Posted on February 12, 2010
Filed Under (Advice, General Business, Marketing) by jennifer

Media training, teaching CEOs and executives how to answer a reporter’s questions, is important if you want to get publicity for your business. That’s because few things create a worse impression on a reporter than an interviewee who is unprepared, inarticulate, and/or doesn’t answer the question(s). As a reporter/journalist for over 20 years, who has interviewed hundreds of business owners, CEOs, and executives, I know.

I can also tell you that my best articles are typically a direct result of a great interview and my worst are the result of a bad interview. (I have also been known to kill articles based on a really bad interview. And I am far from the only journalist who has done so.)

So to help you give good interview and make a favorable impression on reporters, I’ve put to together the following tips on how to prepare for an interview with a reporter and how to conduct yourself during the interview. (Also check out my article “How to get a publication to write about your business,” aka “How to pitch to a reporter.”)

How to Prepare for and Give a Great Interview to a Reporter

1. When contacted by a reporter, always respond within 24 hours, sooner if the reporter indicates he or she is on a tight deadline.

2. Understand what it is the reporter wants to know — or what the article is about — before you say “yes” or “no” to the interview.  If you do not think you can provide the information the reporter is after, be honest. Reporters hate BS and can smell it a mile away. That said, if you don’t feel your business is right for that article suggest some other areas where you can be helpful.

3. Familiarize yourself with the reporter’s publication or news show before the interview. This way you will have a sense of how the information you will be providing will be used — and what the publication/show is after — and will be (hopefully) better prepared.

4. Once you have agreed to be interviewed, ask the reporter to email you questions or talking points in advance. And use those questions to prepare for the interview. Note: If a reporter does not or forgets to send talking points, don’t take the reporter to task — unless you want him to write something negative about you/your business.

5. Practice your answers with a colleague or friend who can give you constructive feedback and/or jot down notes. The goal here is to know what you plan to say in advance, so you don’t ramble during the interview.

6. Wait for the reporter to finish asking each question before answering (even if the reporter rambles).

7. Answer the reporter’s questions — not the questions you wished the reporter asked. (You can provide additional information at the end of the interview.) Put another way, do not provide canned responses that do not actually answer the reporter’s question. Reporters HATE that. If you are uncomfortable answering a question, ask the reporter if you can get back to him or her via email or be honest and say you are uncomfortable answering that question or don’t have an answer. (If you go this route, though, be prepared for the reporter to ask you why.)

8. Be prepared for spontaneous questions — and don’t panic when a reporter asks you something that wasn’t included in his or her talking points. You know your business better than anyone. Look at spontaneous or open-ended questions as a way to educate your audience and/or provide an interesting anecdote that readers or viewers can relate to.

9. Do not ask the reporter to send you a draft of the article before it is published. She won’t. That said, it is perfectly OK to ask to be sent a copy or a link to the article as soon as it is published.

10. Thank the reporter for her or his time and let him know how best to reach you should he have follow-up questions or would like you to clarify something you said.

A final post-interview tip: Do not pester the reporter after the interview has been concluded. To make sure you are notified when the article comes out, set up a Google Alert in advance with your and/or your company’s name and the name of the publication so you will know when the article is published (at least online). If the interview is for a print only publication or a TV segment that will not air online, and it’s past the date the reporter thought the feature would be published or aired, send the reporter a short email with the subject header “Following up: [Name of Article]” and then in the body copy politely inquire what the publication or air date is.

(2) Comments   


Little Miss Cupcake on 12 February, 2010 at 7:15 am #

This is a great article and very timely for me. I have someone coming to interview me next week. Question for you – how do you recommend responding to a question that you don’t want to talk about (at least officially on the record)?

Jennifer S. on 12 February, 2010 at 7:29 am #

It depends on what the question is, Little Miss Cupcake. If you don’t want to reveal a trade secret (for example a cupcake or frosting recipe), smile and say it’s a trade secret, or maybe list just a couple of ingredients and say you can’t reveal any more. If you don’t know the answer to a question, ask the reporter if you can follow up later, via email. If it’s something having to do with financial information, simply but politely say you don’t give out that information. If that didn’t answer your question, send me an email and I will try to answer it privately.

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