If a reporter contacts you unexpectedly and asks for an interview in the next few days, and you don’t feel entirely ready, how do you prepare?
A reporter from a major online business magazine found Leili’s blog post about how the credit crunch will affect small business. The reporter wants to know if the ripple effect has reached Main Street America. Leili says it has, and she has lots of great materials to share. “But I’m not quite sure how to organize my ideas and keep everything straight,” she says.
Here’s my advice, much of which you can follow if a reporter from any media outlet will be interviewing you:
1. Research the reporter.
If you don’t know the reporter personally, Google their name and see what you find. If the reporter blogs, read the blog! It will provide valuable clues about issues the reporter cares about. And the writing style might offer insight regarding the reporter’s demeanor and attitude: all-around nice guy or a pit bull?
2. Prepare your key message.
Always identify the Number One message you want to get across to the reporter and make sure you weave it into your answers several times. You can even “flag” the reporter by prefacing one of your answers like this: “Sharon, the most important thing I have to say about that is…” Way too many Publicity Hounds have kicked themselves afterward for failing to communicate their key message “because the reporter never asked about it.”
3. Prepare your two or three sub-messages.
Weave those into your answers, too.
4. Offer other contacts.
Offer contact information for several other people who would agree to be interviewed—sources who can round out the story. Be sure you have their permission ahead of time. In Leili’s case, she had several clients whose loans were denied because of the credit crunch, and she started contacting them as soon as she hung up the phone after talking with me.
5. Use notes if you need them.
If the interview is live, and you’re not on camera, it’s OK to refer to notes you’ve brought with you. I’ve done phone interviews with reporters with lots of notes spread in front of me.
6. Offer information for a sidebar.
A sidebar is a shorter story or list of facts that accompany the larger article. I told Leili she might offer a list of short tips for business owners who might be applying for loans. “That’s great,” she said. “One tip is to check the business credit of the bank where you’re applying for a loan.”
7. Offer yourself for other stories.
At the end of the interview, invite the reporter to call on you if she needs sources for other topics on which you’re an expert.
8. Always offer the reporter your photo.
Reporters are mostly concerned about getting the story and sometimes forget about photos. Let reporters know where they can download your high-resolution photo. If you have good-quality environmental photos that show you at work, offer those, too.
Always end the interview with the question, “How else can I help you?” Few sources ever ask that question. And when you do, you’ll really stand out. That’s one of several magic phrases to use with the media.
What other ways do you prepare for interviews?