1.Get back to them quickly
When journalists need comment from subject experts or relevant businesses on a current topic, they often put calls out to at least a couple of rival firms – whoever responds quickest tends to get their quote used, or the slot on the air. Even if you are busy, try and make returning a journalist’s call a priority – nowadays deadlines are often measured in minutes than hours – they usually need it now.
2. Have something to say
Frankly, journalists aren’t really interested in “on the one hand, on the other” responses to questions. When they are looking for a quote, they want it clearly and powerfully expressed, so no-one is in any doubt where you stand. Make sure the point you think is most important is the one you express most effectively and cogently, so this becomes the “quote” the reporter is likely to use.
3. But give yourself time to think about it
If you are contacted by a journalist asking for your views, it’s better to call back rather than talking straight away off the top of your head – so you don’t get caught on the hop.
4. Understand what they want
Find out what you can about the article they are writing, and what their angle is likely to be. Explain you are tied up at the moment but are happy to help, and fix a time to call back, preferably well before their deadline. Use the time to think through what you want to say.
5. What’s the story?
Newspapers, magazines, websites, radio and TV have plenty of space to fill every week, so are always on the lookout for good ideas or interesting stories. The bad news is that they get lots of boring press releases, so make sure yours isn’t one that immediately falls victim to the delete button. Unless you have something to say, don’t send it.
6. Create a news hook
You have to make your news stand out by coming up with something that will be useful, entertaining or relevant for readers. Is your business the first in your area with some clever new technology, product or service? Have your staff dressed up as ninja turtles and smashed all records for charity fundraising?
7. Junk the jargon
Most people’s work conversations are peppered with abbreviations and technical terms. For radio, TV and most print journalists, this just won’t do. Imagine, instead, that you are chatting in the pub to someone who is perfectly intelligent, but has never worked in your industry.
8. Never say “no comment”
Sometimes there are perfectly good reasons why you cannot give information – for example it may be commercially sensitive or client-specific. But “no comment” sounds very defensive. The reporter, viewer or listener will assume you are “guilty”. If your hands are tied, explain why.
9. Give good soundbites!
People are often nervous when they speak to a reporter, so they are often over-cautious. Recognise that there may be sensitive issues where you have to be careful – but compensate for these by being really interesting on other aspects where you can be more lively and interesting.
10. And finally, don’t argue with the interviewer
Even if you think an interviewer is asking annoying questions, keep your cool. Learn from examples such as Alistair Campbell scrapping with Adam Boulton of Sky News, Eamonn Holmes’s most embarrassing interview, Sarah Palin at her finest, and other car-crash TV moments on our media training website blog.
Tom Maddocks is a media training expert, regularly quoted in national newspapers and magazines. He has extensive reporting and presenting experience at the BBC and commercial TV and radio stations. To receive further free tips from Tom’s Essential Media Training Toolkit, click here.
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