By Christie Lunsford
With the mainstream media shining a bright spotlight on the cannabis industry, brands and reputations can be either broken or catapulted in just one interview.
An insightful quote in a national publication can position you as a thought leader in the industry and draw positive attention to your brand. But the wrong choice of words can have serious repercussions, as we saw recently when a Denver company lost clients after its founders seemingly disparaged some cannabis users in a New York Times piece.
Thankfully, giving a great interview is a skill that can be learned. Here are some best practices on how to craft a meaningful message and give your best interview:
A clear brand statement and brand objectives are essential for the marketing of any cannabis business and should always be used as the basis for interacting with the media. Only an owner or a trusted employee should speak on behalf of your company.
Company policy should clearly outline which employees can conduct media interviews and those employees should be media trained.
Cannabis stores in Colorado and Washington State learned this lesson the hard way when lower-level employees talked to the swarm of media on hand for the start of adult-use sales earlier this year. In some cases, those employees shared information the owner was not comfortable with disclosing.
Create a list
When the media calls, be ready to ask for more information. Ask for a contact, the name of the news outlet and scheduling information. More importantly, ask for the objective of the interview and a question list.
Once you’ve gathered the information on what the story is about, think ahead and plan on how your comments might be framed.
Take time to research the reporter, media outlet and subject matter. Build a personal connection with the interviewer prior to the interview by sending your bio and a well thought-out email including links to your website and articles that might improve the story.
Don’t wing it. Develop a strategy based on the objective of the interview, the reporter’s style and the target audience.
- Create three to five talking points based on your objectives for each interview.
- Stay on topic, offering 20-30 second sound bites for radio and television, saving longer commentary for printed articles.
- Use your brand name in your answers.
Brush up on interview tactics
Be your own spin-doctor, making sure the public understands your brand’s perspective. Think beyond the interviewer to the key audience of readers, listeners or viewers who will engage with your story.
Some tips to accomplish this:
- Be authentic. Seek to inspire rather than promote.
- Be results-oriented. Respond to questions in a way that gets your message out.
- Be compelling. Use your time with the reporter to have a larger conversation about cannabis. Remember all of the other states where cannabis is still not legal? There’s a chance your message will reach beyond your intended scope. Make the message a positive one.
Don’t be afraid to decline, and set limits
Media savvy professionals know when to just say “no.” Interactions with the press in emerging cannabis markets are occasionally hostile. It’s important to know when to say no to interviews that are out of your range of expertise or would compromise you in any way.
Additionally, limit the time you spend on interviews. Some reporters will want to spend hours or even days interviewing you and key members of your team.
That might be worthwhile for a story in a large national publication, or to build a solid relationship with a key reporter covering the industry. But it might be more of a time-suck if it involves a local publication based outside your market.
Cross the bridge
Difficult questions can be diffused by learning and using the bridge technique. The bridge technique allows the interviewee to drive home his/her point while answering a reporter’s question. Some examples of bridge technique statements include:
- “The real issue is…”
- “It’s important that…”
- “Before we get off that topic, let me add…”
Be careful if a reporter wants to go “off the record.” Any notes taken during an interview can theoretically be used in a news story, even if you have a verbal agreement with the reporter not to use the information.
For radio or television, remember to shut off your mic as soon as the interview ends. Ask for a transcript or record the interview with your phone to make sure your quotes are used correctly.
- Anticipate questions and practice the answers.
- Be ready for hostile or tough questions.
- Don’t bash the competition.
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
- And most importantly, don’t volunteer negative information.
After it’s all said and done, review your interview. Look for areas you can improve and continue to build your interviewing skills.
- Did your answers speak to the objective of the interview?
- What quotes made it into the interview and why?
- Was your brand well represented during the interview?
Media interviews are a fantastic (and free) way to build your brand and increase business. With thoughtful preparation, media interviews can provide a platform for communicating your brand’s mission and set the stage to support cannabis legalization initiatives in non-legal medical and adult use states as well.
Christie Lunsford is a cannabis industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience in communications and corporate branding. You can follow her on Twitter at @cluns4rd.