Transparent Briefing (repost from long long ago)

NB: This is from a much older post on a blog no longer active.

For starters, I am not going to use this space to talk in detail about the Wired story itself. I have my POV of course, and those who live close enough to me to offer me a pint of beer might get it out of me. But the story is out, like any piece of work there are things to agree with and not, and we’ll leave it at that.

Now, let’s talk about the briefing mail now online,  and the mention in the article of a “confidential dossier of 5,500 words.” Not true – someone is confusing a briefing with a dossier and “confidential” with “not sent to me.”

So read on – there’s nothing surprising or nefarious here, let’s be transparent and take a look. But first, re-read this blog post from January about transparency…it’s pretty relevant. I’ll wait. 🙂  Right after CES, I wrote about how to do a great interview, offering my perspective on what works and doesn’t, from a PR perspective. Here was my 5th point (bold added):

If it’s your first interview with someone, ask for insight. Seriously, I know it sounds a bit self serving, but often the PR person has sat through a ton of interviews and has a pretty good sense of what works best from a style and pace standpoint. Remember, it’s in my best interest that an interview go well. If the interview goes south, I’m the one in the room later hearing about it. 😉 From the interviewer and interviewee both, it often turns out. 

So, now let’s turn the tables and talk about how to prep an interviewee to do a great interview – and you’ll see how a briefing document comes together.

1. Story commences – sometimes with an inbound request, sometimes in conjunction with an event or other news activity. Reporter (usually) has an overall story in mind and a list of people to talk to. It’s not unusual to be looking at as many as 10 interviews for a single story, esp. a feature. The first step from a PR perspective is to draft a document that captures the story premise, who should participate in the interview and some perspective on what supporting points need to be on the table. Then it’s off to the races….

2. Prior to the first interview, you want to make sure the person being interviewed is ready to do a good job. Everybody is different – some people are naturals and can come up with great commentary on the fly, others need more time to think. Must haves include:

a. Story premise

b. Info on news outlet and reporter – circulation, focus, previous articles written, interview style (aka Barbara Walters or Sam Donaldson?)

c. Supporting facts

d. Desired outcome

The key here is that the person is PREPARED for the interview, they have thought about their role and can actually be helpful.

3. Interview happens. Let’s just assume it was good. J Prior to the next interview, recap the first one! Why? Because you don’t want to waste time on the next sets of interviews plowing the same ground again. If the first person did a good job of explaining the business problem and left a huge hole in discussing the solution, then that next interview better focus more on solution.

4. Repeat as needed. Update story premise and facts along the way for each person being interviewed. As more questions come out, and more interviews take place, the briefings at the end get…long.

Okay, there it is – in the style of the Wired issue, transparency on what goes into briefing.

Seriously, in this case, the interests of a journalist and PR are totally aligned – a great interview is always the best possible outcome. And that doesn’t mean an interview where a spokesperson endlessly repeats key messages – that’s a loss. It’s an interview where the person is prepared to talk, has the relevant data at hand, understands the story premise and his/her role, and doesn’t waste time going over the same territory as a previous interview.

We now return to our regular programming.

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