You've done it. You have an interview with a reporter or editor on a topic that is near and dear to your heart and/or business, and you want to knock it out of the park. The key to most successful interviews is to be prepared.
Preparation can make the difference between a one-sentence inclusion, having your comments sprinkled throughout a story or having no mention at all. More than a chance for you to discuss your company and services, an interview is an opportunity to demonstrate your industry knowledge and offer perspective.
There are some steps you can take to ensure a successful interview, but first, let's address some misconceptions about interviews and reporters.
- All reporters are alike. The truth is that the biggest variable with industry reporters is their depth of experience with particular subjects. Some just have a lot more knowledge, which means you will have a higher-level discussion. Less experienced writers require a little more "backstory" or education.
- Reporters are out to make you or the company look bad. Financial industry media for example tend to be experts in the industry because they are highly focused on the types of stories they write. They are looking to provide value to their readers and that comes from a speaking with people like you.
- All interviews are short and will only feature my company. In fact, a reporter with specific questions may be able to get the information needed from you in 15 minutes or less, but the format of the story determines how long the interview will be. In many cases, a substantial article will require an in-depth interview and will include multiple sources (possibly including your competitor). Here is a bonus, the information you provide may be used in several stories.
With some of the misperceptions clarified, here are a few items to consider when preparing for an interview.
- Self-analysis: Remember, you are the expert. The reporter is talking to you because you are well-versed in a topic or you have a strong opinion about an industry trend. This should be the foundation on which you build your comments.
- Know the outlet: Make sure you are familiar with the reporter's media outlet and his or her audience. Familiarize yourself with the reporter's latest stories and if applicable, comment on the information.
- Research: It never hurts to do a bit of research on a topic to see what others are saying. Jot down some opposing perspectives and then substantiate your position. Are there any facts, figures or trends that support your positions? Show that you know what is going on in the industry.
- Key points or messages: Take the time to think through the topic and write down the points you want to cover during the interview, especially if it is a phone interview. While you may not have the reporter’s questions in advance, you can be well prepared on the topic and have specific points you want to make.
- Trust counsel: Whether it is an internal team or an external public relations firm, trust their counsel. For example, if the topic is one that will not help your company or if it is something negative about a competitor, your team may suggest you not comment or that you suggest a different angle for the reporter. Trust the knowledge and experience of your team. It could mean the difference between the loss of a business partner and an intact reputation.
- Projections: Remember, experts not only do you know your business, but you know the industry. You are well-read and have seen the industry through different cycles from high interest rates to exotic loan products to the qualified mortgage rule. What is next for the industry? Given your business experience and what you have seen in the industry, you can share what you believe is best for the industry, even if it is not popular or widely-discussed.
Some common mistakes to be aware of that people make when being interviewed include not turning their cell phone off and being distracted. Some people also forget basic communication etiquette, such as not interrupting a person while they are talking or finishing the other person's sentences. Being over aggressive may turn the reporter off and result in you not being a part of the story at all.
Another mistake people make is providing unsubstantiated information or guessing at an answer. If you are not sure about something, either tell the reporter you will get back to him or her with the correct information if you can or simply say you do not have the answer. In fact, if you do not know the answer and you can point the reporter in the right direction for the answer, you will build a stronger relationship and possibly become regarded as a go-to source for information.
Preparation pays off when you finally see the story that includes your interview and it is spot on and you are happy with it. Even if the story is not exactly what you expected but it is accurate, use the experience as a learning tool and do it differently next time. And yes, there will be a next time.
Charlyne H. McWilliams is an account supervisor at the William Mills Agency. She has nearly 20 years of expertise covering the mortgage industry. Before joining the agency, she was the editor of Inside Mortgage Technology.