The Seven Secrets of 'Media Darlings'

If you want to be quoted regularly in the press to raise your company's profile, learn from exceptional spokespeople

As you watch the news over the next few days, pay attention to the experts who are quoted. You'll probably see some of the same names and faces. When I worked at CNN (TWX) as a business news correspondent, we would often ask our best guests to return. This practice of regularly quoting one person particularly knowledgeable in one subject area is common in TV, radio, print, and online, because it's often hard to find media-savvy experts. If you're a business leader who wants to appear in the press on a regular basis, be aware of the following traits that separate media darlings from media bombs.

Media darlings show passion. I've interviewed hundreds of business leaders over my career as a journalist and only a handful stand out. Financial guru Suze Orman was one of them. She was just as passionate behind the camera as she was in front of it. It didn't surprise me when I heard she got her own show on CNBC (GE). If you don't demonstrate passion for your message, your business will be at a disadvantage against competitors who do.

Media darlings are easy to understand. Great interviewees avoid jargon—buzzwords that are specific to a particular industry. Rob Enderle is a technology analyst who is interviewed 5 to 10 times a day on a wide range of topics on TV, on the radio, in print, and online. "Jargon can get you into trouble," Enderle told me recently. "Acronyms, especially, can mean a lot of different things." By stripping your conversation of jargon and acronyms, it makes it less likely you'll be misquoted and more likely you will play a prominent role in the story.

Media darlings know when to shut up. Outstanding television guests speak in sound bites—short, memorable phrases that last about 15 to 20 seconds. Many TV and radio news programs are now cutting bites to as little as 3 to 6 seconds. Great interviewees speak in sound bites for television, radio, and print. Next time you read an article, make note of how long the quotes are. Experts are often quoted for a sentence or two. I only used two sentences from Enderle in the preceding paragraph. Most reporters don't have an hour to spend with you. Give them what they need in a few well-chosen sentences.

Media darlings are confident. When asked what makes someone a great guest, Larry King once said he liked guests with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. In other words, they have an opinion and they are not afraid to voice it. Guests who try to be too many things to too many people are usually boring and not memorable. Be confident but not arrogant. It's a fine line and crossing it will send you into "media bomb" territory in no time.

Media darlings keep it real. Effective spokespeople know the worst phrase one can say in an interview is "no comment." Reporters (and audiences) generally don't like guests who sound like they have something to hide. Work hard to demonstrate your authenticity and you will stand out—and may be invited back.

Media darlings surprise. If you can teach interviewers something new, something that didn't come up in their research, you will grab their attention and win them over. Don't just pitch a product. Be an educator.

Media darlings don't "overpromote." We all like to be around people who inspire us, who bring out our best selves. The most inspiring guests paint a vivid picture of a better future. We assume your company, product, or service plays a role in that future so it's not necessary to hock your product incessantly—you can, but chances are slim that you'll be invited back.

If you want to raise your company's profile, recognize what interviewers and audiences want, then work hard at demonstrating your expertise in a variety of venues. Good luck.

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