The message that follows is a simple one. It contains basic tips on conducting interviews. Newcomers to the process should carefully read this information. Even seasoned professionals may wish to review it from time to time.
Being interviewed is an art. Some people are naturals. They can get their message across, tackle the problem areas with an appropriate measure of honesty and still let their personality come through enough to make the reporter want to call back for future stories.
For most people, however, interview skills come with time and practice. You can't control what a reporter will ask or write, but you can present yourself and your company in a favorable light, and as a result, exert some influence on the outcome of the story.
Some people want a story to read as though their mother wrote it; others have an "as-long-as-they-spell-the-name-right" attitude. The appropriate, realistic expectation falls somewhere in between.
The story won't be perfect or contain all the things you consider important. The reporter may have a bias with which you may not agree. But what counts is not every word in the story; it is the general impression that the story leaves with its readers. In time, after several stories, the things you want to see will probably begin to appear.
The following are basic suggestions for taking interviews:
- Before the interview, think of all the things most people ask about you, your company and your specialty. Be prepared to answer all these questions.
- Think of the points people should know about you -- things that are different or unique. During the interview, when an opening occurs, bring up these subjects. (If you don't and your public relations counsel is present at the interview, he or she will probably find a way to do so. That is the reason for your counsel's presence.)
- When doing a radio or television show, be sure to repeat the name of your company or product. Unlike an article which can be re-read, a viewer or listener may miss or forget your name. Subtly inserting your name ("...well at The Phelps Group we feel that...") will greatly enhance the benefit of the exposure.
- Consider the problem areas inherent in your industry. You could be asked about them, so be prepared with answers that put you and your company in the most favorable light.
- Assume the interviewer knows nothing about you, your product or service, your company or your industry. Be prepared to explain everything in simple terms. Have photographs available if appropriate (don't be surprised if a "medical writer" knows little about medicine, or a "real estate writer" knows little about real estate. This could be his or her first article on a new beat). Even if reporters understand their subjects, they in turn are writing for readers who probably don't.
- Don't feel rushed. When faced with a difficult question, take a moment to think about the appropriate answer.
- Be friendly and enthusiastic. Your attitude toward your product and company will be conveyed to the interviewer this way.
- Dress according to the image you wish to convey (for television interviews, stay away from white, black and prints).
- ASSUME THAT NOTHING IS OFF THE RECORD! If you don't want to see something in print, don't bring up the subject.
- Avoid four-letter words. Even common ones, such as "hell" and "damn," look terrible in print.
- If appropriate, let the interviewer know you'll be happy to answer any questions they may have about your product, service or industry at any time in the future. (If he or she takes advantage of your offer, be sure to return the call promptly.)
As a final note, now that these cautions have been conveyed, just relax and enjoy the interview. Letting your personality come through is far more important than guarding every word. An interview represents more than just one story. It is an opportunity to establish a relationship with the press that can prove invaluable in the future.