One of the joys of writing PR Fuel is that it helps me think through my own public relations failings. By putting ideas down on paper — OK, a computer screen — I’ve helped improve my own public relations skills immensely. That’s part of why I’ve come up with a set of rules for dealing with reporters during phone interviews. Hopefully, I can follow them.
1. Speak Slowly
Unfortunately, journalists are not stenographers and they sometimes have a hard time keeping up with phone interviews. When speaking to a reporter, act as if you are leaving an important voicemail message for someone to ensure what you say is accurately reflected.
After you’ve said a mouthful, take a few moments to breathe and let the reporter catch up with what you have said. A moment of silence can be golden for a reporter who is desperately trying to type or write down the pearl of wisdom that has just left your mouth.
3. Be Kind, Rewind
Don’t be shy about repeating something you just said for emphasis. Again, this ensures the accuracy of your comments. It also helps the reporter remember your key messages.
4. Explain, Explain, Explain
Some reporters, especially young reporters, are wary about asking their sources or interview subjects to explain something. Sometimes, however, you can tell that the reporter just does not have a clue what you are talking about. If you feel this is the case, let the reporter know that you are willing to walk him or her through the material you just covered.
5. On Point
Stay on message because otherwise you will confuse the journalist. I am the King of Tangents, which can be problematic because those tangents tend to swing back to the subject at hand. This then leads the journalist to believe that everything I’ve just said was material to conversation. As a result, some of my tangential comments end up in stories and seem out of place.
6. Understand the Reporter’s Capacity
Not all people or reporters are created equal. Don’t over-complicate matters by giving a reporter too much information. Use layman’s terminology as much as possible and don’t tax the reporter’s brain.
7. Confirm What the Reporter Is Saying
My biggest fear is that a reporter will give me bad information. If a reporter calls you and runs some information by you, make sure that you can confirm it. Obviously some stories will be about speculation. If that’s the case, there’s nothing wrong with offering an opinion. However, if a reporter calls and says, “the President called you a skunk,” make sure that the President really did call you names.
8. Keep it to Yourself
I make a lot of off-the-record comments that are basically asides. More and more, these off-the-record comments are ending up in stories, though typically not as direct quotes. I’m staying on-the-record from now on, and keeping my off-the-record comments to myself. There’s no reason to go off-the-record unless the information you’re giving is absolutely necessary.
9. Steer the Conversation
The nice thing about being interviewed is that you are the party giving up the information. As such, you can steer the conversation in direction most beneficial to yourself, your client, or your company. Don’t be afraid to do this, particularly if you think the reporter is taking a lame tack. Reporters are often looking for new directions for a story, especially if it’s a piece their editors dumped on them and they didn’t want to pursue in the first place.
10. End on a High Note
The last thing you say to a reporter is often the most important thing, so end the call by saying something smart and quotable — even if you’re just repeating one of your key messages. When reporters get ready to plug your comments into a story, the last note they’ve taken is going to be fresh in their mind.
These days, most contact between the media and public relations contacts takes place over the phone. Hopefully these simple rules can help you refine your skills for future phone interviews, and keep you from being misquoted, while coming off witty and intelligent.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.