Wait, did you say pre-interview?!
You just arrive home from picking the kids up at school and the light is blinking on your answering machine. As you start to listen to the message you realize it is your publicist—you know she’s been working hard to get the message out but you are sick and tired of writing contributed pieces. She warned you before the campaign started that it was going to be time-consuming but she’s working you like a dog and you just can’t churn out another article this afternoon.
As she begins her message the tone of her voice let's you know she’s excited: "Just wanted to give you the news that my contact at NPR has finally got back to me and...they’re interested!"
Yes! Terry Gross here I come, you think. You begin planning the afternoon—your agent will be thrilled with the national interview and the other members of your writers group will be so jealous. In your haste to cheer with friends you almost miss the catch at the end of the message.
Hang on, did she say “pre-interview?” Gulp.
Authors and publicists have been dealing with the dreaded pre-interview for years. It is a mainstay of the most high profile national broadcast programs, including several NPR shows, national morning shows like “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America,” syndicated daytime programs like “The Montel Williams Show” and many others.
Producers for these programs love pre-interviews because they allow them to make sure the potential guest can communicate entertaining and informative information to their audience. Authors hate pre-interviews because they know in the back of their minds that they are auditioning for the biggest interview opportunity of their career. I have seen authors get more nervous for this preliminary conversation than the interview itself.
The good news? Programs like these will only schedule a pre-interview if they are genuinely interested in having you on their program. Most authors who go through media training and are prepared to communicate their message effectively do very well in pre-interviews.
The bad news? You may never know why you did not get the interview slot but often the writing is on the wall. If your publicist knows that Kyra Phillip's producer is looking for a guest to talk to her about social networking websites in the two o’clock hour and tunes in the next day to see another “expert” featured, they know the pre-interview did not go well. Sometimes producers conduct several pre-interviews and pick the author or guest they think will bring the most to the interview. Often it does not mean that you did anything wrong but rather another interviewee had the perspective they were looking for.
What can you do to prepare for pre-interviews?
- Know your material. Your publicist will spend time prepping you on the pitch that secured interest from the producer. Make sure you know the subject matter backwards and forwards by having statistics, anecdotes and suggestions ready to go.
- Have an understanding of the angle they want you to take. Often producers are preparing a segment with opposing viewpoints and you need to be ready to back your argument to the fullest. Do not waffle on an issue during the pre-interview if you know they are expecting a strong take.
- Practice. Your publicist will be interested in prepping you for the pre-interview but also ask a friend or family member to run through a Q & A with you. Ask for honest feedback on your performance.
- Do your homework. Think like a producer as you prep for the interview. What market are they trying to reach with their program? If the show is geared for stay at home parents, leave the workplace issues out of the picture.
One thing to always remember if the pre-interview does not lead to an immediate booking is that there are always future opportunities. A great example is a client of ours, Lynette Lewis. A renowned motivational speaker in the corporate community, Lewis’ career self-help book Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos: 10 Strategies for Stepping Up to Success and Satisfaction at Work was released by Thomas Nelson in October 2006. The combination of timely tips, a positive theme and a credentialed author gave our publicity team plenty to work with. The campaign was very successful, resulting in great attention from top 100 dailies, internet outlets, and numerous radio opportunities.
The one that got away during the campaign was a pre-interview with “The Today Show” that did not end up in an appearance during the holiday season. We knew from working with Lewis that she had a lot media savvy and we remained confident that it would turn into something down the road. We got word late last week that her pre-interview had finally paid off, as she was kept in the producer’s file as a “women’s career expert” and appeared on the program yesterday. That’s right, nine months after her preliminary interview.
Pre-interviews are a part of the process for most major national media outlets and if your publicist is able to attract attention on that level, it is very important to be prepared for that opportunity. If things do not work out right away, remember that a good pre-interview may turn into additional opportunities for you down the road.