Having a journalist interview arranged might strike fear into your very heart. Jeremy Paxman might be the stuff of nightmares. But most journalists are not Jeremy Paxman. A little planning can make the whole experience much more productive, worthwhile and even enjoyable.
Like all relationships, they are greatly improved if you understand each other’s point of view. When you are invited to talk to a journalist it will help if you know what they’re looking for. The points below are designed to make your journalist interviews more productive, worthwhile, and even enjoyable.
1. Treat journalists like clients.
Clients take priority in a business, and rightly so, and just as they are treated, so do journalists need to be. You care what clients think about you, it’s just as important that journalists have a good impression of you. This point is number one for a reason. If you read no further, then you’ve read the most important thing to remember.
2. Talk to a journalist as early as possible.
When a journalist offers a range of times to have a call with you, take the earliest opportunity. Those that talk to journalists first get more of a chance to direct the topic of conversation, and thus the topic of the feature. The more chance you have to do this, the more likely you are to get more quotes included.
3. Make a concrete time for a call and stick to it.
Journalists are busy people, and are likely to have a tight schedule of calls they need to make to prepare for a feature. Cancelling, changing, forgetting to make the call, are all frustrating for journalists. Once a time is made, then you really need to stick to it.
4. Reschedule promptly
Of course sometimes the unforeseen can happen, and we all understand that clients come first, a journalist call should not be rescheduled without very good reason. However, if there is a very good reason, then make sure you let the journalist know. Try and give them as much notice as possible. Provide alternative times that you can make. Make yourself available at the earliest opportunity for another call. If you really can’t make another time, do your best to find someone else that can make the call.
It’s good practice to prepare what you are going to say before you make your call. You’ve been chosen as a spokesperson because you are an expert in your area, so take confidence in that; chances are you know the subject inside out. But still, it helps to jot down the key points you want to make.
6. Be concise
In practice it is rare for a journalist to misquote a spokesperson. When people are misquoted it can be because they haven’t been concise, they’ve been wordy and over-explained their points; the more someone says, the less easy it is for the journalist to get the main points. It’s good practice to be concise. The clearer you are, the less likely you are to be misquoted.
7. You’re the expert
You are an expert in your field. A journalist is an expert in theirs. Don’t assume they’re experts in yours too. Explain your thinking clearly. If you’re worried about patronising them, ask them first if they’d like you to explain some of the key issues. Chances are they’ll be grateful to hear your take.
8. Follow up email
It can be really helpful to follow up a journalist call with an email detailing the important points you want to make – or that you’ve made on the call. This is excellent practice. During a call you’re relying on a journalist making lots of notes; sending them an email is really helpful for them. Do this promptly.
9. Junior journalists
Remember, today’s junior journalists are tomorrow’s editors. Treat all journalists equally. They have long memories, and those you help today will remember tomorrow.
10. Journalists on non-core titles
We all have titles that are more important to us than others. But if you get a request to help a journalist on a non-core title, do your best to help. Many will work for other titles concurrently as freelancers, and others will move between titles during their career. Helping all journalists is important relationship building.
11. Freedom of the press
We have a free press, this is a blessing. A journalist is not obliged to run their feature past you for your review before it’s published. Occasionally you may get to see your quotes, but don’t expect this. If you’re worried about being misquoted, then follow the above points to mitigate this risk.
12. Maximise the opportunity
Getting quoted in the press is a competitive business. Chances are that someone in your public relations (PR) team has worked hard to get you the opportunity. Take the opportunity and make the most of it. It may be tempting to not make a journalist call a priority, but remember that reputations can be built in the press. Those that appreciate the power of being quoted are the ones with the power. You can’t pick and choose when you want a relationship to work for you. If you want them to listen to your views when it’s important to you, you need to give them your time when it’s important to them.
The more interviews you have with journalists the better: the easier they become, the more you find your voice. Enjoy them. Of course, all journalists are different, all will have their different styles, take control and enjoy them.
14. You’re in charge
Remember you’re in charge, you don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to, and if you’re not sure of something you can always check your facts and get back to them – make sure you do if you say you will.
15. Have a point of view
A journalist will have a brief to write an article that people will want to read, that will inform their readers, and give them something to read they haven’t read before. Keep this in mind when you talk to them. They want to hear something different, they want a point of view. You’ve got to your position in your industry and have been chosen as a spokesperson for a reason. You have a point of view, and you need to communicate it. Yes it needs to be in line with your company thinking, but chances are you won’t have been put forward to talk to the press if you were a loose cannon. If you’re unsure if you can say something, check with your MD first, but then be confident to give your point of view with gusto.
Conversely, sometimes you may be asked to talk about a topic where you feel everyone will have the same point of view. Don’t feel this is a reason not to give an interview. Don’t make assumptions about what others will say; think about what’s important about the topic – it may help if you consider how you’d explain the key points to a prospective client – and make these points in your call.
Whether you’re working with the financial services press, employee benefits, healthcare, health & safety, group risk, industry or trade, the rules are the same. This isn’t exhaustive, but I hope this helps you make the most of journalist interviews.
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