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Are You Ready for Your Media Interview?

by Paul Lima

You never know when journalists will call, so be prepared!

Are you seeking media attention? Have you sent out media releases to promote your company, product, service or event? Are you attempting to use the media to reach potential customers, shareholders, sponsors, donors or other stakeholders? If so, you need to be prepared for interviews.

Even if you are not actively seeking media attention, you never know when a reporter might call. That’s why every business owner, executive and spokesperson should be able to answer questions pertaining to positive or negative news.

If you are not prepared for interviews, you may not convey the information you want to express. Or you may look as if you are hiding something – even if you are not. If you are prepared, you will be able to articulately reply to simple, complex or confrontational questions.

You control your answers

While you do not control the questions, you do control your answers. And you prepare by carefully crafting several simple, interesting and newsworthy messages, supporting points and related anecdotes.

To prepare, think about the impression you want to make and the most pertinent information you want to convey. Then, during the interview, weave your key messages into your answers.

For instance, if a journalist were writing an article about my media training services, I would expect to be asked: “When did you start to conduct media training?” I could give a simple, honest answer: “In 2000.”

But why wouldn’t I answer the question this way:

“As a technology and business journalist, I noticed business owners often had difficulty telling good news stories because they lacked the media training received by senior executives of publicly traded corporations. Many journalists I knew were frustrated because they could not get small business owners to open up during interviews for positive news stories. In 2000, I started to conduct media interview training to help entrepreneurs and small and medium business owners prepare for interviews with reporters. Two years ago, I also started to work with non-profit organizations.”

I still answered the question honestly – “in 2000.” But in less than 30 seconds, I worked in a problem, a solution and my target audience, all of which are part of my key message. In addition, I gave the reporter fuel for further questions, such as: “Can you tell me what mistakes most small business owners make when talking to journalists?” “Why do you think business owners are hesitant to tell their story?” While I do not control the questions, my answer might spark questions that pertain more closely to the information I want to express.

There is no guarantee that reporters will use what I say in their articles. However, by incorporating my key messages into my answers, I dramatically increase the chance that journalists will tell my story the way I’d like to have it expressed.

Answer the questions

In most instances, journalists want to tell your story. That is why they interview you. So why wouldn’t you weave in your key messages?

As you answer different questions, judiciously repeat your key messages for emphasis, but make sure you also answer the questions. If you do not answer the questions, the journalist will feel as if you are in “spin” mode – like a politician during an election campaign (or at any time, come to think of it).

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. If you do not know the answer to a question or if you are not authorised to answer, let the journalist know that you need time to find the answer or to find someone who can address the issue.

If you are dealing with a crisis, say what you are authorized to say and no more. For instance, if an explosion at your place of business seriously injured someone, reporters will want to know the name of the injured person and the cause of the explosion.

In response to, “Can you tell us who was injured?” it is perfectly legitimate to say: “We will release the name of the injured person once the family has been notified.” In response to, “Can you tell us what caused the explosion?” it is perfectly legitimate to say, “The Fire Marshall’s Office is investigating and they will release the results once their investigation is complete.” You might suspect what caused the explosion but do not speculate, no matter how many times or how many ways reporters ask you about the cause of the explosion. Simply repeat that which you are authorized to say.

In most instances, however, you will be dealing with reporters who are following up on media releases sent out by your company or organization to promote a new product, service or event. Answer the questions and weave in your key messages. If you are being interviewed because of your knowledge of a certain subject – IT security or corporate philanthropy, for instance – answer the questions asked of you and work in your key messages about your company or organization.

Again, there is no guarantee that the reporter will use all your information, but at least you have presented it. Many journalists cover “beats” – business, technology, entertainment, food, lifestyle, sports, politics, and so on. Part of your goal when being interviewed is to give the reporter pertinent and colourful information so he or she will interview you in the future, when writing other articles. In short, you never know when providing solid, relevant information will pay off.

Continued here in Part 2.
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