It’s all in the prep work: tips for successful media interviews
Offering and securing media interviews is a great way to achieve news coverage that helps tell your client’s or organization’s story. However, a lot of careful planning and preparation is needed to ensure a positive result. Today, I’m sharing some best practices for getting media interviews and preparing for those conversations.
Make sure it’s newsworthy
First and foremost, you want to be sure the conversation you’re offering will be of interest to the media. Journalists typically receive hundreds of emails a day, many of them pitches or releases. If you can tailor your pitch to the types of things journalists look for, you can increase the chances of getting a response.
Consider whether your story has the following qualities: timeliness, proximity, significance, human interest, novelty and prominence. Is it about something happening soon or something that recently happened? Is it a local story or is there a local angle you can offer? Does the news impact a lot of people? Does it have a strong emotional appeal? Is it new and innovative or even a bit unusual? Does it involve a prominent figure in an industry or the area?
If you said yes to at least one or two of the above criteria, chances are the media will be interested.
Tailor your pitch to target media
Once you’ve identified a compelling story, you’ll want to target the right media contacts. For some stories, general news assignment editors will appreciate receiving the information. They’ll share it with the rest of the news team or specific producers. You may have better luck securing an interview opportunity by pitching the story to individual reporters who have covered similar topics.
Some reporters have specific beats, or industries, they cover. Unless you have software that pulls media lists and background information for you, you’ll need to search for the right contacts in other ways. Sometimes, it’s as simple as reading staff bios to learn a reporter’s beat(s). Other times, you’ll want to take a look through recent stories they’ve authored. You can even review their recent tweets to see what topics they’re talking about frequently.
Having established relationships and familiarity with the media is helpful when pitching. But hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere! If you’re newer in your career, don’t be afraid to tap your coworkers for suggestions. Meanwhile, start building relationships by introducing yourself to journalists. Make an effort to connect with them on social media and in person.
Be prepared to coordinate quickly
Journalists move quickly, so when you get a positive response, you’re going to want to move fast. One simple way you can prepare is by getting your interviewee’s general availability in advance. This limits the amount of back and forth emailing and calling trying to lock in an interview date and time.
Be ready to also confirm interview details with the news outlet early on to avoid misunderstandings. Media interviews can be on camera in a studio or on-site at an event. More often than not, they’re over Zoom these days. Sometimes, they’re simply over the phone.
It’s important to know: how the interview will be conducted, whether it will be live vs. taped, the expected length/duration and the desired log-in or arrival time.
Set up the interviewee for success
While it’s not best practice to request questions from reporters in advance, it’s fair to ask for more information about what topics they want to explore in order to help your interviewee prepare. Offering those details, in addition to background information on the reporter and their interviewing style, can help your interviewee feel more comfortable going into the conversation.
In some situations, a news producer may invite you to offer question suggestions for the anchors. Be sure the interviewee is comfortable with question suggestions before submitting them – it might be helpful to assist with some answers, too. Remind the interviewee the questions are suggestions, not a guaranteed script anchors will follow.
Other ways you can help prepare before an interview is to provide short talking points they can reference. These can include quick facts that cover who, what, when, where, why and how. Highlight the website and/or phone number you want people to use to find more information. Often, that is the last question asked, and it’s helpful to have that info right in front of the interviewee to ensure a quick and accurate response. You can also brainstorm potential questions that are likely to be asked and even offer to do a mock interview with them.
Taking these extra steps will add some time into your media relations efforts, but the additional planning and prep work are worthwhile to ensure all goes smoothly.