by William Comcowich
Covid-19 has greatly accelerated the trend to remote TV interviews. Media interviews are now more likely than not to be completed remotely via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or other video conference app than in person.
“There was once a time when a journalist would scoff at the idea of an interview over Skype or Google Hangouts. Now, these are tools that they need to use to do their jobs,” says Lisa Arledge Powell, president of MediaSource, in PRsay. In addition, virtual interviews are probably here to stay.
Remote interviews open PR opportunities since they overcome geographical barriers. The executive being interviewed doesn’t have to get to the broadcast studio; the video team doesn’t have to traipse to the executive’s office.
Remote TV interviews now pose new pitfalls. PR staff likely are now responsible for the streaming video platform and the lighting and sound in the executive’s office or home. Technical glitches pose risks, as do interruptions from noisy children and pets.
Media training and PR experts offer these recommendations to avoid those pitfalls and complete media interviews that produce stellar results.
Find what to expect. Media outlets run their interviews differently. They use different apps and different formats. Some stations ask you to pre-record your part of the interview and later splice in the host asking questions. Ask plenty of questions and view examples of remote segments to make sure you understand what’s expected, recommends Rebekah Epstein at Fifteen Media.
1. Pitch remote access. Mention that your client or company representative is available for a remote interview when pitching stories and press releases, Epstein says. Avoid offering in-person interviews, as that’s inappropriate in the current climate.
2. Lighting. Beware of ambient lighting. Make sure to turn off any overhead lighting, advises Shift Communications. If there is a window in the room, ensure you are facing it directly and there is no light coming in behind the camera or on the side of your face where it can create shadows. Draw the shade if the light is too bright and “whiting out” your face. Use a key light from well above eye level or natural light that is directly on your face to ensure you are properly lit. If possible, use a smaller secondary light from behind and above you (or a light reflecting off the ceiling) to highlight your hair and eliminate shadows.
3. Daylight casts a blue tone. Standard incandescent bulbs cast a yellow tone. LED bulbs can be either blue or yellow. Check that the lighting you’re using produces a natural skin tone. If you need to supplement outside daylight, use a blue LED bulb for consistent lighting.
4. Mind the background and dress code. Viewers inspect and comment on backgrounds in home interviews. It’s become a thing. Avoid cluttered backgrounds. Be sure your background doesn’t include any embarrassing details. It’s also best to remove personal details such as pictures of children. Ask the news producer in advance about dress code. It’s usually best to mimic the style of the interviewer. Neutral colors work best in remote broadcasts. Avoid clothes that clash with or disappear into your background. You don’t want a brown suit against a brown bookcase or a flowered dress against a floral painting.
5. Sound. As much as possible, make sure the room is quiet and the interview won’t be interrupted by unexpected noises, children or spouses in bathrobes. Choose a quiet location in the house. Avoid high-ceilinged rooms with an echo, avoid appliances and vents that produce an audible hum or hiss, recommends Eric Heisler, director of media relations at Bravo Group. Politely ask your family or roommate not to disturb you and give pets a toy to keep them busy. Test your audio and use of high-quality microphone if available. Do a trial to test both video and audio quality.
6. Raise the interview to a new level. A common shortcoming with many online interviews is that the camera is not elevated. Raise laptops so they’re level with your face. Use books or boxes if needed, as long as they are stable.
7. Look at the camera. Conventional advice recommends looking people in the eye during interviews. But looking at the interviewer on the screen creates the appearance of avoiding eye-contact on television. Maintain eye-contact with the webcam, not the interviewer. Look down the barrel of the lens to create the impression of eye-contact, recommends James White at Media First.
8. Maintain erect posture. A media interview is not a time for sloppy posture. Avoid using your desk chair. A straight chair without wheels or a tilting back is best for an interview to help you sit up erect and maintain the position directly in front of the camera. The erect position also helps you project better (and maybe even think more quickly and clearly).
9. Prepare like usual. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the more relaxed home environment home. You still need to prepare properly. Research the publication to understand its perspective. Prepare responses to expected questions and plan how you’ll relay your intended message. Some PR pros advise preparing notes, but glancing away breaks eye contact with viewers, making the interviewee appear shifty or uncomfortable. If you need bullet point notes, put them to the side of your camera at the same level so that you can see them without having to glance away from the camera.
10. Prepare for tough questions. Facing difficult questions in media interviews is a major media relations challenge. Mastering the techniques of giving clear answers, restructuring questions, and deflecting off-target questions can help assure that your message is delivered effectively.
11. Measure results. Employ advanced media monitoring and measurement to gauge the impact of the remote interviews. It’s important to use a media monitoring service that can monitor TV broadcasts and measure results of all media relations campaigns and integrate data into a single dashboard.
Bottom Line: Television journalists now typically conduct interviews remotely due to Covid-19. Knowing how to avoid common pitfalls of remote media interviews is now an essential PR skill. Even if social distancing guidelines ease, remote interviews will remain common.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.