Meeting with a reporter for the first time can be intimidating. What if they are just digging for the next big scoop? What if you say something they can take out of context? While most reporters don’t have a malicious intent when interviewing, it’s best to do your homework and prepare for your big interview. Here are six things you need to know to ensure you represent your company well and lay the foundation for a positive relationship with your media contact.
1. Know your reporter.
To clarify, this doesn’t mean stalking them online. You don’t need to know how many kids they have or where they’re originally from. If anything, those questions can come up naturally in conversation when you meet. What you do need to know in advance is what topics they cover, their reporting style, if anyone in your network has a relationship with them already and their preferred method of communication. Reporters can get hundreds of emails a day with story pitches, internal communications, or updates on ongoing stories. They don’t have time to respond to your email asking what they cover when their topics are listed in their bio on their news outlet website. Read or watch news pieces they have already created, talk to people in your network that have worked with them before, do everything you can to make it as easy as possible for the reporter to say yes to a meeting or interview.
2. Know your topic.
As a representative of your organization, you may not always be the subject matter expert in the same way your company’s engineers or case managers are, but that doesn’t mean you get a pass for not knowing about your topic. A major goal of media relations is to build public awareness and thought leadership so you need to be prepared to answer as many questions as possible about what your company does and why it’s important to the reporter’s readers. Don’t ever guess at numbers or statistics. If you do get to a point where you don’t know something, write that questions down and say you’ll get back to them right away with a firm answer. Misinformation is more dangerous to your company’s reputation than your momentary lapse in knowledge and a good reporter will respect that you want their piece to be as accurate as possible.
3. Know the reporter’s goals.
No, they won’t give you the questions beforehand. No, they won’t let you edit the piece before it’s published. A reporter has committed to communicating information that affects their readers lives and informs them about their world. They have not committed to promoting your new product, showing how innovative your business is or asking people to attend your event even though those may be your goals. Look for new opportunities where your goals intersect with the reporter’s and be respectful of how they view their profession.
TIP: If you’re really that concerned about editorial control or if you’re not getting the coverage you need, consider paying for a sponsored article in your local paper. A form of Native Advertising, sponsored content is designed to blend in with editorial content.
4. Know what a reporter needs.
If you’re speaking to a reporter from a TV station, they will need extra footage to intercut with the main interview. Called B-Roll, this could be shots of walking through the building, interacting with clients, machines in motion or even signing papers at your desk. If you’re speaking with a print reporter, they will need high-resolution images of your subject matter for publication and caption suggestions. All reporters will need a fact sheet on your organization and initiative with brief summary points, statistics, and contact information. Most companies wrap this up into a single media kit for reporters to access online, but always ask what else you can provide the reporter to support their story. Positioning yourself as a helper and resource will help build a positive relationship with the reporter.
5. Know how to be interviewed.
First and foremost, take deep breaths and relax. Any tension in your shoulders and voice can affect your reporter’s impression and the tone of the final story so you want to make every effort to practice being patient and approachable. In addition to understanding your message, the reporter is looking for bite-sized quotable moments so take your time to gather your thoughts before you reply. Practice active listening techniques to ensure you understand where the reporter is leading the conversation and always keep your cool when they ask potentially sensitive questions. Be firm and polite when responding to potentially explosive topics and remember that explaining why you won’t give a comment on something is still a comment.
6. Know the best ways to follow up.
When was the last time you received a handwritten thank you card for doing your job? Or even a quick Tweet telling you how your work helped someone else? Doing simple follow-ups to show your appreciation for the reporter’s time will help you stand out in a massive herd of people clamoring for attention. And no, that is not the time for another pitch or request. Even if it gets you no additional coverage or another positive meeting, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re making a busy and hectic world a little bit brighter place.
Don’t want to do it alone? Contact us for help with your public relations efforts.