Perhaps you’re interested in promoting an event, or maybe someone at your organization has unique expertise or an interesting story to tell. There might also be a time when your company is facing a public crisis and there’s a need to respond. Whatever the circumstance, here are some things to keep in mind if you’re contacted by a journalist for an interview. Many of these tips are universal, others are more specific to print media. Let’s get started.
Be friendly but professional in all your interactions
- Whatever the reason for an interview, it’s important to build a positive relationship with members of the media so that your company’s brand and interests are cast in the best-possible light, now and in the future.
- If you’re unprepared when a reporter calls, don’t try to answer questions immediately. Arrange a convenient time to return the reporter’s call or email. Keep in mind that reporters often work under deadlines and may want to speak with you as soon as possible.
- During your conversation, keep in mind that a reporter may or may not have much experience in your area of expertise. Try to keep your answers basic to start, then expand as necessary. Avoid using industry jargon and acronyms.
- If you are not the right person to speak to the reporter, take their name and number, find out the topic of the news story and their deadline, then explain that someone else will be returning their call. During this initial interaction, a reporter may be willing to provide some questions, so that you can gather the information you need. Don’t be surprised, though, if the reporter is unwilling to provide questions in advance of the interview.
Be prepared and stay on target
- Determine and focus on no more than three points. Deciding on three points to make during the interview will help you stay on topic and keep you from veering off and traveling down a road that you hadn’t planned on taking. It will also help ensure that your key messages are conveyed to the public.
- Don’t feel as if you need to fill the void. When you’re done answering, stop talking and wait for the next question.
- Assume that anything you say to a reporter at any time – during the interview, before or after – may be attributed to you. Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable reading in print. If you want to say something “off the record” you must indicate that BEFORE you say it. You should not tell a reporter something is “off the record” AFTER you’ve said it. An off-the-record conversation might only be possible if agreed to in advance. Our best advice is to avoid off-the-record comments altogether.
Things you may not have considered
- In Oregon, it is legal to record telephone conversations with the consent of at least one party, meaning that phone conversations can be recorded by one person without the other person’s permission. Recording in-person conversations requires the consent of all parties except for in certain circumstances, such as when all parties reasonably should have known they were being recorded. Consider recording your interview for your own records.
- Depending on the type of publication, don’t expect to be paid for your time or charged a fee. Legitimate news organizations rarely, if ever, include financial transactions as a basis for an interview.
- The reporter might ask to arrange a visit from a photographer or ask for any photos of yourself or your company. Stories with photos are likely to get better “play” in web or print publications, so you may want to arrange some photo opportunities if your goal is to promote your organization.
Different types of interviews
The type of story will likely guide your responses to questions. Some quick pointers:
- If the story is a profile or a feature about you or your company, the reporter will be interested in your history and interesting anecdotes. For a richer profile, don’t hesitate to share some company lore, personal observations or humorous asides, as appropriate.
- For stories with a narrower focus – such as a story about an event, product or a reaction to a development in the industry – keep your answers short and on the subject.
- In a crisis situation, especially, you might be tempted to avoid returning a call, but it could be to your benefit to offer even a brief response. Reporters like to present multiple sources in a story, and you might want one of those voices to be yours.
After the interview
Most news outlets don’t allow you to review the story before it’s published or broadcast. Reputable journalists aspire to be impartial in their work and they feel that allowing you or anyone else to review their work may compromise their editorial independence.
Consider making yourself available for any follow-up questions to help ensure accuracy. If you feel that a significant error has been made once the story has published, don’t hesitate to contact the reporter and ask for a correction. On the other hand, if you feel the story fairly represented your remarks, you may want to consider sending a complimentary note to foster future communications.
Check back here in the future for more tips on ways to build rapport with members of the media and how to get your message across in a meaningful way.