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General Media Interview Tips

The media is a hard vehicle to control. Here are ways to stay in command of the situation:

1. Know who you are talking to when you are being interviewed.
You are talking to the audience that reads the story or sees it on TV. In most cases, the reporter you are speaking to is a conduit to the target audience. Speak to that audience. Don't try to convince your opponent who may be on with you or convince the interviewer.

2. Never shoot from the hip.
If a reporter calls your office for a "quick comment," don't take the call right away. Ask what the subject is. Tell him/her you are just finishing up a meeting and will get right back to them. Take a deep breath, make quick notes about the points you want to make, and then call back. Also, never start a sentence with, "I shouldn't say this but..." If it starts that way, you probably shouldn't.

3. Make sure staff answering the phone know the following rules:

  • No one but designated staff are to give any information to the media;
  • If you or the designated staff are not available to take a media call, ask the reporter for his/her name, outlet, direct line, and if they are on deadline. The deadline question is key because if you take too long to get back to them, you may miss a chance to get your side into the story.
4. Train staff to answer media calls at the office.
If you have just issued a report, held a news conference, or done something to generate news, expect media calls. This is particularly true if you are in a crisis communications situation.

5. Take it from the top; make sure to correct misconceptions.
Even though you will have sent advance materials, do not expect that the reporter has read them thoroughly or really knows what your organization/campaign is about.

6. Don't make things up.
If you don't know, say you don't know. If possible, tell the reporter you will find out and get back with him/her with the information. But don't say this if you don't believe you can get the information quickly.

7. Never use jargon or acronyms.
Remember most people don't have insider knowledge of your issue. Talk in a sophisticated but understandable way, avoiding the use of insider jargon.

8. Know your opponents' viewpoints and have counterpoints ready.
It is rare for the media to only report one side of the story. Assume the other side will get called as well, and dismantle their arguments in your talking points.

9. Remember, reporters are not your friends.
They may be outside of work, but when interviewing you, they are looking for a story. Don't go "off the record" and don't confide things you wouldn't like to see on the nightly news.

10. Don't lose your temper with a reporter.
They always get the last word. They'll decide what quotes to use and which soundbites to air. Keep calm and cool and win the reporter over to your side with reason.

11. Tape yourself in print interviews.
This way if you have a problem you will have a record. Make sure that the reporter knows you are taping. It may be unlawful in some states to tape a conversation without the other party's consent.

12. Don't answer personal questions.
Just say, "that's personal," and move on.

13. "No comment" rarely works any more.
Think about how you feel when you hear someone on the news say "no comment" (usually with their face covered by a newspaper).

14. Control your message.
You have several messages you want to get out; regardless of the question, you should answer with one of your key messages. Turn the question to make sure what you want to get out is what is heard, but don't be evasive. Make sure you also answer any questions the reporter really needs to have answered.

15. Be prepared for the negative bias of the media.
The media's primary bias is towards negativity. Reporters want to know what is the problem, the controversy, and who is to blame. Be prepared to work with this bias rather than get upset about it. The bottom line is, readers are more interested in controversy than "good news" and editors, publishers and reporters understand this.

16. Repeat the message.
Repeat it many different ways. Support it with anecdotes, cliches, and statistics. But repeat, reiterate, and re-establish - if you don't, no one will remember it.

Back to Successful Interviewing.

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