Over the past two weeks, we have explored different aspects of publicity. First, we talked about the difference between advertising and publicity, identifying publicity as “earned media,” also known as “editorial content.” This means that instead of paying for space, you offer a reporter or editor convincing data that your story is worth telling in news channels.
Last week we talked about seven ways to identify newsworthy stories in your organization.
And now, it’s happened! You have connected with a reporter who is interested in your story. Your 15 minutes of fame are about to begin and you want to make the most of it. Following are some tips on working with the media to ensure you and your company put their best foot forward.
Before the Interview
- Always return reporters’ calls promptly, as it might be your only opportunity to be included in the story. If they have left you a message, even if “today is not a good day,” at least call them back to see what they need and when they need it, so you can help them if at all possible. Reporters remember good, timely sources and will be more likely to contact you in the future if you have helped them.
- If possible, try to determine the direction of the interview in advance. Ask who else they are talking to. Is it a stand-alone story on your company or a round-up story? How did they get your number… was it through your outreach or from a supplier, friend, web research, etc.?
- Don’t feel pressured into doing an interview on the spot. It’s always best to ask their deadline, find out what the story is about and say you will get back to them in a few minutes (or a mutually convenient time) — taking a minute to go to a quiet place and organizing your thoughts will help ensure a successful interview. Ask their deadline and reconfirm their name, number and affiliation; then do some pre-interview prep.
- Develop the key points you wish to emphasize. This is what you will return to, time and again as you answer their questions. If it is a phone conversation, feel free to keep your notes and key messages near you for reference.
- Prepare background materials for the reporter – whether it’s news releases, photos, website background, etc. Send it to them in advance but realize they might not take the time to read it over. However, the more information you provide, the better.
During the Interview
- Help direct the story by stating the most important points in clear, colorful wording. Those are called “sound bites.” Revert to your key messages as often as possible. Use phrases like, “What’s really important here is…” or “I can’t speculate on that, but what I do know is…”
- Don’t assume that anything you say is “off the record.” Once a reporter has identified herself/himself, they assume you realize that anything you say can be used, even if the interview appears to be over or not yet started. As one reporter said to me, “Before and after the interview is when I get my best information!”
- When you are finished making your point, stop talking. Reporters often use silence to make you feel responsible for continuing the conversation. Don’t be tempted to fill in the silence.
- Don’t answer questions you don’t feel qualified to answer but offer to connect them with someone who can answer them.
- Don’t let a reporter put words in your mouth. Take the time to restate if they have erroneous information. On that same point, don’t repeat the question, especially if it is negative. The reporter’s question will not end up in the news story, but you restating it might, even if you are just restating it to rebut it.
- Many interviews will end with an open-needed question like “Is there anything else I should known?” or “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” Be ready to restate your most important point.
After the Interview
- If they asked you a question you can’t answer, but someone else in your organization can, make sure that you connect them. Also, if they asked for numbers or other background information you need to research, make sure you supply the information in a timely manner.
- Give them your cell or other easy-access contact information and let them know to feel free to call you with any questions or clarification they need. However, do not ask to see the story before it runs as they will not be able to do this.
- Keep in mind that although you may talk with a reporter for a long time, the reporter or editor may select just one or two quotes or points for the actual news story.
- After the story runs, feel free to send them a brief email thanking them and asking them to keep you in mind for future stories.
An interview is a golden opportunity to present your company and its products or story in a positive light. Preparation goes a long way to contributing to a successful interview.
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Series on Working with the Media
- Part 1: Top Story? Or First Commercial Break? How Advertising and PR Differ
- Part 2: 7 Ways to Identify Newsworthy Stories in your Organization
- Part 3: Telling Your Story: Tips for Working with the Media
- Part 4: How to Leverage Your Media Exposure: Making the Most of Your 15 Minutes of Fame
by Cathie Ericson