I will never forget what happened after sending out my first press release after opening my first business, a bookstore in Sacramento, California. I didn’t know much about what I was doing at the time, so I wrote the release and sent it off to several media outlets. Then I went to the mall.
My phone rang while I was in the dressing room at Macy’s. It was a reporter who was prepared to interview me on the spot. I sat down and as we chatted, I realized that I was completely unprepared. I hadn’t anticipated her questions and therefore, my answers rambled.
I learned some lessons the hard way, and since then I’ve been through actual media training (a worthwhile investment if you can afford it), where I practiced interviews on camera and learned how to give a compelling interview. Here are some tips so you can be prepared when the media calls:
1. Anticipate questions.
Develop a list of potential questions you think a reporter would ask you and then write down your responses, ideally in simple bullet points so that your answers are concise. Reporters want quick, thoughtful answers.
2. Know what messages you want to convey.
Though you might end up answering questions for 15 minutes, it’s likely that only a few of your quotes will end up in the story. Every comment counts so make sure each answer has impact. Also, have a goal in mind for the interview. Do you want to promote your latest book, mention an upcoming event, or draw attention to a promotion you are running? You will need to find an eloquent way to mention anything promotional since media pros aren’t there to help you promote your business. They want concrete information. Any mention of your book or business will almost be an afterthought so tread carefully.
3. For radio and TV, there’s little or no editing.
Everything you say is recorded for all eternity. All the more reason to know your key messages, practice them, say them out loud in the car, have your kids interview you at the dinner table—whatever it takes to always be ready.
4. Talk in sound bites.
The media likes short answers that are to the point, especially on radio and TV. Questions come in rapid-fire fashion and your answers should keep up with the pace. Your answers may end up becoming part of a promotional clip so responses should be confident and clear. Pay attention to how professionals handle interviews on the big morning shows and learn by their examples.
5. Be available for at least a week after sending out a press release.
Don’t go on vacation or disappear for several days. If a reporter calls and leaves a message, call back as soon as humanly possible. There are always deadlines involved. I learned this one the hard way when my son was home sick and I failed to check voice mail until the next day. I missed a great opportunity; the reporter had already moved on and found another source.
6. Have fun with interviews.
You want to be prepared without sounding like a robot. Let your personality shine through and make the reporter’s job easy. When you’re a good interview subject, it is quite likely you will be contacted by that reporter again in the future.
7. Thank the reporter after the interview.
Reporters, editors and producers do not get enough appreciation for what they do and when you take time to send a quick note, it will be noticed and remembered. Reporters need a lot of sources and they are people too. Show that you are a great source and you can build a relationship that endures.
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