By Marsha Friedman, CEO of EMSI Public Relations and author of Celebritize Yourself
Sometimes I cringe when I hear people talk about “the media.” It sounds as if everyone in TV, radio, print and online press is a member of one fraternity that thinks and acts the same. There is a vast gulf between the daily life of a print journalist and the daily life of a radio show host. And there are many differences between radio hosts and TV producers.
They really shouldn’t be treated the same. That’s why I’ve written a booklet called 50 Tips to Make You A Great Radio Guest and a similar piece for TV. Now I am compiling interview tips for working with print and online journalists (which in many cases can be the same thing). This will be the first of three articles, so stay tuned for the others over the next two weeks.
Here are the first five tips:
In TV and radio, interview times are pre-arranged. However, print and online journalists typically have daily and weekly deadlines. When they call you, they need you right then! In many cases, journalists will reach out to several experts on a news item and then choose the one who is the better interview or whoever responded quickest (or a combination of the two). The more reliably you respond, the more likely they will call on you again.
It’s Not About You.
Most journalists are not interested in you, but rather the expert commentary you can provide. The more you use the words “I” and “my” the less likely they will use you as a source. When speaking to a reporter, keep in mind you are speaking to their audience, so keep your remarks centered on what their audience cares about and you’ll be quoted early and often.
Read Before You Talk.
If you get a call from a publication, take five minutes to go online and read a few of their stories. Look for their tone and approach, so your tone and approach will match. Also look for articles they wrote on your topic, so you can avoid duplicating what someone else said. Finally, read articles written by the journalist you’ll be speaking with. There is no better way to prepare for a print or online interview than to read the writings of the reporter interviewing you. You can discover his or her focus, audience and philosophy. The reporter can tell if you’ve read his or her articles through your comments and will respect you for having made the effort to prepare for them.
Don’t Empty Your Notebook.
Beat reporters – journalists who cover a particular topic or industry – tend to be experts in that field from their time covering it for their respective publications. They don’t need, nor do they want, your soup-to-nuts take on that topic. They need only a few quotes and opinions to round out their stories. Answer direct questions with direct answers, and get to the point quickly. There’s no need to tell the reporter everything you know, emptying your notebook of all your collected knowledge, in order to have a good interview. Allowing an interview to devolve into you talking about your total philosophy on a particular topic or business will result in your interview landing in the discard pile, and the reporter will likely seek a comment from your competitor instead.
Reporters don’t call you to talk about the weather, last night’s TV, your kids, etc. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve come across people who think a little friendly chit chat can “grease the wheels.” If they engage you, that’s one thing. It’s entirely another if you waste their time with unwanted “schmoozing.” Most have deadlines to meet and their time is valuable. Many outlets are working with significantly smaller writing staff than a year ago. Respect their time and they’ll respect you.
There’s more to a good print interview and in the next two weeks I will share more tips. If you follow this advice, you’ll discover your interviewers will respond better to you, use more of the interview in their actual articles and maybe even call you back for more quotes when they work on other stories. At the end of the day, these tips will help you be prepared so that when your name is mentioned in the media, readers will know they are getting advice from someone who truly knows what he or she is talking about.
Marsha Friedman is a 20-year veteran of the public relations industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations, a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers, authors and professional firms. She also hosts a national weekly radio talk show, The Family Round Table, and is the author of the book, Celebritize Yourself.