Whether you’re at a major PR firm or the one-person communications team for a small nonprofit, one of the biggest responsibilities communications professionals hold is helping their clients through the interview process. Unfortunately, there’s no playbook of best practices to turn to in the middle of a disastrous interaction with a reporter, but after 30 years I’ve picked up a few tried and true tricks. Here are my top five tips for supporting your client, avoiding calamity, and adding value to any interview.
After you’ve secured the interview, make sure you set your client up for success early by composing a set of talking points tailored to each specific interview. Send these to your spokesperson well ahead of the interview so they can review and get comfortable with the content before they meet the reporter. This will help your spokesperson order their thoughts and give them the support they need to feel confident making claims and backing them up with pre-prepared details, examples, and statistics.
2. Reach out to the reporter directly
Even if the interview request didn’t come directly through your office, reach out to the reporter ahead of time and ask for a list of questions. Are they already working on a story or are they looking for a specific angle? This strategy is good for you and the reporter. Knowing the reporter’s needs/interests ahead of time allows you to better prepare your spokesperson and you can help the reporter by assembling any extra data, fact sheets, or visuals that might help them understand your organization and it’s approach.
3. Be an active listener
Be attentive to the reporter’s questions throughout the interview. What are they really asking? You want to identify and debunk any biases the reporter might have against your organization or your approach. Step in when you see the reporter making a mistake. Have they misconstrued your spokesperson’s comment? Interject a clarifying point. Has the reporter misunderstood your organizations approach? Provide a complete explanation so they leave really understanding your organization’s approach, its mission, and its stance.
4. Listen to your client
Note when your spokesperson makes a great point or expresses their opinion clearly and write it down to use in the future. Also notice where your client might be stumbling or having trouble. You can work together in a post-interview debrief to refine those points and ensure that your spokesperson can masterfully explain any part of their organization, approach, or work in the future.
5. Take control
Earned media is a great way to get coverage and boost visibility but it also poses an inherent risk: you can’t control what the reporter writes. To maximize the chance that you’ll get the coverage you want, take control early and make sure you mediate all communications (emails, phone calls, etc.) between the reporter and your organization. This means that you’ll know exactly what your spokesperson has said and can intervene if they misspeak. It also gives you another chance to identify and knock down the reporter’s biases.