Handling the Media
The phone rings, and there’s a journalist on the other end.
It’s pretty flattering – they want to talk to ME! But also a bit daunting. After all, you don’t want to say the wrong thing and get stitched up.
First of all, don’t panic.
This is a great opportunity to promote yourself and your organisation, and most journalists are not out to get you. However, do not do the interview immediately. You need to have time to prepare and consult with your PR department or agency about whether you should go ahead, and what to say if you do. So, say you’re a bit busy but available later on, and promise to call back – or to forward your details to your PR. Before you hang up however, there are some key questions to ask – and even if your policy is to forward all media calls to your PR, these are the questions you find out from them.
1. Who is the interview for?
It could be a local or national newspaper, a trade or specialist journal, a magazine, or a local or national broadcaster, and the tenor of the interview and the potential audience, will depend on this.
2. What is it about?
I know this seems pretty obvious, but if you’re caught on the hop, you might forget to ask. You don’t want to think you’re being interviewed about the charity event you’re organising, and then find it’s about a new product your business is launching.
3. Why do they want to speak to you?
Is the journalist doing a piece specifically about you or your business, so you will be speaking as its representative, are you being interviewed for your expertise in a particular field, or has something gone wrong that you’re being expected to account for? Whichever of these it is, you need to be prepared, think about potential questions and work out what your answers might be.
4. What type of interview does the journalist want?
All the journalist may need is a quick comment to be included as a part the interview, or you could be the main interviewee, in which case the interview might take longer. And it might be for a news piece or for the feature pages, all of which will affect the type of interview you’ll be expected to give. You don’t want to be caught on the hop, and sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about, especially if it’s for a longer feature.
5. Who else are they speaking to?
Most important. Are they talking to your rivals? Are you going to be quoted, or simply providing background information for an interview with someone else? Are you being interviewed to provide editorial balance to an argument? You know the kind of thing: A, who is a dog behaviourist, believes that they should never be trimmed as it causes them trauma, while B, who is a dog grooming expert, says that they should be groomed once a month as longer hair can cause disease and infection.
6. How does the journalist want to conduct the interview and how long will it take?
Is it going to take place over the phone, or in person? Do you need to set aside an hour or just a few minutes? If the journalist is from a TV station and tells you it will take an hour, double this as they’ll need at least that to set up the camera, conduct the interview and film establishing shots.
7. And most important of all, what is the deadline?
This will vary depending on the type of publication, and you don’t want to miss your chance to be quoted. You can bet your bottom dollar that you’re not the only person the journalist is contacting, and if you don’t come up with an interview and someone else does, it’s them that will get the free promotion, not you.
Of course, once you’ve found all this out, you’ve still got to conduct the interview, and that is where proper preparation will help. Practice and coaching with experienced media trainers will equip you with the tools and techniques that will help you to take charge of an interview and say you want, in the way that you want.