Reporters have a job to do – gather newsworthy information and share it with their reading, viewing and listening publics. As a spokesperson, you have a job to do as well – share relevant information while effectively representing your company. How well you work with a reporter can directly affect the resulting story and how the public views your organization, and you. The following tips can help improve your interactions with the press.
Prepare – ALWAYS go into a media interview prepared. This basic step is not always followed, often with detrimental results. Determine your key message points. Try to anticipate the reporter’s questions and develop the framework for your responses beforehand. In the interview, don’t wait for the right question to be asked, work your main messages proactively into your responses. NEVER do an “impromptu” or “off the cuff” interview, in person or over the phone. Even in an emergency situation, take a few minutes to prep for likely questions. You’ll be glad you did.
Know Your Stuff – Reporters are counting on you to provide accurate, factual information. Know your stuff and stick to the facts. Providing incorrect information can crush your credibility. Don’t speculate or get into hypotheticals. If you don’t know the answer, say so. If you need to get back to a reporter with additional details, do it in a timely manner. They’ll appreciate it.
Be Human – Hey, it’s OK to be a human being. Let your passion and conviction shine through in your responses. If you’re being interviewed about a negative event, show your concern and compassion. Apologize. Let the reporter know what your company is doing to fix the problem or remedy the situation. Let them know you care.
Properly Handle Media Calls – Return media calls promptly. Reporters are often on tight deadlines, so call them back, if only to find out more about what they want so you can gather the information they need. Make sure your fellow employees understand the importance of media inquiries, know how to take a media call, and are aware who is authorized to speak with reporters. Anyone answering a media call should take a message that includes the time, reporter’s name, name of media outlet, phone number, nature of the inquiry and their deadline. This message should be personally delivered to the authorized spokesperson in person or via phone, not just via email – don’t let a reporter get lost in the shuffle.
Get Some Training, and Practice – If you are in a role where you may have to do interviews, get some media training. Practice being interviewed and learn some simple answering techniques to help you control the conversation.
Finally, know that reporters don’t always call ahead. If a reporter or TV news crew shows up unannounced, make sure they are treated courteously. Have someone seat them in an office or conference room and find out the nature of the inquiry. Remember, you’re not obligated to provide an interview. Use your judgment. If you aren’t ready, try to schedule a later time to meet with the reporter. For television, you also can ask to speak with the reporter off-camera, rather than do an on-camera interview. You also may want to forego an interview entirely and simply provide a written statement.
Freeman Communications can provide one on one or group media training, depending on your needs. We are experts in working with the press and have trained hundreds of people in how to effectively handle interview situations.
About the author
Peter Loscocco is a former news reporter with more than 30 years of experience being interviewed by local, national, and international media.