Preparing for a media interview – what to ask a journalist

 

What to ask when a journalist calls for a media interview, questions every small business owner or charity leader should ask to make the most of the PR opportunity

So, the hard part’s done – you’ve landed an interview with a journalist. Now you just have to sit back and take it as it comes, right?

Wrong.

I don’t mean to alarm you (well, I sort of do!) but there are countless things that can go wrong on the big day:

–       the journalist could stump you with a hairy question;

–       something could happen in the outside world that negatively affects your business or the perception of your business (e.g. you own a paper business and on the day of the interview a report is released condemning Australians for using too much paper); or

–       you could turn up under the impression that the interview is pre-recorded, only to discover that it’s live with a vocal campaigner against your industry being interviewed alongside you.

These are just a few examples of things that can go wrong for a business owner or the leader of a charity or not-for-profit when being interviewed.

 

There are many things you can’t control in an interview. This makes controlling what you can all the more important.

 

Successful media interviews all come down to knowing as much as you can before the interview takes place. For this reason, if it’s possible, don’t do the interview on the spot. You want to give yourself a chance to prepare and have notes in front of you. Even if the journalist has a tight deadline and needs answers straight away, propose calling them back in 5 or 10 minutes.

So, what should you say when a journalist dials your digits?

Depending on the deadline and mood of the journalist, and the magnitude of the story (i.e. if they are planning to write a 3000 word feature article on yourself or if they just want a short quote to substantialise a news piece that’s already been written) here are some questions that should ask in your own words:

  1. “Where are you calling from
  2. “When is your deadline?”
  3. “When would you like to do the interview?”
  4. “What is the topic of the story and what aspects of my experience/business/expertise/story do you want to know about?”
  5. This question is best left to a PR professional who can decide if it should be asked, depending on the journalist and their request: “Is someone else also being interviewed for the piece?”
  6. “Is it live or pre-recorded (for radio or television)?”

 

If you’re lucky the journalist might give you an overview of questions they plan to ask, but this is very unlikely.

Finally, it’s important to let the journalist know in advance if there are issues that you don’t feel comfortable discussing and are not essential to the subject of the interview if you suspect they will be brought up. This is particularly relevant if you are talking about personal matters or confidential information, such as a triggering story about mental health, a legal matter currently before the courts, or details of an unreleased product. This could save you face on the day, and give you some control over what direction the interview goes in.

Once you have asked your questions and clarified any potential issues, you can arrange a time to do the interview rather than doing it on the spot. This gives you time and additional knowledge to thoroughly prepare for your interview. This can make or break your media interviews and determine if they will result in beneficial media coverage that you are proud to share (here’s how you can make the most of your positive media coverage).

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