If you’re trying to get publicity for yourself or your company, the 24-hour news cycle along with the proliferation of cable news channels and online news sources makes the chances that you’ll be interviewed by a media outlet greater than ever.
So what do you do when you’re contacted by a journalist who wants to interview you? Use these tips to help the interview go smoothly so you and the reporter or producer get the results you both want—because when that happens, you’ll get called on again when they need a source.
Before the Interview
Before the interview is a good time to develop a rapport with the reporter and at the same time exert your rights as a spokesperson or expert source.
Don’t go into the interview blind. Ask some questions ahead of time so you know what to expect. Legitimate journalists won’t object to this. Reporters know that the better prepared you are, the better the interview will be.
Below is a list of questions you should consider asking before the interview. You may not need to ask all of them; choose the ones you feel will be most helpful. It’s also a good idea to research the reporter ahead of time if you can. Just do an internet search on the reporter’s name to see what type of work he does.
- What is the publication or broadcast outlet? The journalist should have told you this on first contact, but if he didn’t, ask.
- What is the reporter’s deadline? Most reporters work on tight deadlines. You need to know how much time is available so you can prepare and still give the reporter time to complete her research and finish the story.
- Who is the ultimate audience? Is it narrow and highly technical or general? Made up of your peers or prospective customers? To answer questions and provide information that will be appropriate, you need to know who the listeners, viewers or readers will be.
- When will the results of the interview (article or broadcast) appear? Reporters usually do not provide you with copies of the published or broadcast interview but they will let you know when they expect it to appear so you can find it yourself.
- Who else is the reporter interviewing? This may reveal the angle of the piece and what types of questions (or accusations) you may have to answer. Depending on the type of story, reporters may resist answering this question but it doesn’t hurt to ask. It also gives you a chance to offer additional sources that you know will be friendly to your point of view.
- How will the interview be done and how will it be used? Is it a live broadcast or recorded? If recorded, will it be edited? Will you be in a studio or by remote? If remote, will you be on the telephone or online video? Will any recordings be broadcast on a show, podcast, website or other place? Some reporters and bloggers prefer to do written interviews conducted by email; in that case, be sure your responses are professionally composed and proofed for accuracy and completeness.
- When will the interview take place and how much time is necessary? You may have to accommodate a reporter in a different time zone, but if possible, choose a time when you are at your best. It’s okay to set time limits; for most interviews, 20 to 30 minutes is sufficient. The reporter should be able to tell you how much time she needs.
During the Interview
Keep these points in mind during the interview:
- Whether or not the reporter is recording the interview, you have the right to record it and you may want to do so. If the subject matter is sensitive or complex, this will let you confirm that your quotes are accurate. It’s also a good way to hone your interviewing skills because you can review and critique what you said and how you said it later. If you choose to record the interview, let the journalist know that you’re doing so.
- Answer all of the reporter’s questions. Don’t just ignore a question. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and say something like, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” If the question is about something proprietary or confidential, indicate that you can’t reveal that information.
- Know your message and deliver it often. This is your opportunity to share the information you want the world to know. Bridge from what you’re asked to what you want to say.
- Stick to your area of expertise. Don’t allow the reporter to pressure you into making comments you’re not qualified to give.
- Don’t let the reporter rush you to answer or cut you off. You are there to deliver your message and you have the right to be heard.
- Avoid being manipulated. Don’t let the reporter put words in your mouth or define your vocabulary. Don’t answer unrealistic hypothetical questions; instead, say something like, “A more realistic scenario would be …” and then make the point you want to make.
- Maintain your composure no matter how hard it might be. If you’re discussing a controversial issue or the reporter has an agenda, you may find yourself feeling rattled. Don’t let it show.
- Maintain a proper facial expression if you’re face-to-face or on video. If it’s appropriate, smile. If a serious, somber look is more suitable to the situation, adopt that expression.
General Do’s and Don’ts for Interviews
Things you should and shouldn’t do when dealing with the media:
- Do remember that you are always “on the record.” This includes during the actual interview, during the pre- and post-interview conversations, as well as in casual conversations and other locations where you interact with reporters.
- Do speak in complete sentences. Avoid giving one-word answers; instead, give soundbites that make sense and can be used in stand-alone clips.
- Do be enthusiastic. Certainly make sure your demeanor is appropriate to the subject and situation, but show your energy and enthusiasm whenever you can.
- Do correct factual inaccuracies in the questions you’re asked. Don’t try to answer a question based on an incorrect premise.
- Do use anecdotes to illustrate your points. People love stories so tell them.
- Do mention your organization, product, book or whatever you’re promoting. Don’t overdo it, of course, but some tasteful self-promotion is appropriate.
- Don’t ask for a list of questions in advance. Some writers may offer them, and if they do, that’s great. But most will simply tell you the general direction they expect the interview to take.
- Don’t say “no comment.” If you can’t answer a question, say so and briefly explain why. The phrase “no comment” makes it sound like you have something to hide.
- Don’t ask to have anything you said edited out of the story before broadcast or publication. If you made a mistake and realize it later, let the reporter know. But if you said something you wish you hadn’t, that’s too bad.
- Don’t ask to see the story before publication. Most news outlets have policies prohibiting this and asking the question brands you as an amateur.
- Don’t use professional jargon or statistics your audience won’t understand. Be sure the reporter understands you, as well.
- Don’t argue with a reporter. State the facts as you know them to be but don’t try to persuade the reporter to your point of view.