How to Interview With the Media

journalist-interviewAs a journalist, I’ve interviewed thousands of people, and they all have one thing in common. They’re all afraid to talk to the media. At least to start.

When I do an interview, I always try to make it fun. I start with the easy stuff, like what’s your full name and title/how you would like me to refer to you in the article.  This gets them talking and over the initial fear. Then we chat, with me leading them through the interview with questions that would normally come up in any conversation where someone is interested in either you or what you do. Once we start rolling, my subjects usually settle down into conversational mode.

But then…sometimes I hit them with the hard questions at the end. I think those are the questions that they think should scare them. But they shouldn’t be scared. These are questions that make them think…like, “What is the philosophy you always wanted to share,” or “Tell me in one word how you would describe your business.” Often, I get my best insights into people by asking these types of questions.

If you are interviewed by a journalist, there are a few things to keep in mind. These will help you prepare for the interview and keep you from saying something you shouldn’t.

How To Interview With the Media

Rule #1. EVERYTHING you say is ON THE RECORD.

I can’t tell you how many times people have felt so comfortable with me that they say, “I’ll tell you this, but it’s off the record.” If I weren’t so kind, this is the type of thing that could really get you or your business in trouble. Remember that you are talking to the media; a person who is looking for a juicy story. There is no “off the record.”

Now, there is a difference between someone who is a hard-knuckle journalist looking for a scandal, and someone like me who is often creating a pleasant profile for a magazine story, but you never know which type of journalist you’re speaking with. Always remember that even though they may sound and act like your friend, the media can potentially be dangerous.

Rule #2. Prepare something in advance.

I often ask my interviewees to gather together some information and send it to me in advance. This gives me an opportunity to know them better prior to the interview, and it also helps them to get their thoughts together. They’ll often find relevant items about their businessthat they had forgotten about.

When preparing for a live interview, such as on television, radio, podcast, etc., send a list of questions in advance to the person who will be interviewing you. Line up the questions in a logical fashion. The journalist really appreciates this because it not only makes their job easier, it ensures that they hit on the most interesting and relevant points. The journalist may stray from the questions, but for the most part, they will stick to them. This also helps you control the interview and know what’s coming.interview-in-progress-sign

Rule #3. The media can sense BS.

If you think you are going to lie or give the interviewer a BS story, understand that we can see right through it. We interview people for a living and are experienced in the subtleties our subjects try to pull over on us. We can hear it in your voice over the phone and see it in your body language in person. If you’re lucky, the interviewer will skip over the BS. If you’re not, you may be hit squarely between the eyes with the truth. We do our research in advance and know a lot about a lot of subjects. Be prepared. If you are looking to get a media placement and lie or BS through the interview, your story is likely to be canned and not appear. You could also be blackballed against any future media coverage. It’s best to be humble and tell the truth.

Rule #4. Speed counts.

If a journalist contacts you for an interview, you MUST call them back immediately. Journalists are often on short deadlines for stories and generally have a list of potential subjects for the story. If they do not get in contact with you right away, or you do not follow up within the shortest period of time, they will and do go on to the next person and you will miss your chance. This is especially important when it is a breaking story or in reference to a current trend or happening. If you simply cannot speak to the journalist at that moment, at least call them back immediately to schedule a time later that day or the next day. Ignoring their call will put you at the bottom of their call list for future pieces, if you remain on the list at all.

If you are pitching the media, or want to get in on a story, your availability is crucial. Give the journalist all the ways you can be contacted (cell, business and home phones, emails, etc.), and if possible, the best times to contact you. They will not publish this private information; it is simply so that they can reach you quickly.

Rule #5. It’s all about the angle.

When we interview for a story, we already know the angle we want to present, and will try to keep the interview on track for that particular angle. If you wander off course to information that, although fascinating to you, is irrelevant to the article, the journalist will stop you and redirect you to the angle. Please don’t consider this to be rude. Your time and our time is limited and we need to get the information we need. Allowing subjects to rattle on just eats up time and we won’t be able to get to the really important questions or issues we need to discuss.

A journalist may also ask you the same questions more than once, perhaps in different ways. This means that they are interested in what you are saying, but you haven’t quite hit the angle or quote they need. Allow the journalist to control the interview and don’t get angry if they change course on you. They are simply trying to get a good story, not put you on the spot.

When I interview for a piece, I often tell my subject the angle in advance. When I sell a story, the angle is often dictated by the Editor or Publisher for the media who will publish it. Other times, like for my columns, I set the angle. It’s OK to ask what the journalist is looking for.

Need Media Training? Contact All the Buzz

We work with clients who need to prepare for media interviews. We can help you gather information, formulate a journalist question list, and create a media kit. (See our post on media kits).

We can also help you train for media interviews by holding mock interviews either via telephone or in person. If you are preparing for live interviews, you will also know how to dress, stand or sit, and present yourself. Contact All the Buzz.



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