Six Things to Remember Before You Talk to the Press

Six Things to Remember Before You Talk to the Press

Whether you are a seasoned media pro or a newbie trying to shake the nerves before your first interview, you should always keep a few things in mind to ensure your name appears in print exactly the way you want it to. Here are six things to always keep in mind:

1) First things first: Be prepared.

Never go into an interview cold or not having thought about the headline or quote you would want to see as a result. You must have a sense of what message you want to deliver going into an interview – regardless of where you think the reporter might take it.  Feel free to ask the reporter in advance for specific questions or topics that may be covered. While they may not send you the exact questions, reporters want the interview to be informative and worth their time, so they may likely send you a general sense of what they are looking for. Once they do, draft responses to the questions you think will be asked. Without a preconceived notion of the message you want to deliver, you are more vulnerable to a surprise question that you mis-handle and a resulting quote you are not proud of.

2) Always set the record straight – are you on or off?

Usually, if a reporter contacts you for an interview, he or she will want to use you as a direct source and have the interview on-the-record. As a result, whatever you say can be used as a direct quote.

But not all interviews have to be “on-the-record.” If it’s a topic that you’d rather not have your name linked directly to, but are still willing to contribute some information or opinion to the story, you can do the interview off-the-record or on background. This means that the reporter can use what you say, but only either quote it as being from “a source” or not attribute the comment to anyone specific. But you must ALWAYS clarify – before you start – that the interview is on background or off-the-record; if not, you will likely be directly quoted.

3) Stick to what you know you know.

Once you have established the ground rules, make sure you stay on message. Since you are prepared (see #1) you will have drafted your talking points (and cleared them with your internal communications team) before the interview. Stick to them! You don’t want to stray too far from your talking points (especially if pre-approved) because doing so usually results in rambling into uncharted territory where you might say something that you are uncertain of or don’t have expertise about. Don’t speak for others or speculate. Stick to your area of expertise.

4) It’s okay to say you don’t know but will find out.

Getting a curveball question during an interview is pretty standard procedure. If you don’t have an answer ready, or feel confident in your on-the-spot response, don’t sweat it if you need to tell the reporter that you will have to get back to them with an answer (because you are sticking to what you know, right? See #3). The only information the reporter can use from you is what you say – so if you need to clear your remarks or double-check ANYTHING, say you will be back in touch (before the reporter’s deadline), and provide a timeframe to hold yourself responsible. The reporter needs accurate information too – so if it means you calling back, that will likely be okay with them.

5) Don’t be afraid to follow-up.

While they might not reply, don’t be afraid to follow-up with a reporter after the interview to thank him or her and to clarify when the story might run or suggest other sources they might consider. This post-interview communication could not only potentially give you additional insight into the story’s content, but might help you to develop a relationship with the reporter and establish yourself as a credible, accessible and knowledgeable source for the future.

6) Relax and breathe.

And finally, just relax and breathe. The reporter wouldn’t have contacted you unless you were an informed, respected source he or she was interested in talking with and thought would add to the story. The media is sometimes perceived as evil and “out to get you.” But keep in mind, the media help move along agendas, promote good work and new ideas, and overall educate the public. Take advantage of the reporter’s ear while you have it, own the conversation and be prepared to state what is important and necessary to advance your particular cause.