Have you been misquoted? Not quoted? Taken out of context? Or frustrated because a reporter didn’t do his or her research before speaking with you? The nature of media interviews is changing, and PR strategies must change with it.
First, consider how reporters’ jobs have changed. I’ve seen reporters posting up to 10 articles each day. Why? There are fewer of them; according to The Wall Street Journal, for every journalist there are 4.6 PR people. The news cycle can be mere seconds long, and it goes all day and all night. So reporters are under the gun. Being first is important, so comprehensiveness and accuracy can sometimes take second chair to speed. (It’s become a common practice for reporters to update and correct their stories after they go live.)
This environment has created the opportunity for company-generated content, and it’s reduced the time reporters have for research and interviews. However, with some thoughtful preparation, you can get quoted as you intend. Here’s how:
1. Be prepared to start from zero. Given the hectic pace of the news business, be prepared for a reporter to begin with, “What do you have for me?” You’ll be lucky if he or she has done any advance research. This is an opportunity for you to shape the discussion. Being a kind, knowledgeable, and helpful source is the best way to build a relationship with a reporter.
2. Know what the reporter covers. Look at the most recent stories the reporter has written, and make sure your comments are relevant.
3. Know what’s happening in the news. If you’re in the wearables market and Facebook acquires Oculus for $2 billion, you’re going to get asked about it if you happen to have a press call that day. If you prepare a comment in advance, you could get quoted in two stories: once on the breaking news item and once on the original topic of your call.
4. Anticipate the questions. Write down the five most likely questions you think the reporter will ask. Then write down the two questions you hope she or he will not ask. Prepare for all of them.
5. Write your answers. Write two- to three-sentence answers to each question. Then rework them until you have crisp sound bites. Print them out and refer to them before answering any question. Spend the most time on this tip.
6. Practice. Speak your answers out loud. Do they sound like you? Do they trip you up? If so, rework them so they feel natural. Then practice again.
7. Use pauses and silence well. Don’t fill the space after you’ve answered a question. Mindless chitchat is how misquotes happen, and often how major scoops happen. Answer the reporter’s question; then, let him or her take notes and ask you another question.
8. Be yourself. Reporters are people, too. Make a connection and build a relationship. This mean you have to be your natural self.
9. Clarify. If you think the reporter misunderstood your answer, ask. Then clarify.
10. Follow up. Send the materials you promised to supply. This gives you an opportunity to clarify any points of concern. Send a crisp note with the materials and your clarifications, which makes it easy for the reporter to cut and paste the quote you provided.
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Much like public speaking, the only way to get good at media interviews is by practicing. If you’ve never done one before, consider some media training in advance.