Who is in control during a media interview – the journalist or the interviewee?
It’s a question that often comes up at the beginning of our media training courses. At Communicate Media we discuss the aims and objectives of our participants before we start. Who is in the driving seat during an interview – and, of course, how the interviewee can get their message across – is something that anyone doing media interviews will be interested in.
So, with that in mind, here are Communicate Media’s five top tips for gaining more control of a media interview.
1. Be very clear about your message
You need to have a clear idea of what you want to appear in the final article or report. Spell it out to the journalist clearly, back it up with some interesting examples, case studies, and stories and then repeat it a couple of times, most importantly at the end of the interview. Very often people lose control of a media interview or are surprised by the final outcome because they haven’t been clear enough about what exactly they want the journalist to take away from the interview.
2. Make sure that your message is newsworthy
If what you say to a journalist is not newsworthy and is not relevant to their audience they will naturally try and pick up on something else to make a story. So, in our media training courses, we look at what makes a media story and what interests journalists so that all the participants can focus on these things when they come to work with their PR and Comms teams and to do interviews.
Check out the publication or programme before you do the interview and ensure that your key messages are in line with its content. Support those key messages and bring them to life with interesting examples and case studies and you will have the journalist’s attention.
3. Don’t say anything that you don’t want the journalist to report
This sounds obvious but as all our working journalists will tell you, very often people will throw in something extra to the interview topic. “Sometimes they’ll say ‘But don’t report that, will you?’ or else they’ll just assume because you’re having a conversation on the way to the lift after you finished the interview or while you’re having a coffee that somehow it doesn’t count,” says Simon Brooke, one of our senior journalist/media trainers. “A journalist can report anything you say to them so if you don’t want it reported then don’t say it!”
4. Move the conversation away from other issues back to your key messages
Very often journalists go into an interview with a rough idea of what the story might be but they’re happy to find a new angle or even a completely different story. This is why they might well ask about something other than what you’ve agreed to speak about.
A good example of the interviewee losing control of the interview and the journalist getting a completely different story came last November. James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner engineer, appeared on the BBC Radio Four Today programme to talk about his company’s investment plans but was asked casually by presenter Justin Webb about Britain leaving the European Union. Instead of bringing the interview back to his key points, Dyson said that he would vote for Britain to leave the EU to avoid being “dominated and bullied by the Germans.”
Within hours the story was making front pages of the online versions of most of the national newspapers as Dyson lost control of the interview.
5. Email over confirmation of your conversation afterwards
Print journalists will look at their notes when they get back to the office or once they’ve put the phone down after a phone conversation and broadcast journalists will look through the tape they’ve recorded just to confirm what they think their story is and what they will use from the interview.
As we always suggest during our media training courses, emailing across your main points plus confirmation of any statistics, brand names or other details will increase the chances of the reporter or producer taking on board what you want to say.
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It’s important, therefore, to make sure that these key messages are sufficiently interesting and relevant so that they’ll grab and hold the journalist’s attention and keep them on your agenda rather than going astray.
As we point out in our media training sessions you can never have complete control over what a journalist writes or broadcasts (you’ll have to book some advertising space for that) but following these five simple rules will help.
Our media training courses are realistic, bespoke to your needs, quick to turn around, and cost-effective.