Speaking with the media can be both exciting and daunting, especially if you are not used to being in the spotlight. Following are a few tips to consider when preparing for a discussion with a reporter or editor (you can also download an abbreviated version here to save for future reference).
Interviews with reporters and editors may last from 10 minutes to an hour. The length of time does not indicate the length of story or type of coverage that will appear. Calls with reporters can focus on a range of topics including current or upcoming company and product news, your company’s strategy, industry trends and developments or current topics reporters are covering. During your first few times speaking with a reporter, provide a concise overview of the company and technology and then lead into the news announcement or topic of interest.
Once a relationship has been built with a reporter through a series of ongoing interviews, this background information is no longer needed. Reporters will have a short series of questions prepared so they achieve a desired result from the call. Reporters generally do not share this list of questions prior to the call unless it is for a recorded podcast.
Many reporters are looking for the scoop, the dirt and the information no one else has published, so do your homework before the call. Try to keep answers short and simple, and continue to outline the same messages during the call to ensure the reporter understands. It is perfectly acceptable when explaining a technical piece or complex subject to stop and ask the reporter if he understands before continuing the conversation.
Be Like the Boy Scouts and Always Be Prepared
Before talking with any reporter, make sure that you understand the publication’s audience. Try to read at least four or five of the reporter’s last articles so you are aware of his beat and editorial focus. Also, this will help you frame your story even more and help you shine on the call.
Other things to look for include: Has he written about your customers, partners or competitors? How often is he publishing stories? Can you provide him with any insight that may help him with other stories?
In addition to doing your homework on the reporter, make sure that you are completely prepared to discuss your story and have supporting elements readily available to make the reporter’s job even easier. Do you have customer references? Do you have any research or historical data for review? Do you have updated artwork or screen art to provide graphics support for the article?
During the Call: Speaking Guidelines
In the 24-hour news cycle, the media will work around the clock to get to the bottom of a story – with or without your help or permission. Unless you’ve been given specific counsel by an attorney, don’t respond to media inquiries with the old standby, “No comment.” You could be missing an opportunity to put your facts out there and to give your side of the story.
1. Be honest and straightforward.
Get your George Washington hat on and do not tell a lie. Do not flirt with the truth. If you cannot be honest, then do not comment. Instead, offer to provide additional follow-up information when you can speak the truth.
2. Go into the interview with two to three key points you intend to stress.
Use these points as frequently as possible during the interview to ensure that, when it is edited, the article includes your message. People tend to remember the first and last thing that they hear; make sure your message is presented in the first 10 seconds and the last 10 seconds of the interview.
3. Do not act defensively.
Let your confidence in your position help you communicate effectively. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Then offer to get the information to the reporter prior to her deadline.
4. Do not say, “no comment.”
Unless you are a major brand like Apple or Microsoft, this tactic seldom works. “No comment” makes you sound like you are trying to hide something. If you are asked a question that you do not want to answer, then say that, or ask the reporter if you can get back to her with more details.
5. Keep your messages simple.
Do not use jargon or acronyms. Try to avoid industry buzzwords such as “robust,” “best of breed” and “industry leading.
6. When you’ve answered a question, or made your point, stop talking.
A common technique used by reporters is to ask a question, listen to your response and be silent, waiting for you to elaborate further (and maybe say something that you hadn’t intended). If a reporter seems to be using this technique, answer the question, stop and ask if there is anything else with which you can help him.
7. Generally speaking, there is no such thing as “off the record.”
Do not assume that because the reporter puts down the notepad or stops typing that what you say is not being recorded. Do not say or do anything that you would not want to see in print or online. Even if the reporter suggests going “off the record” and promises not to cover what is said, do not agree unless you trust the reporter to not break your confidence.
8. Do not ask to review the story prior to the publish date.
Reporters rarely allow companies and sources to review entire articles prior to being published. A number of reporters may send you a quote to review for accuracy, but rarely the entire story.
9. Use quotable language.
Reporters are looking for one or two quotes that will summarize the story. Try to keep your key messages short and easily quotable. However, do not count on sound bytes to get you through an interview, only to emphasize key points.
10. Take control of your story.
It is not unreasonable for you to take control and tell your story. This does not mean steamroll the reporter, but rather:
Help set the agenda; ask what the reporter would like to cover and how long he has to speak.
Take time to explain your points.
Ask if the reporter understands what you have explained before moving on, especially if it is technical.
Do not cut off or speak over the reporter. If she is asking you a question, then allow her to finish before answering, even if you anticipate what the next question will be. Interviews function best as a two way conversation. Be sure to let the reporter digest everything you are saying.
12. Occasionally pause.
Take a breather. Try to keep your rate of speech at an even rate. Do not rush through answering the question. Most reporters are taking notes or typing your responses. When you rush, the reporter may lose valuable information. Occasionally stop for a few seconds, take a breath and then finish your thought. It helps reporters keep up with you, as well as interject questions.