Public Relations Basics: Preparing for a Media Interview

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Recently, I was transcribing a very casual media interview; it was an amiable chat, even when the questions got tough. Listening to the tape, I was struck by my constant “um’s” and “ah’s.” I came to the interview well-prepared, and I still sometimes sounded as if I didn’t know what I was talking about. There are many potential mistakes even a seasoned public relations consultant can make during the most relaxed media interview. Your responses can be too rapid. You can’t forget to take the time to actually listen to the question, collect your thoughts, and then present them coherently. To help, I put together this checklist for public relations consultants preparing for a media interview. Study it before a face-to-face meeting or keep it tacked up by your phone.

1. Be Prepared

You may think you know the subject well, but a little study beforehand can never hurt. More often than not, the publicity we get isn’t about us directly, but about a general subject, trend, or preexisting news story. Some independent research ahead of time never hurts.

2. I Don’t Know

Don’t talk about things you don’t know about. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not familiar with that.” In the end, admitting you don’t know an answer is better than going on-the-record with something that is inaccurate or poorly thought out.

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3. Take Your Time

Television and radio are not relaxed mediums, but with the print media it’s easy to take your time. A 10 second pause to gather your thoughts won’t hurt anyone, even journalists on the tightest deadline. With TV and radio, transitional phrases or thoughts will help kill some time. You’ll have to multi-task by throwing out some B.S. while coming up with your next insight. With TV and radio appearances, it’s essential that you do some prep work, which can be the difference between sounding like a genius and an idiot.

4. Listen

Listen to the actual question before you answer. You may think you know what’s going to be asked, but one word can change the entire meaning of a question.

5. Don’t Get Something Stuck In Your Head

We all go into interviews with some idea of what we want to say and how we want to say it. We sometimes get catch-phrases or sound bites stuck in our head and then we look for the perfect opportunity to use them. Unless we know the questions ahead of time, it’s doubtful we’ll be able to use these sound bites effectively. Let the interview flow naturally and something insightful is sure to come out.

6. Keep Off-Topic Conversation to a Minimum

Some friendly banter during the course of an interview eases nerves and create a comfortable atmosphere, but save chitchat for after the interview.

7. Ask for Clarification

Don’t be afraid to ask a reporter to clarify a question.

8. Use Silence to Your Advantage

If your media interview isn’t going as you expected, use a little silence to make your feelings known. Sometimes the reporter will drop a subject and move on. Silence is a great tool during a media interview; it shows the reporter that you’re not willing to answer a question that you don’t want to answer.

9. Keep it Simple

If you’re being interviewed by the mass media or for a consumer publication, keep your ideas simple. Interviewers often want subjects to “dumb down” what they’re saying. What makes it easier on the reader is if the person being interviewed — many times an expert — can come up with a way to explain technical terms and jargon in way that’s comprehensible to the layperson.

10. Keep the Hype to a Minimum

As noted above, the majority of the press your company or client receives will actually be part of a story about a related subject. Remember that a journalist’s job is to serve the reader, not a public relations department. Before the interview, tell yourself that you’ve already got the publicity and now it’s up to you decide whether or not you come off as brilliant and helpful or as a big windbag full of hype.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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