Sweet 16 tips for nailing press interviews

by | Dec 11, 2017 | Analysis, Public Relations

An interview is the opportunity to get your point across and a reporter’s questions are the path to accomplish that. However, doing an interview is not just answering questions, it is being prepared to respond to the opportunity. Don’t panic at the opportunity because the reporter only has the questions, you have the answers.

1. Respect media deadlines

All media representatives work under deadlines so it is necessary for interviews to be arranged and facilitated promptly. Although it may not be convenient, participation in the interview will ensure that the reporter obtains all the information to write a complete article and will make the company look like a reliable resource.

2. Establish interview goals

Identify the two or three main points that you want to communicate to the reporter and then make those points during the interview. Don’t just rely on the reporter to guide the interview questioning.

3. Remember your audience

Remember the audience of the publication and tailor your answers and any examples used to be easily understood by the intended audience. The briefer your remarks the better.

4. Set the interview tone

Although doing an interview can be stressful, the more professional your approach is, the greater the chances are that the reporter will respond in kind. Hostile answers can often provide hostile questions. Don’t be too friendly, on the other hand, because a chatty approach can just as easily result in negative coverage. Keep your approach open and professional.

5. Repeat main message points

Repeat the main points at least twice during every interview to increase the likelihood that the reporter will recognize their significance and include them in the article.

6. Use trigger words to emphasize key issues

Give the reporter “guidelines” to the most important issues by starting your answers with phrases such as “The most important feature of this product is… ” or “The key benefit of this strategy is….”

7. Be proactive in providing information

If the reporter does not ask a question that provides the opportunity to make a key point, it is acceptable to say, “Here is something else about this product which you may find interesting….” and then make your point.

8. Tell the truth

It is often tempting to sidestep, stretch or color the truth. The risks in this approach truly outweigh the benefits because you are only a good media resource if you are accurate and reliable.

9. Provide positive information first

Whenever possible your answers should present the positive aspects of the issue first, with the negative information included at the end. This includes the approach to the interviews as a whole as well as to individual questions.

10. Understand the question before you respond

Never answer a question you don’t fully understand. A minute or two of silence is more acceptable than beginning an answer without a clear answer. A technique is to pause for a moment and ask the reporter to repeat the question. Make sure you or the public relations counsel does get back to the reporter with an answer.

11. Don’t answer if you are not sure

If a question is asked that either you don’t have the answer to or don’t feel comfortable in answering, it is acceptable to tell the reporter that you won’t be able to answer the question immediately but will provide the needed information at a later date. Make sure you or the public relations counsel does get back to the reporter with an answer.

12. Don’t talk negatively about competitors

Don’t make negative comments about your competitors’ products or their strategy – instead, turn your answer into a positive statement about your organization.

13. Use “off the record” as a final option

Do not provide information “off the record” unless necessary. “Off the record” information is usually given to the reporter for background purposes only and not to appear as part of the resulting article. “On the record” refers to information to be included in a resulting article as the reporter determines is appropriate.

14. “No comment” is not a good answer

A “no comment” answer does not mean that the reporter will not cover that subject in an article; it usually means the reporter will look to another source to get the information. Then you have no control on the information provided and it could be inaccurate. It is better to handle all questions, good or bad, to have some input on putting difficult issues in the proper perspective.

15. Limit the scope of your answers

Listen carefully to each question and respond to the basic points of the question with specific answers, not anecdotal stories. Give the reporter interesting, accurate up to the minute information but do not attempt to provide every fact and detail you know about a particular issue.

16. Treat each interviewer as an individual

Treat each interview as if it were the only interview. Do not mention comments made to previous reporters or the number and type of interviews previously done on a different subject or the same subject.

After the interview

Time to sit back and enjoy seeing your name in print, right? Don’t put your feet up yet. We have one last bit of advice…

The majority of reporters work very hard to prepare factual, accurate stories but it is rare that an article appears or is broadcast without some information that is not completely accurate. If the inaccuracy is truly major, then appropriate actions will be required. But if it is something that will only be noticed by a handful, the best response is to do nothing. Drawing attention to the point can backfire and just reinforce the inaccurate information. If you are quoted inaccurately or out of context about a specific person or organization, the best course of action is to personally call whoever might be offended and explain what happened.

Ok, now you can relax—that is, until the next time you have an exciting story to tell.

Jonathan Bloom
Jonathan Bloom is CEO of McGrath/Power Public Relations in San Jose, Calif.


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