tip!)

Are you ready to rock your next media interview? Which of these media relations skills are calling out to you to develop today?

(For more information on this topic, check out Kathy’s new Media Relations Mastery Workshop, co-delivered with Forbes contributor and award-winning blogger J. Maureen Henderson, in Stamford, CT.)


About Kathy Caprino

Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a nationally-recognized women’s career coach and work-life expert, executive trainer, Forbes contributor, writer and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. Author of Breakdown, Breakthrough, and Founder of The Amazing Career Project, Kathy is President of Ellia Communications, Inc. -- a leading career and executive coaching and training firm helping professional women build successful and fulfilling careers of significance, and reach their highest potential. For more information, visit or write to [email protected] Connect with Kathy on: Twitter, FB, LinkedIn.

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How NOT To Blow Your Big Media Interview – 7 Key Success Strategies