The press and broadcasting media can offer great opportunities to publicise a positive aspect of your organisation. They can also cause problems and create embarrassment when they find that something has gone wrong. These are the two sides of the media coin – and you must be prepared for both. So you could find yourself talking to journalists when you send out a press release and the media respond to it, or when the media themselves have nosed out a story about your company. Are you prepared to cope with such interviews? The following suggestions will help…
1. Know the medium.
When providing an interview for any medium, it’s important to know its peculiarities. Newspapers cover stories in greater depth, need more backgound material, and seek human-interest items with local angles. Television newsrooms rarely send crews on good-news stories without first making an appointment; but they can disconcertingly arrive unannounced when something more sensational breaks. Television is an immediate visual medium. Radio news does not have the visual impact of television but commands a larger audience. Radio interviews take various forms – a notebook interview (information sought for a story to be read on air), tape-recorded (for replay later), or talkback (live to air).
2. Be clear about the purpose of the interview.
When invited to be interviewed, ask about the context – What is the issue? Why ask me? – and about the format. Will the interview be live or recorded? For news or for a magazine feature or program? Studio-based or on the run? If time permits, study the style of the interviewer. Is it likely to be a relaxed, entertaining, or difficult session? What will be its duration? Know what you are letting yourself in for so that you can prepare adequately.
3. Do your homework.
Preparation is the key to performing well. Never go into an interview without thinking about what you might say. If necessary, tell a radio interviewer that you’ll ring back in ten minutes; or ask a TV journalist for a few moments to think the issue through before the camera rolls. Focus on three or four main points and how you intend to make them simply and clearly. Check your facts and figures: it’s too late after the event.
4. Get your message across.
Most encounters with the media should be pleasant, even exhilarating. The important thing is to appear confident, positive, friendly, and interesting – whether you are promoting a success story or dealing with controversy. Consider these points:
- Be helpful and informative, never dismissive or patronising, if dealing with a reporter whose knowledge of the issue seems less than adequate.
- Keep it simple. Stick to the three or four points you want to make and, if the interviewer is not asking the right questions, lead him or her back to your points.
- For radio or TV, find out the first question in advance so that you can prepare a crisp initial response.
- Remember, radio and TV programs don’t have time for lengthy statements. Keep your answers short, relevant, and to the point. Practise giving a 30-second grab; make your points in that time.
- Don’t be hoodwinked into accepting views that you do not hold. Don’t be bluffed, intimidated, or bullied; remain polite, firm, and cool.
- Be prepared for the curly question. If you are concerned that the interview might stray into delicate areas, make the interview conditional on the reporter’s keeping within agreed parameters.
5. Look and act the part.
Expect to be a little nervous in radio or television interview situations. Breathe slowly and deeply to relax. Speak clearly and confidently but naturally. Avoid ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and other annoying vocal mannerisms. Check your appearance for television – you should be neat, tidy, and conservatively dressed. Focus on the interviewer and forget the microphone, camera, and lights—they’re someone else’s problem. But remember, microphones can pick up anything – rustling papers, moving chairs, dropped pencils, and whispered asides.
6. Beware of the traps of defamation and litigation.
Take the utmost care when making statements about other people or organisations. If you utter a defamatory statement that appears in any form, you, as well as the media outlet, can be sued. If there is any chance of an official enquiry or litigation, be careful what you say in public. Obtain advice beforehand if necessary.
7. Consider your options if something goes wrong.
Often, your story will not be reported in the media as you expected. You might be misinterpreted, misquoted, or taken out of context. Try not to nitpick. But if it’s a serious mistake, damaging to you or the company, contact the editor of the publication or the station involved. Consider your options: an apology, a printed retraction, or a follow-up story to remedy the first. Seek an harmonious solution.
8. Foster sound relations with the media.
Work to cultivate cordial and co-operative relations with the media. They can do much to enhance your public image and your organisation’s.