Having spent more than 30 years in newsrooms as a reporter and an editor, I have a pretty good sense of how journalists think. They’re not all alike, of course, but there are some shared habits and processes – whether they work for a newspaper, television station or, more and more today, produce content for a media website.
If you’re like most people, you might be equal parts anxious, nervous, concerned or curious when a reporter calls or an email from one lands in your inbox.
Conversely, if it’s a reporter you’ve had a positive experience with before and trust, you may even look forward to the next interaction.
Whatever your impulse, dealing with the media doesn’t have to be a cringe-inducing experience – especially if you understand the reporter’s needs, her deadlines and her intended audience. It’s entirely possible to turn the opportunity into a powerful tool to connect in a positive way to your clients, customers and the general public – without spending a dime.
Here are nine tips to help you control the interview:
- Don’t assume the worst. Some reporters will call with questions about topics you’d rather not discuss or ask you provocative questions. But sometimes the call will be about a product or service you’ve introduced, an employee or friend, or a local cause you feel strongly about. The trick is to not become immediately defensive. The best reporters have a strong sense of when someone is being evasive or outright lying, and only become more aggressive if they think someone is trying to hide something.
- Respond promptly. Don’t naively think that if you don’t return the phone call or email, the reporter won’t write his story. He likely will – and if you blow him off, it might not include your side. If you don’t know or can’t answer a particular question, tell them that and ask if you can get back to them as soon as possible.
- Find out more about the story and its timing. It’s appropriate to ask what kind of deadline a reporter has, what day it may publish or appear on air, and why she is writing the story.
- Remembering that photographers and camera operators are journalists too. Treat them with the same courtesy and respect; in some cases, they may also ask questions. Whatever you say to them is likely to find its way back to a reporter.
- Understand what’s already public. Property, business and personal information all are accessible not just by the media, but by anyone with access to a computer. For instance, if a lawsuit has been filed the information is public. Don’t waste precious time debating how or why reporters have it, even if it’s not flattering to you or your company.
- Leverage your expertise, your brand or your product to become a source for breaking news stories. Local media – newspapers, in particular – love to add local voices to a state, national or even international story. Positioning yourself as an expert on a particular subject or situation can do wonders for your image within the community.
- Quickly provide facts sheets about your company or organization. The more basic information you can offer a reporter, the easier you’ll make her life and the better you may look in her story. Reporters juggle many assignments every day. Like you, they are very busy people. Don’t make them go hunting for things they should know about your business or agency.
- Dealing with television. It’s important to chat with the reporter before you go on camera to get a sense of what will be asked. Unless you’re being interviewed on live TV, you can always ask a reporter to start over if you flub an answer.
- If asked “do you want to add anything,” always say yes. This is especially true if you’ve had a chance to prepare and haven’t covered one or more of your key points during the interview. It’s also an opportunity to re-emphasize an important fact.
Have questions? MHD Group can help answer them. Let’s talk.