Speaking with a news reporter is a great way to share your story with the public. While many find the task stressful, following a few simple tips will help place your best foot forward.
Nothing is off the record
This is the golden rule, and far too frequently broken. In a nutshell, anything you say is fair game. This includes everything that comes between hello and good-bye, regardless of whether the camera is rolling. The reporter is there to relay what he or she sees or hears, and that right is protected by the First Amendment.
And please, don’t ask the reporter “cut out” something you said, which simply calls attention to the comment and elevates its importance.
The best way to keep something off the 6 o’clock news is to leave it out of your remarks.
Prepare and practice
Make a list of 3-5 key messages you want to share with the reporter and try to weave them into the conversation whenever possible. Many reporters will end an interview by asking if you’d like to add anything else. This is a good time to round out your message with any lagging points, or to reiterate the one or two most crucial.
A good practice exercise is to develop a list of anticipated questions, and respond with one or more of your key messages.
Don’t give them another story
Years ago, I gave a local reporter an exclusive with our CEO, the top executive at a Fortune 500 financial institution. During the conversation, the CEO mentioned that online banking — still in its infancy — was “sticky,” meaning that once people set up an account, they were less likely to jump to a competitor. The story that ran was about on-line banking, and we were mentioned in just two sentences.
Focus on your audience
A friend gave me this terrific piece of advice. Although you’re speaking with a reporter, remember your true audience — the readers, viewers, or listeners — if things become heated. The public doesn’t see the entire interview, only the clip of you snapping at the camera.
Keep it simple
Reporters, especially those in television or radio, generally work on a short deadline. Giving them too much information to sort through makes their job more difficult — and increases the risk that they’ll omit your key messages. So, be brief, and don’t try to force too much into the conversation. If the story works out well, you can always pitch the idea of a follow-up story.
Play ‘Show and Tell’
Because television is a visual medium, reporters will need some sort of video to support the story. For example, a former client was leading the effort to plant thousands of trees in town, so we created a kick-off event that featured the city arborist and a group of children planting trees at a local park. Without this visual to support our message — we’re raising money to plant more trees — television would have likely passed up the story.
Speak as if you would to a friend: conversational, relaxed, and confident. Avoid industry terms, acronyms, and 50-cent words. It’s okay to say you don’t have an answer, and that you’ll call the reporter with the information prior to deadline.