Media Interviews 101 – An Article

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THE TEN WORST THINGS TO DO WHEN THE MEDIA CALLS

By Christina Hamlett

The dream of almost every author when his/her new book comes out is to get a request from a journalist to do a feature interview about it. Yippee! Huzzah! Can fame and fortune be far behind once you become a media darling?

Unfortunately – and because most people think of interviews only in the context of job-hunting – the potential for totally botching this invitation to free publicity is pretty high. Herein are the 10 most common mistakes that will land you on a reporter’s never-call-again list. (Note: Although the focus is on authors, the advice is applicable to spotlight moments for virtually any other industry.)

  1. Blowing It Off. Even if you’re maniacally busy, terminally lazy, or simply aren’t interested, it’s a matter of professional courtesy to at least acknowledge the request and say thank you. While now and then a reporter will follow-up to see if a query trickled into spam folders or a phone message accidentally got deleted, it’s much easier to cross off your name and move down the list rather than to keep chasing you. Not surprisingly, a number of authors that have ignored my original invitation will call me a year later and expect me to still be wildly interested in them.
  2. Sending Clips of Previous Interviews. “These will give you some ideas of how to write my story,” they’ll explain. Perhaps they think they’re just being helpful, unaware that a good journalist will already have done his/her homework to learn as much about the interviewee as possible. The underscored message, however, is that they think the reporter doesn’t know what s/he is doing and needs to learn from examples. Even worse are those who say they’re too busy for an interview but they don’t mind if I cut and paste from prior publications. Does it not occur to them that those previous reporters would be torqued or that yours truly could be perceived as a plagiarist?
  3. Sending More Than Is Requested. If an agent asks to see the first 5 pages of your novel, do you really think you’ll endear yourself by sending 407 along with a smiley-face note that you just knew they’d be hooked and want to read the whole manuscript? Unless a reporter specifically asks to see more than a brief bio and a 25-word synopsis of your project to prep for an upcoming story, do not annoy them by sending your headshot, Amazon reviews, sample chapters, glowing testimonials, or Facebook links. The same goes for word-count parameters. When I tell an interviewee that his/her story will run about 2,000 words, the last thing I want to get is 6,500 words and instructions to “just go ahead and edit out whatever you don’t want.”
  4. Being a Flake/Missing Deadlines. Promoting your work should be your highest priority. If you’re scheduled to do a television, radio/podcast or Skype interview, nothing less than a genuine emergency should cause you to have to reschedule it. When you cause an interviewer to have to scramble at the last minute to fill your slot with someone else, don’t expect to get asked back any time soon. Whenever a journalist gives you a date that s/he would like to receive your email interview replies, it’s because that interview has been slated for a specific issue/publication date. You shouldn’t have to be reminded multiple times to turn in your content. If you absolutely need an extension, ask for one as far in advance as possible.
  5. Being a Pest. You’re not the reporter’s only story. Seriously. If you’re constantly sending emails, leaving voicemail messages and asking for progress reports, it won’t take long to wear out your welcome. You must also be mindful of the fact that “freelance” does not mean “free at all hours of the day and night.” A freelance reporter will certainly do everything humanly possible to accommodate your schedule but expecting him/her to take your calls at 3 a.m. or on holiday weekends is neither reasonable nor professional.
  6. Rewriting the Questions. In my experience, this happens with authors more than any other group. If you’re asked a question that you feel is inappropriate, repetitive or off-message, politely bring it to the interviewer’s attention at the outset rather than rewriting it yourself. My own worst-case scenario was an author who not only snarkily re-wrote all of my questions but also wrote “my” introduction to what a fabulous person she was.
  7. Saying “It’s All In My Book.” Let’s say you went to buy a high-tech appliance. Every time you asked the salesman about a particular feature, you were told, “Oh, it’s all in the user’s manual.” Would you really feel inclined to make a purchase? The purpose of any interview is to sell yourself as the expert, not do a hard-sell commercial for your product. If you can’t impart useful tidbits to whet a reader’s appetite, you’re approaching the interview process in entirely the wrong way.
  8. Expecting the Journalist to Become Your Personal PR Firm. On the one hand, it’s flattering that someone likes the way you develop a feature story about them. On the other hand, it’s nothing short of pushy on their part to now expect you to become their 24/7 marketing maven, redesign their website, get them booked on radio shows, and write advertising copy for them…all of which they expect you to do for free. (It’s also not uncommon for interviewees to expect you to become their BFF just because you’re paying attention to them.)
  9. Asking For Previews/Demanding Copies Upon Publication. Unless the interview is in conjunction with paid advertising, you’re not entitled to review the story prior to its publication. This only holds up the process. Nor is it appropriate to ask a journalist, “You’re not going to make me look terrible, are you?” This is akin to asking a surgeon while you’re on a gurney being wheeled into surgery, “Do you promise not to kill me?” With online publications, I always provide my interviewees with a link when their story goes live. For print media, I provide interviewees with a pdf version. With books, magazines and newspapers, you’d be surprised how many people ask me if I can get them x-number of copies – and deliver them – so that they can send them to friends and relatives. Sorry, guys – if you want extras, you need to contact the publication yourself and purchase whatever number you want.
  10. Trivializing the Journalist’s Role. Last but not least is the most common excuse I hear from interviewees about why they haven’t responded in a timely and responsible manner: “Unlike you, I have to work for a living.” Do they really think that reporters just sit around all day eating bon-bons, watching soaps, and taking naps? Being in the media may sound glamorous on the surface but it’s still work. Hard work. Work that often extends well beyond an 8-hour day. Trust me: We’re just as busy as you are.
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Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style

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Whether you’re on a cusp of your career or are in transition to something completely different, an invitation to improve your overall image is one that should not be ignored. And who better to dispense that advice about developing every aspect of your public presence than Lori Bumgarner, owner of paNASHstyle and author of the popular self-help guide, Advance Your Image: Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style, published by O’More College of Design. Coincidentally, Lori was one of the two dozen experts who recently contributed to Media Magnetism: How to Attract the Favorable Publicity You Want and Deserve, and I’m pleased to put the spotlight this month on her incredible arsenal of image-building talents.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What attracted you to the business of fashion and image consulting, and when/where did the door first open to launch your career in this field?

A: I have always had an interest in fashion ever since I was little. I always loved dressing my Barbie Dolls in different outfits and coming up with outfit designs with the Fashion Plates my grandmother got me for Christmas one year. That interest combined with my experience in career advising is what inspired me to start doing image consulting. This occurred when, for the first time in my career, my creativity was starting to be stifled. I couldn’t work like that. My friends encouraged me to do wardrobe styling which allowed me to use my creativity, but I wanted to do more than just that. As a result, I decided to offer image consulting services that incorporated both wardrobe styling and presentation skills (i.e. interview skills, etc.), which are also part of one’s image. I started my company part-time while still working full-time as a career adviser and did that for 9 months. Then, I took a leap of faith and quit the full-time job to take my business full-time.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I have learned so much about running a business that I never knew before. I also am using my undergraduate psychology degree in this career field more than ever before which was an unexpected surprise.

Q: Tell us what inspired you to write this title and how you went about determining what topics would best benefit your target demographic.

A: Actually, it happened the other way around. I came up with the title after writing on each topic. That’s usually how my own personal writing process works, especially with my blog. I write my blogs first and then come up with the title for each after. The initial inspiration of the book came from a lot of the work I do with individual clients and also the work I did in the past as a career adviser. In my opinion, a person’s image is more than just how they dress. It’s also about how they present themselves on paper, online, and in person, whether that includes networking events, job interviews or media interviews. That’s why the book takes time to cover each of those topics separately.

Q: What do you feel is the best takeaway lesson for your readers in Advance Your Image?

A: That anyone can improve their image in simple ways and see results. They will have a greater confidence and will see how that confidence will open new doors of opportunity for them. The great thing about the book also is the Appendix because it gives readers hands-on activities and steps they can take immediately to improve their image. It serves as a resource that readers will refer to again and again over time.

Q: For someone who wants to update their image – whether they’re staying in their current job or transitioning to a new one – what do you recommend as the easiest and/or most economical starting point and why?

A: The easiest and most economical way to update one’s image is to “shop” in one’s own closet to come up with new outfits with what they already have on-hand, and then to incorporate new accessories (jewelry, shoes, bags, scarves, hats, etc.) in with their current outfits. When “shopping” in one’s own closet, it’s always good to get an image consultant or a stylish friend to help you because you are so used to seeing garments and outfits put together only one way. It takes a fresh pair of eyes to show you how to create new combinations that you may have never thought of on your own.

Q: When most people go to have their professional headshots taken for a website, corporate brochure or lobby display at their place of business, they tend to dress according to the current season. Considering that their picture will be likely be seen year-round, however – and possibly even in different countries – what thoughts should govern their choice of wardrobe?

A: They should mix classics with current trends, but never with fads. Fads are things that last for only one season. A trend is something that may last for 3-5 years or even up to a decade. An example of a fad would be those ridiculous chicken feather hair extensions we saw a few seasons ago. An example of a trend would be a pointed-toe shoe or a dark wash dress jean in a modern cut. Also, it’s best to stick with classic colors and avoid trendy colors in photos that won’t be updated often. But, I would say that professional photos should be updated as often as a pair of glasses frames should be updated which is once every 3 years, and more often if your hair or glasses frames have changed dramatically since your last photo was taken. For instance, I went from a blond to a red-head, so I had no choice but to update my promo pictures, especially since I have my photo on my business card.

Q: While we’re on the subject of clothes, should a prospective job candidate (1) emulate what s/he knows to be the company’s workaday dress code and subliminally project “I fit in here!” or (2) wear his/her best business attire for the interview and potentially risk dressing better than the interviewer?

A: Definitely the 1st option! Always know your audience and make yourself relevant to that audience. Once a candidate has made it through the resume screening process to the job interview, this is the point where the company is determining fit. All the interview candidates meet the minimum qualifications. The interview is where the company decides which of those candidates will best adapt to the corporate culture.

Q: During the dot-com era of the late 1990’s, the concept of “Casual Friday” made its debut, inviting workers to take a break from having to wear coats, ties, pantyhose, and dress shoes. But has “Casual Friday” now gone too far by spilling into the rest of the week?

A: It’s hard for me to answer that question since I work mostly with recording artists and music industry professionals, a field where casual is the norm no matter what day of the week (and even here “casual” means “trendy/hip/funky,” not sloppy). I think perhaps it has, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing if people are “dressing up” their casual look instead of just using it as an excuse to be a slob. You can easily dress up a pair of jeans and look well put together, and yet be more productive than you would be in a suit and tie. Maybe “casual” isn’t the right term to be using (because it can sometimes be interpreted as “sloppy”). Maybe we need to call it “not-so-boring Friday” instead!

Also, I think it’s time for the classic job interview attire to make a shift to something a little more exciting than a boring cookie-cutter black suit. If I was a recruiter, I think I would get tired of seeing the same outfit on every single person I interviewed. I would instead prefer to see a little bit of the candidate’s personality and personal style shining through in their look. That way, I would have some idea of how the person would dress on a daily basis if they were to get the job. Anyone can dress up in a suit on interview day, but do they have the style and fashion sense to represent the company well on a daily basis? That’s why I started my Pinterest board entitled “Alternative Job Interview Attire.” It’s my hope that recruiters will open their minds to allow for some personal yet tasteful style in the job interview, and that candidates will be encouraged to take a risk by showing a piece of themselves to the interviewer. After all, if interviewers are trying to determine a good fit for their company, what better way to do so?

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes that artists and entrepreneurs make in creating their “online presence” without the insights and expertise of professionals?

A: Not keeping the reader’s perspective in mind when creating the content of their web pages and online profiles; not utilizing LinkedIn to its fullest extent; begging for “Likes” of their Facebook fan pages without offering relevant content in return.

Q: “Authenticity” and “transparency” are two words popularly associated with today’s social networking. What’s your personal definition of these two concepts, and what are some ways that individuals and small businesses can apply them to their networking activities?

A: To me it means still being yourself, but a more polished version of yourself. The best thing people can do is to not fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others (i.e. their competition, the people with whom they are networking, etc.). Comparing yourself to others is the quickest and easiest way to feel defeated, to lose your self-confidence, and to lose focus on what you are trying to accomplish.

Q: Is successful networking an art or a science?

A: It’s a little bit of both with some divinity mixed in. I totally believe in divine connections and how we are brought together with other people. After that, it’s what you do with it, applying the science of networking rules and etiquette along with the art of building, fostering, and maintaining relationships.

Q: What are the most common elements of a boring profile and what can be done to rev up the appeal and excitement?

A: It is extremely difficult to write your own professional bio and make it sound interesting. This is because we as humans feel a little weird bragging about ourselves in writing. It’s much better to get someone like myself who can paint a picture with words describing what makes you unique. My artists who have hired me to write their artist bios have all said when they tried to write it themselves, it never came across the way they wanted it to. After hiring me, they always come back and say, “Wow! This is exactly what I was trying to say but just didn’t know how.” Anyone interested in having me write their bio are welcome to check out some of the bios I’ve written for other clients at http://panashstyle.com/documents/SampleBios.zip.

Q: The good news is that you have just been invited to do a media interview. The bad news is that you have never done one before and you are absolutely terrified because you have no idea what to expect. If a client just told you this, what would your top three tips be to prep them for the experience?

A: 1) Do your research. Know the stats about the magazine, radio station, or TV show and know the demographics of their audience such as its median age. 2) Read, listen to, and watch others’ media interviews with a critical eye. Learn from their strengths and weaknesses. 3) Read both Advance Your Image and Media Magnetism for even more tips to be best prepared!

 Q: In addition to being an author, you are also the owner of paNASH Style and editor of a pretty spiffy newsletter, too. What would you like readers to know about the services you provide that enable them to put their best foot forward whether it’s onstage, in a recording studio, or stepping into a boardroom?

A: Our goal is never to turn someone into something they’re not. Instead we focus on keeping the client’s image (their look and presentation of themselves) true to their own personal style, personality, and work/art. Also, we work with many clients virtually via online chat and email, especially for services such as media coaching and development of professional bios. We have clients all over the US, in Canada, and in Australia.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: In addition to more speaking gigs at various music industry events and working with more clients one-on-one, my plans for the near future are to bring on additional stylists, offer more workshops, and possibly start my second book.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: It would be the tagline of the Advance Your Image book: “Putting your best foot forward never goes out of style!”

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: Yes. Readers can get exclusive tips and advice not featured in the book when they subscribe to my monthly newsletter on my web site at www.paNASHstyle.com.