Leveraging local, national and trade media outlets to share your organization’s message is a powerful way to reach a broader audience quickly. And if you’ve done your homework to prepare for the media interview – researching the reporter, rehearsing your key messages and practicing anticipated reporter questions – then the interview should go well.
But what happens if a reporter calls and you’re not ready to answer his or her questions? What if news just broke internally in your organization that changes the messaging you’ve previously rehearsed? If you haven’t had time to talk with your communications team or agency about the appropriate response to the reporter’s questions, you may wonder if you should even pick up the phone.
The key thing to remember if you find yourself in this situation is don’t feel obligated to respond right away. Ask the following questions to ensure you capture the necessary information to share with your communications advisors and together determine the best approach. Gathering this information will help decide if it’s an opportunity worth pursuing, and if so, it will give you time to appropriately prepare.
1) What is your name, publication name, phone number and email?
While these seem like obvious details, you may be thrown off by the call and forget to write down this information. Even if you already have the reporter’s information, ask these questions and write the information down again. It’s best to have all the information easily accessible, especially if the reporter is on deadline. Asking for contact information also buys you time to breathe and prepare your next question.
2) What is your deadline?
This question shows the reporter you’re mindful of his or her schedule demands. The news cycle is constant and every outlet is racing to be the first to publish a story. You can quickly assess if you’ll even have time to participate in the opportunity.
3) What is the story angle and what piqued your interest in the topic?
This question is critical. You’ll find that often reporters are still developing their story angle. They might have a general idea but they will rely on you to provide more context on the topic and help shape the story.
For a soft news story, such as a feature story, knowing what piqued a reporter’s interest allows you to tailor your answers to incorporate elements or relatable anecdotes that resonate with the reporter and could increase the amount of coverage you receive in the story.
For a hard news story, like breaking news, it’s important to know what tipped the reporter off to the story and the story they’ve been assigned to cover. Is the reporter’s angle focused on jobs, economic impact, local or national trends? Having these details upfront allows you to gather the necessary data or talking points to address these questions during the interview.
4) Can you share the interview questions in advance?
Reporters don’t have to share their questions before an interview. They may not have them prepared yet when they call. But it never hurts to ask. As reporters are pushed to write and develop more stories on shorter deadlines, you’ll find most reporters are willing to provide questions in advance. They recognize this will save time for you and them in the long run. But just because a reporter sends questions doesn’t mean they will stick to those questions.
5) What other organizations are you reaching out to and who else will be interviewed as part of the story?
If you’re taking part in an interview, you want to know if you’re the focus of the story or if other experts will be part of it. If your competitors will also be quoted, does that change your responses?
6) If an interview isn’t possible, will you accept a written response?
There will be times when it isn’t feasible to fit an interview into your schedule before the reporter’s deadline. If it’s a positive media opportunity though, you don’t want to miss out. Written responses still give you a voice in the story and it shows the reporter you’re willing to find ways to meet their deadline needs.On the other hand, there will be times when a story opportunity is not an ideal fit for an interview. If the story is very technical and involves referencing data or it’s not a story that will feature you in a positive light, written responses help ensure the information is accurately conveyed and additional information is not shared.
Getting a media call out of the blue can feel unsettling. These six questions will guide you through the conversation, help you gather the necessary details and appropriately prepare so you can nail the interview.
Getting a media call out of the blue can feel unsettling. Asking six simple questions will help you gather the necessary details and appropriately prepare so you can nail the interview.