When the phone rings, and it’s a journalist on the line, what do you do? Don’t panic, as my favorite author Douglas Adams might have said.
There are a host of reasons why a journalist might contact you -- some good and some bad. But, whatever the reason, it can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when you haven’t prepared for an interview with the press before.
No one expects you to be able to manage the media like Richard Branson, but there are a number of things you can do as a business owner to make sure that you are well prepared before you chat with a reporter. Keep these three tricks up your sleeve, and you’ll be a media pro in no time.
1. Ask for questions in advance.
Reporters are great researchers and are adept at throwing curveball questions at you. Thankfully -- unless something catastrophic has happened -- their phone calls rarely come out of the blue. In most cases, they will email you to arrange a time to chat, so you’ll have some time to prepare.
For your own peace of mind, it’s a good idea to ask for the questions in advance, so that you can have the right information at your disposal. If you have a list of questions in front of you, you’re on the home straight. Write out some bullet-pointed answers so that you speak naturally, but avoid writing out statements or you’ll sound stilted.
Sometimes journalists would rather just provide you themes or topics they want to talk about, so they get a less rehearsed, more human interview. That’s fine; just sketch out some talking points in advance. Remember, the reporter chose you for your insight and experience, You’ll be fine.
During the interview, don’t be scared to ask a reporter to repeat a question or to clarify. You don’t want to be left answering something you think you heard, like singer/actress Demi Lovato when she described a mug as her favorite thing to eat. Crunchy.
2. Read up and be ready to offer opinions.
You’re prepared and ready to talk to a journalist. This is an excellent opportunity to share interesting and new information about your company and mission, even your product, right? Well, not really. Journalists are usually interested in big picture stories, human interest angles, industry opinions and “against the odds” founder stories. But whatever the angle, they’re mostly likely not interested in giving you and your company a bunch of free publicity.
Although it’s tempting to bring every answer back to your great CRM solution, you should be more open to giving your opinion and talking about your industry at large. Journalists won’t use your interview if all you’re doing is blowing your own trumpet. That's incredibly frustrating for them.
It’s a great idea to swot up on the latest stories and the biggest news in your industry beforehand. Look at stories on or from your competitors. If you’re not sure where to look, search using Google news, on industry vertical publications and even social media trending topics.
Also be sure to investigate what the journalist has written before. It will give you an idea of how the interview might go, give you insights into the types of stories he or she likes to write about or even similar people that he or she has interviewed.
It sounds like a lot of work, but you definitely want to avoid having a Gary Johnson-style Aleppo moment, which is when a reporter asks you about a well-known issue, and you have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.
3. Prepare and roleplay for difficult interviews.
Sadly, we’re not always lucky enough to be interviewed about our latest charity drives. Sometimes, a journalist has dug up something less savory.
While one of the most controlled ways of talking to the media about a problem is through a press release, we do occasionally have to bite the bullet and talk directly to a reporter. Prepare yourself beforehand by talking to a company lawyer or the team dealing with the issue at hand. You especially have to know what you cannot say.
If the answer to a question would drop you in hot water, the phrase “no comment” is fine, but lying is not -- and nor is denying publicly-known facts. After all, journalists uncover secrets for a living. Alternative facts really don’t exist.
Practice your responses in a series of quickfire roleplays. Have your partner try to anticipate the most difficult questions and make sure he or she is tough with you. Of course, the interview might turn out very differently, but you will get a feel for being put on the spot. This will help you control the nerves and be more calm when the time comes.
When you’re facing an interview, remember that a journalist is just there to tell a story. Whether you are a big part of the final article, or just a footnote, preparation is key. Stay honest, but don’t feel you have to answer every question. Keep it professional at all times, and the journalist will think you're an old hand.