Pr advice articles: Tips for successful media interviews

If you get the hang of doing them well, journalist interviews have the potential to generate great media coverage and can help build positive, long term media relationships that lead to repeat interview requests.  Here’s a checklist of do’s and don’ts for successful media interviews.

Do take the time to research what the journalist is after

Your PR agency should already have briefed you on the journalist’s background and the style and audience of the publication. Make sure you have a clear understanding of specifically what the reporter is after from the interview. If you’re unsure, ask him or her at the start of your conversation.  Is it a news story? Do they want you to comment on a particular issue? Or are they just after an informal background briefing on your company?

Do know what you want to say

You may be very quick at thinking on your feet and a specialist in your subject, but that is no excuse for not preparing for media interviews.   Review the topic that you will be discussing and take the time to ensure you have examples and important facts and figures to hand.  It is a good idea to use the ‘rule of threes’: pick out and make a note of the top three key messages you’d like to get across in the interview.  Don’t leave it to chance.  

Do express strong opinions and use examples and anecdotes

Journalists like strong or controversial opinions you can offer about the subject they are covering.  They want lively quotes to make their articles interesting.  But they also usually want these to be backed up by your first-hand experience of the issues. If possible, try to drive home your points with real life anecdotes and examples (you don’t necessarily have to name the organisations involved in your anecdotes, if you are worried about not having approval from them). 

Do use “bridging” to get your messages across

Bridging is a technique used by experienced interviewees to move from one subject to the message they want to communicate. First, make sure you fully answer the specific question the journalist has asked. Then, transition to your message with phrases such as “another important point is…”, “it’s also important to remember…”. This has to be subtle and not come across as evasive. We’ve all seen interviews with politicians who blatantly ignore journalists’ questions in order to stick to their own agenda.  They can come across as insincere and patronising.   

Do expect the journalist to have done their homework

Google and the other search engines have made it very easy for journalists to find out about any company they are going to be interviewing.  So don’t be caught off-guard if the journalist has a very good knowledge of your organisation’s recent activities – whether these are positive or negative.  If a piece of information about your company is public knowledge, don’t try to hide or fudge it – the chances are the journalist will know about it.

Don’t use jargon

Unless you are talking to a specialist, niche publication, resist the temptation to use acronyms and jargon. If you do use it, check that the journalist knows what you’re talking about. 

Don’t read from a script

Journalists are looking for lively, real life conversation and quotes.  If you are reading from a script or run through long memorised sentences, you’ll come across as one dimensional and stilted and it’s unlikely you’ll be called for interview again.

Don’t get drawn into hot water

If you aren’t qualified to discuss a specific topic – such as company finances – or you don’t have the information to hand to discuss a specific area, then make that clear to the journalist.  Don’t get drawn into discussing it with them. And don’t speculate. Politely say that either you or someone else will come back to the journalist to discuss that area.

Don’t fall for the ‘Silent Treatment’

Stop talking when you’ve answered the question. This is a common mistake inexperienced interviewees make, especially with the broadcast media. We all tend to feel uncomfortable with silent pauses and there is a temptation to go on talking until the next question.  If the journalist is trying to dig for details they think you’re reluctant to discuss, they may leave some “dead air” in the hope you might inadvertently say too much.

Do try to be helpful

Remember you are trying to create long term relationships.  So please don’t hesitate if you are able to help the journalist by introducing him or her to another useful contact or to tell them where they might get further information – even if it won’t directly result in coverage for your organisation. If they see you as a helpful, useful contact, then in the long run it will help your cause.  

Do end by asking if the interview has been useful

At the end of the interview, it’s good practice to ask directly if the information you’ve covered has been useful.  You might get some candid feedback. Or uncover opportunities to come back with additional information that leads to more substantial coverage.

Do send a follow-up email after every interview

Follow up each interview with a polite email, saying you enjoyed talking to the journalist and suggesting that you are available for future opportunities.  Taking the time to do this reinforces your name in the journalist’s memory.  And the fact that they have an email with your contact details might mean you’re top of the list next time they’re looking for a spokesperson.