So your press release did the trick and a reporter wants to interview you or your client. You jump at the chance because it’s really just a rehash of the press release, right? Wrong. Just as you carefully assembled all the elements of your press release, you need to thoughtfully manage the interview itself. Here are 10 tips to prepare for and carry out a positive interview that will pick up where your successful press release left off:
- Respect deadlines: When a reporter contacts you to schedule an interview, ask what deadline he or she is working against and where the interview fits in that schedule. You can then determine how much time you have to prepare for the interview.
- Ask about the nuts and bolts of the interview: While most print journalists will conduct their interviews by phone, some will ask for a face-to-face interview, possibly bringing along a photographer. Some radio interviews can be conducted by phone (often requiring a landline) but others are in-studio. Television interviews are in person, either in-studio or with a reporter traveling to you.
- Ask if it’s live: If it’s a broadcast interview (radio or TV), ask whether it will be live, taped, or live-to-tape. In all cases, it’s important to ask how long the actual broadcast interview will be. This is particularly important if you’re doing a live interview, meaning it is broadcast as you are speaking. Two minutes on air can rush by quickly and you don’t want your time to end before you’re able to deliver your message. In a taped interview, which means it will be broadcast at a later date, if you stumble you may get a chance to answer a question again (it’s called a retake). A taped interview will be edited before it airs, meaning parts will be eliminated. A live-to-tape interview is conducted like a live interview so there are no retakes. However, the interview may be edited before it airs.
- Dress for success: Unless your uniform adds to the story (an apron for a bakery owner or yoga pants for a fitness club owner), a professional look always pays off. A dark suit with a pastel shirt works for either a man or a woman. No busy prints or dangling earrings.
- Get real: Anecdotes are often the best way to tell your story because they get to the bottom line of what your business does (and why it’s an important asset that others should know about). Identify clients who had a dilemma that your business helped solve and ask permission to share their stories, which is likely to be good PR for them too.
- Keep it simple: Be vigilant about using layman’s language and steer clear of jargon. If your business involves a complicated technical process, find a simple comparison to help explain it. For example, in a recent radio interview, the owner of a clean energy company compared its new technology that coats solar panels in a murky chemical bath to the way abalones use selective consumption to take in only what they need to survive and leave behind impurities.
- Be enthusiastic: Be upbeat about your business and the industry in general. If it is experiencing a downturn, look ahead to identify events that could spark a turnaround. Be sure to smile and speak with an enthusiastic tone that conveys positive energy.
- Turn a negative into a positive: If you do get a negative question, be prepared to turn it into a positive. Stay calm and listen carefully to what is being asked. For example, if asked about risks, respond with information about your safety record.
- Talk about what you know: You are an expert in your business and in your industry. If a question is outside your expertise, you should acknowledge it and offer to help steer the reporter to someone better qualified to answer. For example, if you run a medical supply company and you’re asked a question about a disease, you can answer, “I want to be sure you get the right information. You may want to speak with a medical expert.” If appropriate, you can offer to get back to the reporter with the contact information for one of your customers who is a nurse or a doctor (again, it may be good PR for your customer, too).
- Watch what you say: No matter how friendly your relationship with the reporter, don’t ever say anything you would not feel comfortable seeing in print or hearing broadcast.
In her 16 years as a PR professional, Barbara Goldberg has helped clients in health care, alternative energy, and the performing arts tell their stories in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CBS News, ABCNews.com, and many other media outlets.