Tips for Effective Media Interviews

Few executives worry about being accosted by reporters with camera crews on their way to the office in the morning. But for many executives, being interviewed even by a local or trade reporter is intimidating. There’s no reason to let fear—or ignorance—about the interview process prevent you from conducting an effective media interview. Here are 10 tips to help you:

Be prepared.

In addition to reviewing previous articles written by the reporter, request background information such as:

  • What’s the focus of your story?
  • Who else have you interviewed?
  • What kind of information will you need from me?
  • How much time do you want for the interview?
  • What’s your deadline?

Prepare two or three key messages you want to get across during the interview.

These messages will form the basis of nearly all your answers. Structure your responses with your key messages up front. And don’t worry about sounding repetitious. Remember that the reporter will probably include only a handful of your comments in the story. Make sure each one counts.

Practice your answers to tough questions.

This helps you get comfortable with your key messages and helps you keep your cool if you’re asked a challenging question during the interview.

Be concise.

State your point and, if appropriate, use an example to support it. But keep your responses brief unless the reporter asks you to elaborate.

Don’t fear silence.

If you get a question you aren’t prepared for, don’t start talking until you think through what you want to say. Equally important, when you’re finished answering a question, it’s OK to sit in silence while the reporter composes the next question.

If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so.

If you can, offer to do some research and follow up with the necessary information.

If you can’t—or choose not to— answer a question, tell the reporter why.

For example…“As a private company, we don’t share information about our profitability externally.” Provide some related details that may address the reporter’s question without revealing proprietary information. Don’t say, “No comment” as it tends to make reporters suspicious.

Presume that everything is “on the record.”

Never say anything you wouldn’t want to read or hear later. Remember: reporters are not your friends; even if they seem friendly, keep the relationship professional.

Be as natural and as relaxed as you can in the interview.

This is important whether you’re doing a phone or in-person interview.

Finally, always keep your audience in mind.

It’s not the reporter. He or she is only a conduit to your real audience—the readers or viewers—who include your customers, shareholders, employees, etc. Keep them in mind as you prepare for and conduct the interview.