A television appearance. A radio interview. A magazine article or a mention in a popular blog. Every business owner understands the value of positive media coverage. There’s no better way to build your brand. Media coverage is significantly more credible than paid advertising because the content is developed by an unbiased, third-party source. That’s why companies spend a lot of time and effort trying to capture the media’s attention.

What would you do if the Today show called?  Would you be ready?  You certainly don’t want to blow your opportunity.  A mishandled interview can damage your company’s brand. The key — careful planning and preparation.  Even a seasoned professional can make mistakes without preparing properly.  So here are some tips that can help you make the most your 15 minutes of fame.

First, never respond to a reporter’s call off-the cuff.  When you try to wing it not only do you risk making mistakes, but you also won’t make the most of the opportunity.  Find out specifically what the story is about and how it is going to be used.  Ask what topics or types of information the reporter is seeking.

Next, find out the reporter’s deadline for the story so you can arrange a convenient time to schedule the interview.  This provides you with the opportunity to plan and prepare your key messages.  What is it you want the audience to know?  Jot down your message points so you can stay in control of the interview.

Practice what you want to say.  Rambling, interjecting a lot of “you knows” or stumbling over words makes you look inarticulate and unprofessional.  Your mouth has memory so rehearse what you plan to say.

Avoid using slang, industry-specific jargon and acronyms. You want your message to be communicated with clarity. Answer questions in soundbites — in other words be succinct.    That’s particularly important for television interviews.  Most television segments are only  around two minutes in length. Even if the interview is taped, make your answers short and to the point.

Don’t be fooled by a reporter’s pregnant pause. Sometimes when you have finished answering a question the reporter won’t respond immediately. A lot of people who are uncomfortable with long pauses in a conversation feel compelled to continue talking. That’s when you can get yourself into trouble by talking too much.  Keep to your key messages and when you are finished — stop talking.

Always assume the microphone is on. You’ve probably chuckled at a few blunders public officials have made when they’ve forgotten to pay attention.  And nothing is ever off the record.  Off the record means different things to different journalists so if you aren’t comfortable sharing the information, don’t

Finally, “no comment” is never a good response in an interview. It is best to either answer the question or explain why you can’t. If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it, and if possible, offer to help the reporter find the information she needs.

Media coverage can give you business a big boost, so plan and prepare to make the most out of your next media opp!

AvatarSusan Solovic

Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney.