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How to Give a Great Print Media Interview

Author: Marsha Friedman
January, 2013 Issue

Sometimes I cringe when I hear people talk about “the media.” It sounds as if everyone in TV, radio, print and online press is a member of one fraternity that thinks and acts the same. In reality, there’s a vast gulf between the daily life of a print journalist and a radio show host. And there are many differences between radio hosts and TV producers. They really shouldn’t be treated the same. That’s why I’ve compiled interview tips for working with print and online journalists. Here are the first five.
Be responsive. In TV and radio, interview times are prearranged. However, print and online journalists typically have daily and weekly deadlines. When they call you, they need you right then! In many cases, journalists will reach out to several experts on a news item and then choose the one who’s the better interview or whomever responded quickest (or a combination of the two). The more reliably you respond, the more likely they are to call on you again.
It’s not about you. Most journalists aren’t interested in you but rather in the expert commentary you can provide. The more you use the words “I” and “my,” the less likely they’ll use you as a source. When speaking to a reporter, keep in mind you’re speaking to their audience, so keeping your remarks centered on what their audience cares about guarantees you’ll be quoted early and often.
Read before you talk. If you get a call from a publication, take five minutes to go online and read a few of its stories. Look for the tone and approach and match it. Also look for articles that were written on your topic, so you can avoid duplicating what someone else has said. Finally, read articles written by the journalist you’ll be speaking with. There’s no better way to prepare for a print or online interview than to read the writings of the reporter interviewing you. You can discover his or her focus, audience and philosophy. The reporter can tell if you’ve read his or her articles through your comments and will respect you for having made the effort to prepare.
Don’t empty your notebook. Beat reporters—journalists who cover a particular topic or industry—tend to be experts in that field from their time covering it for their respective publications. They don’t need, nor do they want, your soup-to-nuts take on that topic. They usually need only a few quotes and opinions to round out their stories. Answer direct questions with direct answers, and get to the point quickly. There’s no need to tell the reporter everything you know (emptying your notebook of all your collected knowledge) to have a good interview. Letting an interview devolve into you talking about your total philosophy on a particular topic or business will result in your interview landing in the discard pile. And the reporter will likely seek a comment from your competitor instead.
Be professional. Reporters don’t call you to talk about the weather, last night’s TV or your kids. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve come across people who think a little friendly chit-chat can “grease the wheels.” If they engage you, that’s one thing. It’s entirely another if you waste their time with unwanted “schmoozing.” Most have deadlines to meet and their time is valuable. Many outlets are working with significantly smaller writing staff than a year ago. Respect their time and they’ll respect you.
If you follow this advice, you’ll discover interviewers will respond better to you, use more of the interview in their articles and maybe even call you back for more quotes when they work on other stories. Ultimately, these tips will help you be prepared so that when your name is mentioned in the media, readers will know they’re getting advice from someone who truly knows what he or she is talking about.
Marsha Friedman is a 21-year veteran of the public relations industry and a sought after national public speaker on the power of publicity. She’s founder and CEO of EMSI Public Relations and author of Celebritize Yourself: The 3-Step Method to Increase Your Visibility and Explode Your Business.


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