I recently caught an episode of “60 Minutes” during which they shared the tricks of the trade by some of the most revered journalists ever, most of them now passed. As you may know, “60 Minutes” has been celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which makes it the longest running broadcast program ever.
When the show first aired in 1967, the formula for a “60 Minutes” segment was simple: keep it timely, keep it relevant and never be dull. That same formula is as relevant today, and should be used by marketing communications professionals in developing stories and pitches for the media. It doesn’t matter if your story idea is for print, TV, radio or online – your media pitch needs to include all of those elements, and it needs to be visual, as even a good radio story can be shared online.
In the segment, they shared their rules for conducting a “60 Minutes” interview, and these are recommendations for how to prepare for them:
- Do your homework – The reporter will be doing their homework before interviewing your client, so your job is to get as much information from the reporter in advance of the interview and make sure your client is prepared.
- Don’t be shy; don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions and be persistent – The reporter is going to ask the tough questions, so you need to anticipate what will be asked and practice how to respond concisely and then pivot to the key message you want to make.
- Take your time, wear them down – This is a tried-and-true trick. Good reporters have a way of getting people to talk, even if it’s just waiting it out. The reporter will ask the question, the interviewee will answer, then the reporter will just sit there saying nothing. Most people are uncomfortable with the silence, so they will continue talking, which can be a disaster when they say something off message. Be comfortable with the silence.
Ed Bradley explained in 2002: “My job is to put someone in a chair and get them to talk and tell their story as if there are no cameras, no lights, no other staff around – just the two of us sitting and talking.” As PR practitioners, we’re wary of TV interviews for our clients, especially on controversial topics. In many cases, we advise clients not to do on-camera interviews, but to issue a statement instead.
Whether you’re getting a client ready for a “60 Minutes”-style interview or a local TV story, there’s no such thing as too much preparation. If you’re not a “60 Minutes” watcher, we encourage you to take a look. As communicators, there’s much to learn from these esteemed journalists who don’t pull punches.