Among life’s nerve wracking moments, conducting a media interview can be right up there with giving a public speech or toasting the bride at a wedding. People are afraid of a high-pressure environment in which a reporter fires off rapid-fire question to get a juicy nugget for the front pages.
The reality is that media interviews are nothing to be feared. The press is interested in speaking to you for a reason, and rarely is that reason to embarrass you. Keep these tips in mind to ace your next media interview:
Know why you are doing an interview
Why are the media interested in speaking to you? When do they need information? Is this for a story or for source research? These are a few basic questions you should ask before agreeing to do a media interview. If a reporter calls unexpectedly, politely notify them that moment is bad, and ask for their contact details to arrange a follow up interview.
You’ve agreed to do an interview, that’s great! Start by doing a bit of homework on the reporter you’re speaking to. At a minimum, you should know their publication and beat. Then read a few articles they written recently. Reference those articles during your conversation if it makes sense. An in-house PR team or agency partner can help pull this information together if you are unsure where to start.
Now that you’ve done your research, what do you want to say? Spend a few moments before the interview writing down those key points. A good rule of thumb is to have one to three messages. During the interview, think of ways to bring the conversation back to these points. And at the end of the interview, when the interviewer asks, “is there anything else you’d like to cover?” be sure to offer those points again in conclusion.
Think of the worst question you can be asked and think of a way to answer it
There may be a question you were not anticipating, or a question dealing in sensitive information you’d rather not have attributed to you in a publication. Think of those potential questions ahead of the interview and how you might respond if it is asked. Generally, seeks to avoid “no comment” or other evasive language but rather a response that can be helpful to the reporter and move the conversation forward. This is where key messages can be so helpful.
Know the difference between on-the-record, off-the-record and on background
Too often people will set out to do an interview without understanding what type of interview they’ve agreed to. For the avoidance of doubt, consider all interactions with the media to be on-the-record unless explicitly stated otherwise. This means anything you say during the interview could potentially be cited to your credit in future articles. If you’d like the opportunity to review quotes for attribution prior to publication, request an on background interview. And if you are speaking in a position of anonymity, offering information you’d like to not be cited in publication, ensure the interview is conducted off-the-record.
Remember you are the authority
There is a reason you’ve been asked to do an interview: you have knowledge. The press is interested in understanding your expertise and point of view to illustrate a point more clearly to their readers. Offer your insights freely, providing off-the-record commentary where necessary to full illustrate a point. Be proactive in offering helpful information, keeping your key messages in mind when forming your responses.
It’s ok to go back and restate an answer for clarity
Too often the perception we gather of working with the media is a giant game of gotcha. True, if you are a public official or celebrity, there is a cadre of press waiting for a gaffe to splash across the headlines. In the world of finance, the press is more interested in getting the story right. If you say something a bit off, politely apologize and offer to restate. The press will be appreciative of the openness and opportunity to get the story right the first time, instead of through a correction later.
Each interview will be unique so consider the above a guideline for future media interactions. Remember to relax and enjoy the conversation. Be respectful of the reporter and their time and do your best to offer helpful information. Applied with the tips above will help ensure a successful media interview.