Any spokesperson who has been blindsided in a media interview usually didn’t adequately prepare in advance for the encounter.
A media interview is not a spontaneous event. Journalists all prepare for an interview. They develop their questions in advance, have a good idea of what they’re going to write about and have the last word.
To make sure you get your message across, you should also prepare in advance for every media interview.
When contacted by a reporter, the first thing you should do is get as much information as possible on what the journalist is looking for before agreeing to the interview.
Following are eight questions to ask a reporter before a media interview:
- What is your name and media outlet?
It may seem like common sense, but a lot of people actually go into interviews without really knowing who they’re talking to. Clarify who the reporter is and the media outlet he or she is representing. Get the correct spelling of the reporter’s name, phone number and email address.
A journalist from the Globe and Mail will take a very different approach to a story than a reporter from the Toronto Sun. The same holds true for reporters from CBC TV and CTV. Also, every journalist has his or her own particular style, approach and biases that you should be aware of before agreeing to an interview.
Look the reporter up on Google. Read past news stories, watch and listen to TV and radio broadcasts to get an idea of how a particular reporter approaches a story.
- What is the subject of the interview or specific angles you are exploring?
If a reporter says he or she is going do a story on real estate development in your community, for example, respond with “That’s a pretty broad subject. What particular aspect are you interested in?”
This will give you a better idea of the specific angle the reporter is pursuing so you can better target your key messages.
- Who else are you talking to for this story?
The answer to this question will let you know what role you’ll be playing in the story. If the reporter is also talking to a well known industry critic, you may have to defend your company’s position or recent activities. On the other hand, if the journalist is interviewing an industry analyst who just recommended your company, it’s a perfect opportunity to position and reinforce the attributes of your business.
- What’s your deadline?
Reporters live and die by their deadlines. Find out when the reporter’s filing deadline is and return calls well before he or she has to file their story. If their final deadline is 4:00 p.m. and you call them back at 3:30 p.m., chances are you’ll be a footnote in the final paragraph of the story stating that you weren’t available for an interview.
- What’s the format of the interview?
For print, a reporter working on a news story will focus on the most topical aspect of the subject and will be looking for a snappy quote. If it’s an in-depth feature, the journalist will be looking for more detailed background information.
For broadcast, if it’s a live interview, you’re going to have to be spot on with your messages, particularly if they’re going to allow call-ins from listeners or viewers. If it’s taped, the reporter will be looking for succinct sound bites to add some perspective to the story.
For television, ask if it’s going to be in-studio or remote. If it’s a remote interview, find out what kind of visuals they’re looking for and be prepared to be interviewed with those visuals as the backdrop.
- Who will be conducting the interview?
For radio talk shows and some television news programs, you may be contacted by the producer rather than the on-air personality who will conduct the interview. Always ask who will conduct the interview and where it will take place.
Bear in mind that the producer will try to pre-interview you to gauge how you’ll perform on air. If you don’t have your key messages ready, respectfully tell the producer you will have to return the call. Then prepare your key messages and call back when you promised to.
- How long will the interview last?
Make sure you set aside enough time for the interview and give the reporter your full attention. It’s always a good idea to specify in advance how much time you have available. Otherwise, the reporter may go on a fishing expedition. If you have a set timeframe, you can always gracefully end the interview if necessary at a specified time.
- When will the story run?
Monitor the story when it comes out. If it’s positive, send it to clients and prospects and share it online. If there are grievous errors or it’s negative, you may want to consider contacting the reporter or editor and diplomatically point out what the errors were. If necessary, write a letter to the editor to get your message out to the public.
Once the reporter has answered all your questions, negotiate some time to prepare. If you’re the right person for the interview, tell the reporter you’d be happy to talk to him or her but will call back in half an hour or so, as long as it’s well in advance of the specified deadline.
Use the time before the actual interview to come up with a list of likely questions you may be asked and develop your key messages.
Every media interview is a golden opportunity to reach and influence your target audience. With a little bit of foresight and preparation, you can hit your target every time and leave a positive, lasting impression.
Even in today’s fast-paced era of media convergence, the press release stands out as one of the most powerful and cost-effective tools for generating awareness and building corporate credibility. Why? When a news story is reported by a respected journalist, blogger, or other independent authority, it has instant third-party credibility with the audience.
But in this crowded information age, getting the attention of time-pressed editors, journalists and bloggers is no small feat. If your news releases aren’t getting picked up, you may be committing one the following cardinal sins:
- No News: The most important thing for any press release is to be topical, newsworthy and of interest to your audience. Before sending out a news release, take an objective look at it and ask yourself: “What’s really new and different here? Why would my audience care about this?” If it’s a product launch, for example, are you first to market or is it just another “me too” clone product? Explain what’s truly innovative about the product, how it will benefit users by saving them save them time or money. Back up your claims with relevant statistics, case studies or independent third-party testimonials. Above all, tone down the promotional fluff and focus on the facts.
- Boring Headline: Busy editors, reporters and bloggers rarely read past the headline unless it grabs them. Ensure your headline accurately summarizes the focus and content of the news release. Make your headline short and catchy and incorporate keywords that’ll be picked up by search engines.
- Buried Lead: The lead sentence is the most important part of the news story. It should clearly convey the main point of your announcement. Don’t make the news in your press release a game of “Where’s Waldo” by burying the lead in the body of the announcement. Get to the point from the start, then support the main point with additional information in the rest of the release.
- No Numbers: A business story without powerful numbers is like a day without sunshine. If you’re pitching a business story on your company’s success, back it up with sales figures or revenues. Otherwise, it will just fall flat.
- Density: Identify the key benefit of your announcement and drive that point home. Don’t get bogged down in too much detail. Editors don’t have time to wade through a morass of copy. Keep your release simple and succinct. Back up key points with relevant facts and direct the reader to your website for additional information if appropriate.
- A Jungle of Jargon: Most mainstream media outlets are targeted to a general audience. Write your press release for a lay audience and stay away from industry jargon or acronyms. You may understand the industry-specific lingo, but chances are the reporter or blogger won’t.
- Lifeless Quotes: Quotes should say something meaningful and be able to stand on their own. Avoid quotes that are self-congratulatory or state the obvious, such as “we’re pleased that…” Of course your CEO is pleased. He just signed a multi-million contract. Who wouldn’t be? Reporters see that same old “we’re pleased” quote half a dozen times a day. And to tell the truth, they don’t really care that you’re “pleased.
- Too Promotional: Don’t make your news release an infomercial. A press release should contain newsworthy information of interest to a media outlet’s readers, viewers or listeners. A blatant sales pitch will quickly end up in the round file and undermine your credibility with the journalist. Keep your press releases factual, include pertinent statistics and third-party testimonials to back up your points, and keep unnecessary hype to a minimum.
- Ignoring SEO: The end game for any announcement is to increase a company’s visibility. Make sure your news release ranks highly on search engines. Use Google Insights and other SEO tools to identify words and phrases your audience is using to search for your company and its competitors and incorporate these terms in your release. Include relevant keywords and phrases in your headline and lead paragraph, but don’t overdo it. Include links with your keywords in the release to drive viewers to your homepage as well as other applicable websites.
- Playing Favorites: Maintain a level playing field with all media outlets. That means giving everybody the same information at the same time. If you’re going to give one journalist an exclusive, that’s fine. Just don’t try to peddle to story to everyone else after the news has been broken. The same holds true for press conferences. Don’t tip off one reporter the day before the official announcement. No one likes to play second fiddle to their competitors. Putting other journalists in that position doesn’t reflect well on you or your organization.
- Disappearing Act: When you send out a news release, make sure your spokesperson is available days following the announcement. Nothing frustrates a journalist more than following up on a press release only to find that the spokesperson is holed up in a meeting all day or on a plane. If your spokesperson isn’t available, hold off on your announcement until he or she is available to take calls.
- Spelling and Grammatical Errors: There’s no excuse for sending out a press release with typos, spelling mistakes or grievous grammatical errors. It reflects poorly on your quality control and status as a professional communicator. Carefully proofread all your work before it goes out, and then hand it to a colleague for a second set of eyes and a fresh perspective.