Top Tips For When The Media Calls

    These are our tips on how to handle an interview request the right way.

    When a journalist calls, it’s exciting and terrifying. They might be calling as a result of a media release you’ve issued, they could be after some expert comment from you, or you could be in the firing line as a result of another story.

    A Current Affair reporter ready to present a news story.While being contacted by news outlets is daunting, an interview is also a great opportunity to own your message and protect your organisation’s public image. Try and make the most of the opportunity and get prepared.

    Stay calm and think like a journalist – try to predict what they may ask, get your messaging down pat and practice delivery before the interview.

    Rewinding back a few steps – long before the interview, here are some suggestions of what you should do when a journo calls:

    1. The five Ws

    The old storytelling technique of who, what, when, where and why applies here. While a journo might ask you these questions, you can ask them back.

    • Who is the journalist? Where are they calling from? Do they have an area of expertise? Also, consider who the audience is.
    • What do they want? What type of interview for what medium – is it a chat over the phone for print or an interview conducted in front of a camera?
    • When is the deadline? When does the journalist want to do the interview and when will the story run?
    • Where do they want to do the interview? At your office or home, in a studio or somewhere else?
    • Why is the media interested in the story and why is the journalist contacting you?
    1. Buy time

    Never agree to an immediate interview. Always try to buy some time, so you can prepare what you want to say. Get the journalist’s contact details so you can get back in touch with them to confirm the interview.

    Remember, journalists are incredibly time-poor. To make it sound like you’re not fobbing them off and so they don’t chase you, give them a timeframe of when you’ll be back in touch – something like “I’ll just check my calendar/finish this meeting/etc and give you a call back within half an hour”. They just want to know quickly if you’ll do the interview and when.

    1. Prepare and practise

    Always prepare what you’re going to say and how you’re going to deliver your key messages before talking with a journalist. An easy tip is to write down the main messages you want your audience to know – these should only number about three or four. Keep it interesting and accurate.

    1. Present and Interview

    When you’re presenting or being interviewed, keep the three c’s in mind – be calm, concise and confident. Try to avoid any jargon as this might confuse your audience and your message will be lost. Aim to use relevant and easy-to-understand facts and statistics, as this will make you and your story appear more credible.

    Even if you are prepared and have your key messages ready to go, journalists may still throw curveball questions at you in an aim to catch you off-guard – so be prepared for the unexpected.

    Here are some of the methods that journalists may use to attempt to get you off message. If you recognise a question like the one below being asked, be wary! Use a bridging technique to get back to your message and take control of the interview.

    What should you not do when the media calls?

    Don’t crystal ball

    A journalist asks you to predict the future or give your opinion on a hypothetical. Instead of predicting the future, say “What I do know is (your message).”

    Don’t let them put words in your mouth/spin negatives

    A journalist can use sensational language to describe a situation or ask a question that starts with a premise that is negative or incorrect, in the hope you’ll repeat it. “That behaviour is just shameful though, isn’t it?”

    Escape the rapid fire

    A series of questions are asked in quick succession, usually over the top of you as you try to answer. These are designed so you don’t have time to think and they’re usually adopted in a hostile interview.

    The trick is to not be rushed, take your time and stay on your message. Don’t raise your voice or get into an argument – take a breath, wait until the journalist has stopped asking questions and then answer.

    Avoid confrontation

    A reporter attempts to create controversy by trying to get you to comment on an adversary – don’t be drawn into temptation.

    Remember, you have no control over the final story. So, try to improve your odds of how you or your organisation are presented, by remaining calm and on message.

    Preparation can be key

    Often, interview readiness is not the result of what you do after the phone call but what you’ve done before the journalist called in the first place. Media training your key spokespeople is an important part of making sure that you’re always ready for a journalist to call. Knowing your key messages, having a plan for particular questions, and knowing how to temper yourself as you speak and communicate is a vital part of making sure that any stories a journalist tries to spin on your business are handled, defused, or turned around altogether.

    Adoni Media’s team of media training specialists used to be journalists. They’ve run stories for outlets across the world and have managed press for government officials, multinational corporations, and even small businesses. They know the ins-and-outs of what to expect.

    If you get a call from a journalist, call us.

    Or better yet: be prepared with media training.