As we explain in our Media Training courses, if you’re doing an interview with a journalist, the chances are that you’ll be doing one of three things. First, you’ll be promoting something – a new product or service or, second, defending something; in other words, you’ve made a mistake or had to make a difficult decision. The third reason for a journalist interviewing you will be to comment on an issue or a new trend. For this, you’ll be asked for some analysis and explanation, perhaps a prediction but certainly how this event affects the audience for the report.
As the specialist Media Training consultancy for law firms, we often train our clients on how to comment on issues to get them coverage and showcase their knowledge and experience while avoiding them saying something they didn’t want to say. We also provide this kind of media interview training to various other organisations who might be called on to comment on a current event or a new trend in their sector.
So, what should you expect if a journalist interviews you as an expert for a quote? What should you say and not say?
What to say:
Talk about your personal experience within the sector.
One of the joys of being a journalist is the huge amounts of money we get paid. No, obviously not. In fact, it’s the ability to ask anyone anything. Of course, your Comms team or PR company can negotiate the terms and the subject of the interview – something that we explore in our training courses – but there’s always a possibility that the journalist will throw a question in left field. In this case, it might be to ask for your thoughts on that issue which is hitting the headlines but is only tangentially related to your responsibility and whatever you’ve agreed to discuss. Being ready for these questions and having a way of answering them is essential to maintaining control of a media interview.
Talk about the risks it poses to those in the sector.
If you’re seeing a trend or issue emerging, it’s worth mentioning how it might have a detrimental effect on people. Could it damage their reputation? Might it even get them into trouble with their customers or a regulator? Do they need to rethink the way their procedures and activities? Pointing up a risk or a threat will grab a journalist’s attention and get you those column inches or airtime.
Related to the above, once you’ve flagged that threat or risk, provide a solution and explain how people connected with the issue that the journalist is asking you about can turn this new development to their advantage. This not only ticks the “What’s in it for me?” box, which is so important, but it also showcases your knowledge and experience.
Add examples and case studies.
You might be doing all of the above, but journalists will also pick up on any stories you can provide to prove and illustrate your points. Obviously, there are risks in doing this, especially if you have clients who might be affected. Still, we provide tips and techniques in our media interview coaching courses to enable people to use the examples and case studies journalists always look for without compromising client confidentiality.
What not to say:
Three things not to do when being interviewed by a journalist to provide comment or analysis.
Don’t oversell your company or your services.
Journalists are looking for a story – they’re not your public relations or marketing consultants. A hard sell by an interviewee immediately puts a journalist off and makes it less likely that they will quote you in the article or use you in the report. Of course, you want to get something in return for the time, effort and potential risk involved in talking to the journalist. However, your aim – and the real return on your investment of time and effort here – is to get your name in the article or on the TV screen and demonstrate your knowledge, practical experience and insights.
Don’t go into too much detail.
The journalist you’re speaking to has neither the time, the space, or interest to go into great details, however fascinating and important you consider the subject to be. Sorry, that’s just how it works with the media. But, again, this can work to your advantage. As we say in our Media Training courses for lawyers, you don’t want to give away too much information anyway – you want somebody to understand that you know what you’re talking about so that they’ll pick up the phone and instruct you.
Don’t get drawn into talking about other issues.
A journalist might contact you to ask about a particular trend or event, and then they might ask you about another topical issue during the conversation. Now, you might have strong views on this subject and be able to offer interesting insights. However, the risk is that because you haven’t had time to prepare your thoughts, you end up saying something that could be difficult or embarrassing. The best option, as we tell our Media Training participants, is to politely but firmly say to the journalist that your colleague will have a think about his new question and come back to them.
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As with any media interview, providing a journalist with information, analysis comments and insights into a current trend, a new event has risks. However, by bearing in mind the points you’ve made above and by doing your preparation, the chances are that you will be more likely to get favourable coverage in the final article and raise your profile.