Your department is promoting a new fundraising campaign. Your PR team sends out a press release, and a few hours later you’re on the phone with a reporter asking when they can schedule an interview. Are you prepared?
Talking on the phone with a member of the media is going to feel different from answering their questions in front of a camera, but don’t turn them down! Interviews are a great opportunity to share your message and gain valuable coverage for your organization. If you’re new to being a spokesperson and giving media interviews, here’s a rundown of what to expect.
Why do they need an interview?
In my career as a television news reporter, I reached out to people for interviews constantly. It was always the first step of my day, and my biggest pet peeve was when an organization would send over a press release and then not want to give an interview. They’d say things like “everything you need is in the release,” but that’s not true. That’s not even half of what I needed to put a story together for broadcast.
Local news reporters need to talk to sources to not only confirm information and ask questions but also to have something to put on the screen. TV is a visual medium. If your story is newsworthy, outlets are not going to just recite your release into a teleprompter or post the info online, they’ll assign someone to pursue it and create content that is engaging for viewers to watch. That includes interview sound and b-roll.
If you send a press release wanting coverage on a story involving your organization, you need to make a spokesperson available for an interview to get the most out of your media opportunities. You also need to prepare visuals like photos and videos they can use in their stories or be open to allowing them to shoot video on site.
Get camera ready
When giving a TV interview, many people can get nervous about how they look. What they’re wearing, how much makeup they have on, but what matters most is your confidence.
TV interviews typically only frame you chest-up when you’re speaking. Your facial expressions and the tone of your voice are what people will notice the most. This is why it’s good to practice how you would answer questions in the mirror before going on camera. Pretend as if you’re just talking to a friend or family member. The interview should feel very conversational with the reporter. Look them in the eyes and avoid shifting your weight or adjusting your hair. You’re being recorded, so you don’t want to look or sound nervous. The goal is to be comfortable enough to get your point across and represent your organization as credible and likable.
What to say
Reporters are interviewing you to get a soundbite/s for their story. These are typically only 5-12 second clips from your interview. The whole interview will not be aired, because a local news reporter only has about one minute and 30 seconds of airtime slugged in the show for their story, and you’re likely not their only interview of the day. In many cases, interviews are recorded, and not live on air. If you feel like something you said was incorrect or hard to understand, feel free to say, “let me say that again,” and proceed with better wording that is more to the point. Your answers don’t need to be verbatim to your talking points, and you don’t want to sound scripted. Just try to answer each of the reporter’s questions as a complete sentence to ensure nothing is taken out of context. Keep a personable attitude on and off-camera.
Focus on the “why”
If you send a press release and/or fact sheet, reporters already have the who, what, when, and where of the story they’re writing. They’re coming to interview you because they want to know why this event is newsworthy, and how it impacts the community. Focus your messaging and prepare answers about your organization’s mission and goals. Those are the soundbites and quotes reporters are looking for, and those are the snips of the interview they’re going to include in the on-air and/or published product.
Things to avoid
To look and sound the most professional on camera, avoid using filler words (like/um/so/really). This will help your quotes sound clearer and will look better when it’s edited together. In that same respect, try not to ramble and get off-topic.
Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to be published or broadcasted when you’re around a reporter. Nothing is “off the record” until the reporter is gone. They may include information you say off-camera in the story because they heard it straight from the source whether a camera was rolling or not.
In that same vein, if you don’t know an answer to a question, don’t guess. Simply say “can I get back to you on that? I want to be sure I get you the right information,” and let the reporter know you can find the answer and email them later.
Lastly, don’t overthink it! Take each question one at a time and don’t feel rushed.
Giving media interviews is an excellent way to build relationships with local reporters and make your organization a go-to resource for timely topics that relate to your community. If you are easy to get in contact with and open to working with the media, they’ll keep you in mind for slow news days, giving you even more chances to share your mission and make your organization look good.
Preparing for more intense media coverage? We have a blog for talking to the media in times of crisis.