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The Art Of The Profile Interview

I am prompted to write this after hearing a truly dreadful profile interview with Marion King, the CEO of Vocalink, on Radio 4s Today Programme. Ms.King had swallowed the corporate happy pill and stayed firmly in the land of the bland.

Her opening gambit was the key here is to have great systems and great people and never be complacent closely followed by its about investing in cutting edge technology and capability and it also about running your workforce well.

Whoopee. I was reminded that last year two chief executives I subsequently trained, had had the experience of being interviewed by two different Financial Times journalists. In both cases the journalist left saying nothing to write. Given that, in each case, there had been huge amounts of corporate angst ahead of the interview, it was rather funny really.

So what makes a good profile interview? In order to not reveal too much or too little, preparation is required. Working as we do with clients about to be interviewed, we know that this preparation can take a lot more than five minutes and the back of an envelope.

Some personal details Every profile needs a bit of colour. This can be as simple as your hobby: I recently read a profile about a boss whos hobby was fly fishing, an angle the journalist majored on not least because he had a picture of the chap suitably attired standing in a river. More interesting for the reader is something that illustrates what made the person who he or she is; what drives them.

A good journalist will go fishing for this but that can be very uncomfortable for the interviewee if he or she hasnt already considered what they want to reveal. Think it through beforehand.

Clearly there is a need to avoid stories of drunken student raves and its probably best not to be critical of living relatives. But with forethought there will be stories that can be sensibly and safely told.

Beware the did you inhale question. Dont answer it.
Give away some negatives. Telling a journalist you have great processes, great people and that the company runs like clockwork, is too boring to write and lacks credibility. There is always a challenge, always problems, always something worth saying.

If you really cant bear to reveal anything the slightest bit negative about your company, consider talking about wider issues impacting many companies like yours: the quality of graduates or school leavers, the tax system, the challenges of managing Facebook and Twitter time of your staff.

If you dont have something interesting to say the journalist will get desperate and start pushing for an angle, any angle. You could find a side remark about the difficult of getting quality leather shoes in your size becomes the whole angle of the story!

Keep your positivity in check. If you are saying something that anyone else in your position would say, dont bother to say it. That includes. We are a well run company, We have a great relationship with the regulators, We really care about our customers, We need to understand exactly what our customers want, I have a great team, I am really excited about the challenge

Any of these make you sound naive and unworldly, especially without some pretty crunchy proof points. You will be throwing away a chance to raise your profile and increase the risks of the interview, as the journalist becomes more and more desperate to find something to write.

If you really dont know where to start you had better call in some PR support. We regularly coach people for profile interviews, preferably before they have wasted a golden opportunity.

Lindsay Williams is the MD of The Media Coach. With international experience, her London based firm provides expert media training. Go to http://www.themediacoach.co.uk for more information.

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