Tips on How to Ace Your Interview with a Reporter

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A main goal of a public relations program is to get companies and their products and services into the news. When a reporter is interested in writing they will want to interview someone, which can be a scary proposition for many business executives.

Media interviews shouldn’t be scary, but an opportunity to share news about your company with others. Reporters are naturally skeptics. The pit bull reporter you’ve seen in movies and TV that stops at nothing to uncover the dirt is the extreme. Most reporters aren’t out to ruin anyone. They just want to write a fair, objective article and need information from you. They really want a good conversation with the information they need for their story.

What’s the best way to prepare for an interview? Here’s a handy checklist:

  • Prepare. A good reporter will perform some advance research on you and your company before the interview. You should set aside some time to prepare for the interview.
    • Read a few stories that the reporter has written about your company or competitors.
    • Review the reporter’s bio. This is especially important with trade magazines. You may find that you have a common background.
    • Know what the reporter’s story is about.
  • Have a plan. Don’t go into an interview without knowing what you want to say about your company and how it relates to the reporter’s story. Develop a brief set of talking points. Your marketing and/or PR people probably have this available for you. But, know what you want to say and stick to your plan.
  • Keep it short. Don’t give long-winded answers. The media is looking for quotable material or “sound bites” that they can include in your story.  A clue to when you are speaking too wordy is when the reporter will repeat a question and they’re looking for a good quote. And, don’t speak too quickly. Remember to speak normally, even if you are super excited about your news.
  • Keep it familiar. Avoid jargon and overly technical terms. If you have to explain something complicated, it is ok to compare it to something familiar (use a metaphor).
  • Listen. Don’t assume the reporter understands everything you say. Avoid being patronizing, but it’s OK to pause and ask a reporter if something needs to be explained further. Some reporters can be intimidated by new or complicated material, so it is best to check that they understand. Some may not ask questions if they don’t get it. So, listen for clues that they don’t understand in their follow up questions.
  • Use a picture or video. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is especially true when speaking about new technology or complicated concepts. A diagram can illustrate what you mean, quickly and easily. Don’t be afraid to use infographics, animations or videos either. Have these available for the interview. If your interview is in person, have it available on your computer or tablet and be ready to email or share it via flash drive. Reporters will ask for material to help illustrate the story, so be prepared.
  • Be prepared for photos. In some cases, your interview will be with a reporter in person. Dress professionally and have your office or a place for the interview where you can be undisturbed.  And even if you are having a phone interview, the reporter may ask for a head shot. Be prepared, know that they may ask for your photo.
  • Play nice. Have a conversation with the reporter. Be chatty and personable. And in the unlikely event the reporter becomes confrontational, don’t take the bait. Stay calm and collected.
  • It’s OK to say “I don’t know.” Never fudge an answer, and never lie. If you can’t answer a question, but can find out the answer, offer to get back to them with that information (that’s what your PR team is for). If you know there’s no answer for a question, explain why.
  • Sensitive information like revenue or sales. It is OK to say that you don’t disclose financial information to a reporter. Public companies may not break out information in a certain way that a reporter asks, so you can say you don’t have that information or can’t provide the answer. Private companies may not disclose any revenue or sales data. It is important to check and ask what you can talk about publicly. Don’t disclose if you don’t know. You can always promise to check on it and share the information later.
  • There’s no such thing as “off the record.” If you don’t want a reporter to know something, don’t tell them, even off the record. This especially holds true with reporters new to you and/or your company. If you’ve established a relationship with the reporter and can vouch for their trustworthiness, going off the record might be OK, but tread extremely carefully.

Finally, interviews with reporters don’t have to be scary. Preparation is key to having great interviews, developing great relationships with reporters and presenting your company, products and services in the best way possible.