If you’ve never worked with journalists but are interested in the idea of being featured as an expert in press coverage, you should consider media training prior to heading into an interview.
A media training will cover all of the below and then some.
Media trainings also can help point out any verbal or physical aspects of your interviewing that you should strengthen.
For example, if you use filler words such as “um” or “like” frequently, a media trainer can help make you cognizant of it and provide you with strategies to avoid that behavior.
If you’re thinking about being on-camera, you should definitely be media trained first to ensure you can handle the demands of standing in front of a blinking red light.
Whether you’re still dipping your toes into the thought of interacting with the media or you’re a long-time expert, everyone can benefit from a refresher on some of these key tips to working with the media.
1. Respect Their Time
Respecting their time is the cornerstone to building a solid relationship with journalists.
This really should be known as the golden rule in interacting with the media.
Journalists have crazy deadlines, and sometimes they really can’t wait that extra fifteen minutes to get you on the phone.
I’ve had clients get frustrated that a media request has a turnaround time of only a few hours, but unfortunately, as a publicist, I’m at the mercy of the journalist, who in turn is at the mercy of their editor.
If you can’t commit to providing the information the journalist needs by when they need it, it’s completely fine to tell them upfront nicely.
Yes, they’ll move on to the next source, but it’s the preferred option to wasting their time and not following through on what you agreed to do.
If you’re reliable and are consistent in the quality of the information you’re providing, they’ll continue to rely on you as a source for their stories.
2. Be Truthful and Accurate
Creating a good relationship with a journalist is about integrity.
It’s ok to say that you don’t have the answer to a question that a journalist is asking in the middle of a phone or face-to-face interview.
Instead, you can respond with, “I can follow up with you afterward for the additional information.”
And then make sure you follow through.
At minimum, provide a suggestion on whom they can reach out to get the information they’re seeking if it’s not within your area of expertise.
Never, ever, EVER lie or make up the information on the fly.
This should go without saying, but even in email interviews, you should never try to pass off another’s information or opinion as your own.
Plagiarism (copying and pasting full sentences or paragraphs from a website or another article) is a serious offense, especially within journalism.
And it can ruin your shot, not just with one reporter, but potentially even with an entire publication.
3. Know That Objectivity is Their Goal
The vast majority of journalists want an article that is balanced.
That means that even if the journalist chats with you for 40 minutes or you send 8 paragraphs worth of content, only a few sentences may make it into their article.
And unless it’s a feature specifically on you or your business, their article will likely include competitors or other experts in your field.
It doesn’t mean that the information you provided wasn’t useful.
It’s just that in pieces which are informational in nature, journalists need to present different viewpoints and perspectives.
Sometimes, that can also mean that you may not even make it into their article.
Unfortunately, it's the gamble we take with public relations.
4. Stay on Topic/Get to the Point
The fastest way to be excluded from an article is to blabber on and on without making your point.
Remember when I said you should respect a journalist’s time?
That goes for during the interview and in the emailed responses as well.
You always want to make sure you fully answer their questions.
And while you should include relevant details, make sure you get your point across succinctly.
That’s not to say you should speed through an answer and not explain yourself.
Similar to the process of creating content, know your audience.
You definitely shouldn’t assume a reporter’s level of knowledge on a topic.
Just make sure you try to avoid running into off-topic tangents at all costs.
And keep your answers concise and simple by avoiding any jargon.
If you need to include complex terminology, it’s fine to name it, but make sure to explain it in simple terms that those who are not in your field can understand.
A last note on this tip - don’t keep talking to fill the silence.
Once you’ve made your point, there’s no need to continue talking just because the reporter hasn’t said anything yet.
More often than not, they’re taking notes on what you’re saying, so if you continue talking, they can’t get to their next question.
5. If They Make a Mistake, It’s OK to Ask Them to Correct It
Journalists are human, and sometimes they can make mistakes.
It’s completely okay to send them a note, inform them of the error and politely ask them to correct it.
The snag here is that it must be a factual error.
An error in the spelling of your name, the words you used in your quote (if you actually said something different) or an error in a number you provided are all reasonable to ask a journalist to correct.
As a general rule, I have journalists and my clients speak on a conference line where the call is being recorded.
Every time a new party joins the line, an announcement is made that the call is being recorded.
Getting a recording can prove useful should we need to go back and double-check everything that was said from the client side.
Subjective things like the tone of the story, the headline or anything else that isn’t factual are always out of bounds to ask a reporter to change.
6. Know That Nothing is EVER Off the Record
I’m sorry to be the one to burst your bubble, but you should always assume that anything within earshot of a reporter is fair game.
This is easily the most avoidable way to end up facing a potential business crisis.
The interview starts when the reporter is on the phone or in the room, not when you start answering questions.
This is one of the first things I tell my clients when I work with them on media training.
Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where if an off-hand comment is used in a story, unless it’s a factual misrepresentation, there’s not much you can do about it.
And you’d be surprised at how easily off-hand remarks can make it into a story.
One of my favorite quotes when I first started working in PR was “Don’t ever say something out loud that you wouldn’t want to end up on the front page of The New York Times.”
That still holds true, and it’s important to be even more to be diligent with email and social media.
Which of the above tips do you find most useful when working with the media?