Making The Best Of The Dreaded Client Interviews
by Tracy Johnson
In many markets, sales managers have become increasingly aggressive in promising client interviews on the air. And man, they can kill a show.
The situation is bad in some stations. In order to justify an advertising buy, clients who have no on-air skill at all are getting guest slots. Many times it happens in prime time. And if it gets the decision maker to “yes, many account executives are agreeing to the appearance before even discussing it with programming.
There are a lot of things wrong with this scenario, but this article can’t solve internal problems. So let’s just assume that if you’ve read this far, it’s an issue at your station.
In the interest of making lemonade from lemons, let’s attack this issue by establishing some ground rules that programmers and personalities can live with. It will help at least minimize the damage, and may even help keep some of those show killers off the air.
How To Manage Client Interviews
Managing the damage starts by being proactive. Chances are, you’ve already fought and lost the battle over having client interviews on the guest at all. It’s time to change the battle.
First, take on a positive attitude. Smile your most genuine smile, and go to the DOS and GM and tell them:
I know we need the revenue, and client interviews are something we have to do. So I want to make sure they sound great and deliver the best possible response for our advertising partners.
I know that’s going to hurt, so practice it in a mirror a few times before saying it in public.
Now you’re connecting with the management team because you’re speaking their language. It’s time to dig in your heels and lay out some guidelines and expectations. It may be impossible to win all of these points, but fight for all you can.
The first priority is to make sure these valuable programming segments don’t become too frequent. Set a limit, just as there’s a limit on the number of commercials each hour. Ideally, it’s no more than once a week, but whatever the schedule, establish it and stick to it.
The second priority is isolating the guest appearance to an agreed-upon length and airing in an established quarter-hour. And never violate those standards.
Those guidelines will be challenged almost as soon as they’re accepted, because scheduling a client isn’t always easy. That’s why there’s guideline #2.
Record all Client Interviews – Always
Make no exceptions to this. Never take the interview live. Ever. Draw the line in the sand and demand that live appearances just can not happen.
There are many reasons, including:
- Clients will almost always be late to the interview, and miss the scheduled window. It throws off the show.
- Or they’re really early, and just sit there and stare at you. And that’s awkward.
A radio show is really busy, and outsiders in the studio are awkward. It’s hard to give them attention and time they expect, and the experience isn’t as rewarding as the sales team hopes.
But the real reason to record all interviews is control. When they come in live, it’s hard to get them to make their point quickly. And it’s hard to get them to leave. Client interviews start to get longer and longer, and listeners end up paying the price. Well, actually you do. Listeners have other stations to switch to.
Establish the guideline to record all segments, for productive, positive reasons:
- It’s easier for the client. We can schedule the interview anytime that’s convenient for them.
- We can make sure it sounds great and frames their message the best possible way.
- And, since it’s recorded, we can put it online so listeners can hear it on demand anytime (like they’ll actually listen…but hey, you’re pitching it to sales!).
- And, we can provide a copy of the finished interview the client can use in their own online marketing.
With a recorded segment, it’s easy to edit the audio to fit the segment length planned and promised at the time it’s scheduled. When posting the audio online, upload a longer version of the interview. This protects the show, yet honors the client.
If the client demands to be on live, refuse the interview. Believe me, they’ll back down.
Make Client Interviews Videos
Here’s another terrific trick to flatter the client, provide more perceived value and get out of having to give more air time to the segment.
Try to make each interview a video! This usually impresses the client and shows how enthusiastic the station is for the segment. They feel like a star.
Give the finished (edited) video to the client as an embed code so they can put it on their website. This exposes your personality to a larger market, and makes them feel they’ve received more value.
If needed, promote to the client that a video interview being made available on demand expands the reach of their appearance.
The content may not be what you prefer, but even weak guests may have an interesting story. Prepare for the segment as you would any other break on the show. Find out what makes the client interesting and use interview skills to bring out their personality, if you can. I know, a lot of spokespeople have no personality and freeze up when the mic is on. But go into it planning to make it interesting. You never know.
So talent can be fully prepared for the interview in the interest of making it a valuable and exciting experience for the client, provide each guest a pre-appearance form.
Put together a checklist and questionnaire, and insist it is completed and returned at least 24 hours before the interview is recorded. Providing this “homework” often helps clients focus their thoughts and attention and helps personalities plan how they’ll tell the story.
And there’s another benefit. Some client interviews happen because account executives suggest it as a value added idea. The client often doesn’t really want to be on the air, but think it’s foolish to turn down the opportunity. Giving them homework is an extra task they don’t think they have time for. It may be the extra nudge that gets them to cancel (the appearance, but not the buy).
If the information isn’t returned at least 24 hours before their appearance, cancel the interview and reschedule it. That’s fair. It’s a standard.
These ideas won’t stop client interviews, but it’ll help. The key is to get in front of the problem and show what an enthusiastic and cooperative team player you are.
Do you have other tips that work? Let me know so I can add it to the list.
Photo credit: Freepik.com
Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.