The Real Purpose Of Most Media Interviews

At least once per month, one of our clients expresses concern about “dumbing down” their content.

Their preference is to fully educate the audience. They want their interviews to include all of the nuance and detail that their material deserves. And they bristle at the idea of reducing years’ worth of work down to media-friendly sound bites.

What’s the point in doing a media interview, they ask, if they can’t more thoroughly explain their work?

The problem, of course, is that journalists rarely run 800-word quotes in their news stories. According to one study from Harvard’s Center for Media and Public Affairs, the average “sound bite” on the evening news is just 7.3 seconds.

The same is true for print, where an average quote generally runs no more than 20-25 words.

Given that conflict—the desire of spokespersons to say more and the need of journalists to print less—I knew I needed a different way to discuss this issue with my clients.

One day, I accidentally landed on a rather crude analogy. Crude as it may be, it also tends to stick in people’s minds. I told one client to think of media interviews as a “gateway drug.” I told them that their goal in an interview isn’t to say everything—you can’t—but to hook your audience just enough so that they want to learn more or get involved.

The real purpose of most media interviews, then, isn’t to be comprehensive and fully educate your audience. It’s to inspire members of the audience to take the next step. A well-delivered media interview might persuade people to visit your website, call your phone number, buy your book, attend your lecture, sign a petition, or protest a piece of legislation.

Think of media interviews as a two-step. The first step is to get them interested enough to take a second step. And in the second step, they’ll seek more information and become better educated—but outside the confines of the time-limited media interview, they saw in step one.

So stop trying to say everything, and start thinking about the parts of your work that are most likely to get people interested enough to take the next step.