We never take for granted the fact that each journalist interview we set up for a client is unique: we need to think about what the journalist is interested in and how the story’s going to resonate with their audience or readers. I was recently reminded of the importance of this when playing the part of the journalist in a media training workshop. The aim of the training is to coach spokespeople on handling questions but it’s always interesting sitting on the other side of the fence – even when it’s just for practice! It’s a great exercise in thinking about how you’d put together a news story from the information given. What soundbites, facts or opinion would most strike a chord to help you write a story?
We also understand that, for the spokesperson, there can be lots of advice to take on board to make an interview successful; what to say and, equally importantly, what not to say. So here, from a quick straw poll in the office, are some of our hints to help the interview go flowingly:
- Preparation is the well-cited mantra of success and it’s true that if you’ve thought about what you want to communicate (two or three of the key points) you’re more likely to give well rounded, well thought through responses. If you’re going to be talking through more in-depth research data, have the key facts at your fingertips. There may be the curve ball question that you can’t anticipate but if you’ve thought through the most probable questions that you’ll be as prepared as possible.
- Understand as much as you can about the readership and the publication. This means that you’ll provide the most useful information, geared towards that specific publication.
- If it’s a phone interview, make sure you’re somewhere with a good connection. This sounds straightforward but nobody wants to have the line break up midway through a great nugget of information!
- Listen to the question and try to stay on subject; journalists have limited time so give as full answers as you can, but equally don’t feel the need to just keep talking to fill any air space. You can always ask if your response has covered the question.
- Don’t assume too much: it’s tempting to think that the journalist will know your pet subject as much as you do but don’t assume this, it’s well worth taking time to explain concepts or ideas that might be new to them.
Ultimately, the interview is a chance to communicate a story in a way that a press release or written quote simply can’t and can give the journalist context and colour. Some of the best interviews sound more like conversations and it really comes across when the interviewee has a passion for communicating it to the interviewer. So stay calm, keep it focussed and hopefully the first interview will be just the start of building a successful relationship with the journalist.