12 Media Interview Tips

If someone from the media contacted you today, would you know how to respond?  Media attention is often valuable free publicity, which lets you deliver your important message to a large audience. However, for many people it is a very stressful and nerve-wracking event. Here are our tips:

  1. Take some time. Unless looking for a statement of services NEVER respond on the spot. The key to a successful interview is knowing your key points and messages.
  2. Understand the background. If you’re responding, make sure you understand the story, the angle and who else will be sharing their opinions in the story.
  3. Know your facts. Be prepared with facts, figures and dates to back up key points. Providing these details will increase the likelihood of you being quoted. Also, when gathering facts, think in terms of what the public might want to know – anticipating the reporter/reader questions and interests will help you be prepared. It is common that reporters will want to know your revenue (particularly if it is a business story), something you might not feel comfortable answering. If you don’t want to disclose actual revenue, have a different metric to quantify size or growth (i.e. number of employees gained, growth as it relates to clients/contracts, area serviced, etc.)
  4. Flagging or headlining. Make your key messages clear by ‘flag’ or ‘headlining’ the issue.  You simply make your point, and then explain it.  You can draw more attention to your flag by using phrases like “the most important issue is”, or “What we want to make clear is”. This is especially important with broadcast interviews.
  5. Context is key. When preparing your key messages, before the interview, look at each sentence individually. Can it be taken out of context? If it can, make adjustments.
  6. Stick to what the reporter asks and what you want to say. There’s no need to volunteer additional information. This goes back to planning what your goals are for the interview. You should know what you’d like to communicate from the start, and stick to that information as much as possible.
  7. Respond in short statements. The shorter and more succinct an answer, the more likely it will be used for sound bites and quotes. Solid statements are more likely to be used in a story.  In broadcast you may do an interview for 30 minutes, but the average soundbite is 10 to 20 seconds long, so be clear and concise.
  8. Use plain English. Avoid jargon and acronyms. Keep the audience in mind, and speak in terms familiar to them. Don’t use questionable humor (self-effacing humor is best), profanity, or any kind of derogatory language.
  9. Question facts, if necessary. If confronted with findings or statistics you’re not familiar with or you believe may be incorrect, say, “I’m not familiar with those statistics so I really can’t comment on that matter” or “based on [cite other statistics], the most important thing to remember is [statement that communicates your message]”. If asked, for example, about a report you haven’t read, be sure and say so, but use the question as an opportunity to communicate your messages.
  10. Don’t discuss hypothetical situations or unfamiliar matters. If asked about a situation or case of which you have incomplete information, or about a hypothetical situation, respond by discussing the issue instead. Say, “I can’t respond to hypothetical situations, but if you’re asking about the issue of [state the issue], it’s clear that [state your message]”.
  11. Bridge and Block questions you are unprepared to answer. Never try to make up an answer on the spot. Instead, use Bridging and Blocking techniques to bring the interview back to your key messages.
    • Bridging is when you connect a question back to the point that you’re trying to make.  “Yes, but we’re here to talk about…” “What I think you’re really asking is…”
    • Blocking is when you don’t want to answer the question and is usually used with bridging i.e. “It’s against our policy to answer that, but what I can tell you is that…” Or “That’s not the issue we’re seeing, what we’re seeing is…”
  12. And finally, if you don’t know the answer, just say so. There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t know, that there hasn’t been a decision yet or that you aren’t sure of the answer and will report back.