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Secrets of the Media Savvy: Best Tips for Media Interviews

By: Tom Wadsworth , Wadsworth Communications Incorporated
Source: Center Collection
Published: April 2005

Tom Wadsworth, of Wadsworth Communications, guides you through a media interview.  His tips walk you through preparation, the conducting of the interview itself, important follow-up, and even words of caution.

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SECRETS of the Media Savvy
Best Tips for Media Interviews

Your Goals Throughout
1. Tell the "best possible truth."
2. Develop a relationship with the reporter.
3. Help them get the story right.
4. Take the best advantage of this opportunity for free publicity.

INSTEAD of an Interview, You Could
1. Hold a press conference for all media.
2. Interview with a competing reporter (if the requesting reporter is not trustworthy).
3. Produce the interview yourself (in transcript form, audiotape, or videotape).
4. Submit a printed statement. (This is better than 'No comment,' but not preferred.)
5. ("No comment" is not an option.)

BEFORE the Interview
1. When they call, get their phone, cell, fax, and e-mail (for quick contact later).
2. Ask: "What's your deadline?"
3. Ask: "What do you need from me?"
4. Ask: "Who have you talked to so far?"
5. Ask: "Just so I don't give you old news, what information do you already have?"
6. Ask them to give you a few minutes, and promise to call them back within the hour.
7. You can try to negotiate ground rules for the interview; e.g. when the interview will occur, where, who will be interviewed, the length of the interview, the questions to be asked or not asked, who will do the interviewing, etc. They want information; you can use that as a bartering chip.
8. Determine the best person to respond. (The bigger the issue, the higher-up the ladder.) This is a business decision, not an ego decision.
9. Craft your Bullet Message, your sound bite (e.g., less than 10 seconds and 26 words for broadcast; less than 17 words for print). (See "A Good Sound Bite" below.)
10. Craft a sub-bullet statement that offers "proof" for your Bullet Message.

DURING the Interview
1. Provide refreshments for their crew. (I’m not kidding.)
2. Produce your own recording of the interview (audio or video) for verification purposes.
3. Relax. Breathe deeply.
4. Tone it down. Consciously use a softer tone than interviewer's tone. Respond with grace and intelligence to harsh questions or accusations.
5. "Bridge" to your Bullet Message. After briefly answering their question, say, "… but what I want to emphasize is …" or "… but here's the key point …"
6. Answer the question, and then stop. Dead air is their problem.
7. Be likeable, human, and compassionate.
8. If people have been hurt, your comments must demonstrate your compassion for humans more than your concern for the corporation.
9. Speak as one who identifies with the public interest. E.g., "We want to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible." "We want to make sure this never happens again." "Safety is our major concern."
10. Don't use jargon. Talk so that your grandmother can understand.

After the Interview
1. Immediately ask: "What did I say that you're likely to use?"
2. Immediately ask: "What do you think are the negative points of the story?" and respond before they leave.
3. Immediately give/fax them a single-page fact sheet with correct spelling and pronunciation of all standard company information such as key names, brief description of your product line, plant locations, important dates, statistics (number of employees, dealers, countries, annual sales), etc.
4. Quickly fax/E-mail supporting documents as required.
5. Before their deadline, call the reporter to see if they have any questions and to reiterate key points.
6. E-mail or fax your key points to the reporter.
7. After it's published/broadcast, call and thank them for their accuracy.
8. Be prepared for damage control options, e.g.,
a. Talk to competing media with the true story.
b. Quickly send a "Letter to the Editor" (for print media).
c. Quickly communicate through paid media (media ads, direct mail, etc.)
d. If the coverage was blatantly inaccurate, damaging, or unfair, complain calmly to the reporter first, and if needed, to the reporter's supervisor.

A Good Sound Bite...
1. Identifies with the public interest, i.e., states something with which the public would surely agree.
2. Mentions your company's name. "Here at (company), we..."
3. Tells the "best possible truth."
4. Conveys a positive message (see Caution #1 - #3 below).
5. Offers a measure of proof.
6. Can be said in less than 15 seconds.
7. Offers an enlightening comparison.
8. Entertains; paints a picture.
9. Captures the point in a memorable nutshell.
10. Uses strong nouns and active verbs.

1. Don't repeat incriminating allegations. E.g., Nixon: "I am not a crook."
2. Respond positively to negative questions. E.g., "I suppose we all have our critics, but here are the facts..."
3. Don't give credence to anonymous accusations, e.g., Reporter: "Others are saying … What's your reaction to that?" Respond: "Let me give you the facts..."
4. Don't lie. Ever.
5. If you make a mistake or speak an untruth, correct it quickly. Don't defend it.
6. Don't offer an answer when you don't know one. Say, "I don't know the answer to that, but I'll try to get an answer for you within the hour (or by tomorrow)."
7. Don't admit guilt. Say, "We, of course, want to get all the facts and conduct a thorough investigation," or "Our first concern is for the people involved," or "We want to make sure this doesn't happen again."
8. Avoid being harshly critical. "When you throw mud, you only lose ground."

© 2005 Wadsworth Communications  1-866-TW-SPEAK

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