1. Know what you want to say. It seems obvious, but first timers and public relations pros alike should never sit down for a media interview without planning out their key messages ahead of time. Writing your key messages down will allow you to refine and memorize them before your interviewer asks the first question.
2. Stay on your key messages. Don’t pass up any possible chances to reiterate your main points. Slip your key messages into the beginning of the interview, and again at the end.
3. Expect the unexpected. Any interviewer might surprise you with an uncomfortable or difficult question. Try to plan for these potential tough questions ahead of time.
4. Don’t lie. Again, this may seem obvious, but the worst possible outcome for any media interview is to get caught in a lie. You’re trying to get positive publicity, so be careful not to twist or “massage” the truth too much.
5. Answer every question, even the tough ones. If you’re unable to provide an interviewer with an adequate response to a given question — due to potential legal, ethical, or financial ramifications — tell them the reason you’re unable to do so. Even a non-answer looks better when you’re honest about it. The words “no comment” shouldn’t be part of a public relations pro’s media interview vocabulary.
6. There are no “off-the-record” responses. When you sit down with a reporter, you should presume that everything out of your mouth will potentially make it into the final interview. Even if you tell the interviewer that some information is off-limits up front, don’t be surprised later when you suddenly read your supposedly off-the-record answer in print.
7. Be succinct. A writer only has so much space to devote to your interview; even in a magazine or book, they’re working with small word counts dictated by an editor. Keeping your answers succinct means that you won’t eventually find your key messages edited out—or worse, find yourself misquoted.
8. It’s okay to not know the answer. A firm “I don’t know” is a much better response than wasting a reporter’s time trying to explain a concept you don’t understand. But be sure and tell your interviewer that you’ll get back to them with a more detailed response as soon as possible, if you can.
9. Engage in a dialogue. Your keys messages are important, but will lose their effectiveness if the writer thinks you’re trying to push an agenda. Treat a media interview like what it is — a conversation between two people.
10. Remain calm and cordial. Even if it seems like the interviewer is trying to bait you into an argument, you’ll always lose when arguing with someone who has control of the final product. Staying collected and on-point will get you through a tough interview better than a blow-up.
11. Be firm. If an interviewer is misrepresenting you or your company, tell them. Likewise, if you disagree with the premise of a question, be sure that disagreement is on the record. Remember that a non-response can always been taken as a tacit agreement.
12. If there’s a pause, relax. Many people fumble during a media interview because they attempt to fill dead spaces in the conversation with small talk. And that seemingly innocuous chit-chat that might reveal something you don’t want on the record, personally or professionally.
13. Remember that it’s your interview. If an interviewer springs a question about a colleague, customer, or competing company, gently but firmly suggest the reporter set up an interview with the party in question.
14. Beware of speculation. Offering your opinion on something that MIGHT happen is a good way to wind up with egg on your face. If asked a “what if” type question, demure.
And remember that a media interview means the reporter is looking for your opinion. Prepare ahead of time by studying these tips, treat the opportunity responsibly, and even the toughest media interview should be a snap.
This article, written by Neal Linkon, 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/.