Handling the Media

by Jennifer Stenhouse

The interview – preparation

Before giving an interview of any kind, check that you have answers to all the following questions. This way, hopefully you won’t be caught unprepared.

Questions for the journalist

In the proactive type of interview, you might be ringing into a phone in, or soliciting an interview. Always remember the Boy Scouts’ motto: Be Prepared. In the reactive, a journalist contacts you with questions.

So what should you do when a journalist rings you up? Do not give an immediate interview.

First, ask the journalist questions to help clarify exactly what you are dealing with. Journalists are happy to answer such questions if they are above board, as they recognise that it helps you give a better interview.

Be clear about whether you are the best person to talk to the media. If you’re not that person, you might want to suggest who the best candidate might be and, if you can, arrange for them to give an interview. Give them time to prepare what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. Promise your media friends they’ll get a call back – then make sure they do indeed get the call.

To ensure you have asked both yourself and the journalist all the necessary questions and have all the answers you need, use the printable Preparation checklist.

Warning

Remember: if a journalist rings you for an interview, your first question should be whether you are already on the air. Do not make any comments until you have prepared.

Interview checklist

Once you are clear about what it is you want to communicate, ask yourself the following – and be prepared to do some research:

  • Who am I communicating to? Who is my audience? Farmers might not have the same interests, or indeed speak the same language, as software developers. What audiences do I want to draw in?
  • Through which medium? Farmer’s Weekly or local radio news? Newsnight or CNN? What are their deadlines? What type of programme or publication is it? Who is in their audience? How do I present the information – in person or through a press release? What is the journalist looking for?
  • Do I know the journalist? What type of interview can I expect? What is their style? Are they likely to be sympathetic?
  • Is my information accurate? Do I know it inside out? Am I comfortable with what I’m going to be saying?
  • What are my key messages? What are the three main things I want to get across, and can I keep them simple? If the answer to the last question is no, go back to the drawing board and repeat the question until you can say yes.
  • Are there any forms of non-verbal support that would help get communicate what I want to say. Do I look the part? Would visuals or sound help with my presentation? The latter is unlikely in a quick-fire news interview where there’s little time for you to establish anything other than yourself, but may be useful in a studio debate. ALWAYS leave your written notes behind: mental notes only are the order of the day.
Tip

Be aware of your surroundings when doing a TV interview and make sure nothing lurks in the background that could diminish your authority.