Understanding the media
Effective media releases
Preparing the newsmaker
PR tool kit
Module 5: Preparing for media
Keep in mind the medium;
newspaper reporters will approach your story different
than broadcast reporters. But be assured they will all
ask the same sorts of questions: who, what, where, when,
why, how. Most important is to ask yourself hard
questions before the reporter arrives what do you
least want to answer? Be prepared for it.
Ten steps to successfully managing
the interview with a reporter.
- Understand why the reporter is there. Is
it to find the hidden story or simply
get more information than was in the press
release? Reporters are like the publications they
write for. If its a muckraker or gossipy
publication, have your public relations counsel
or attorney present at all times. But if a
reporter is coming at your invitation or
following up on a media release, its likely
he or she is looking for interesting angles to
write about not attempting to dig up
- Understand the basic truth about most
reporters: theyre overworked,
underpaid, and usually facing a deadline they
dont know how theyre going to meet.
To be on their good side, dont
push them. Give them as much information as you
can. Provide your home phone number in case they
want to ask you a follow-up question as
theyre writing the story. Often, even
though they may ask good questions, they
dont really understand what theyre
writing about. Find out what they know coming
into the interview and build their base of
knowledge from there. They cant be instant
experts on everything, and chances are
theyll have done little research on your
business or topic before the interview starts.
- Understand the limitations of journalists.
For example, they cannot show you the article
before it goes to press. They may include
interviews with your competitors in the same
article. And they often dont know when the
article will appear. Theyre typically too
busy to send you clippings of the article after
it is printed.
- Sometimes you will be asked a question you
dont want to answer. Its okay to
tell them you dont want to provide that
information. For example: How much profit
did you make last year? or How many
customers do you have? may not be public
information. Instead, stop the interviewer when
one of those questions is asked and firmly tell
the reporter that the information is private and
will not be provided.
- Mistakes occur. Reporters are human.
Something you said will likely show up in the
article wrong. Maybe the reporter wrote it
correctly and an editor changed it.
- Anticipate reporters questions and have
materials ready. The reporter probably has a
fixed time for the interview and then must go.
Brainstorm the kinds of questions a reporter is
likely to ask ahead of time. Remember the basic
formula for a reporters questions: Who,
What, When, Where, Why, and How. If
youve got your papers or other resources
ready, youll be able to respond quickly.
- Tell everyone who should know ahead of time
that a reporter is coming. To see your
business the way the reporter will, walk through
your office or business space as though you were
there for the first time. Is everything neat?
Organized? Are people dressed appropriately? In
most small businesses, reporters seldom come
so its understandable that your
employees may have questions or concerns.
- Understand journalistic ethics. Lying is
not acceptable. Reporters feel a responsibility
to their readers and you cannot provide false
information to them.
- Get the reporters name, address,
telephone and fax numbers most will
usually be on their business card. You may find
information after the interview to send along or
fax. At the very least, you want to write the
reporter a thank you note immediately
after the interview. Dont wait until the
article is printed thats time for a
- Dont expect too much from the interview.
After your preparation, you may feel let down
when the hour is past. And the article may not be
perfect. Understand that publicity creates more
publicity, and that future articles can spring
from previous ones. Publicity is powerful, but
you cannot always control it. If you want total
control, buy an ad. Publicity is not free
advertising its more for the
readers benefit than yours. But handled
well, it can be a powerful way for more people to
learn about you and your business.
Heres something I tell
clients when theyre about to be interviewed.
Its named the Rather Rule after Dan
Rather, a US network news anchor, who reportedly laid the
There are only three legitimate answers
to a reporters question:
1) Yes, I know the answer and here it is.
2) No, I dont know the answer but Ill try
to find out.
3) Yes, I do know the answer, but I cant tell
Inevitably, some stories will contain inaccuracies;
some may be minor, others major. Sometimes a Letter
to the Editor will be the best remedy. At other
times, direct contact with a reporter or editor is called
for. Informing the media of errors will help the
publication correct the mistakes for its readers and to
avoid such errors in the future. Even if you are not
successful in getting a correction printed, you have at
least gone on record as trying to establish the facts.
Special tips for broadcast
- Broadcast interviews are short. Know this and use
it. Choose one or two key ideas to work into the
interview. These are your communication
objectives. The burden rests completely on you to
- Anticipate key questions. Prepare by writing your
answers to worst case issues. If such a question
is asked, answer it simply and directly. Rehearse
a potential interview out loud, several times if
necessary. It is a good idea to ask someone to
question you in a strenuous practice.
- A good way to sound lively and interesting:
pretend you just called your best friend with
important news, saying hey guess
- Find out in advance as much about the
interviews format as possible. Will it be
taped or live? How long will you need to talk?
Will you be speaking alone, or will there be
someone else with an opposing view? Can you bring
visuals? Is the reporter or host out to get you
for some reason?
- One key to your success is to manage the
interview. Listen intelligently to the questions.
Be alert to the direction the reporter is
heading. Turn negatives into positives. Answer a
slanted question briefly and honestly, then go on
to make the question work for you by expanding on
good points. "Yes, thats correct. But
Id also like to point out that ..."
Take your time. Think before answering.
- Dont look at the camera. Instead, look the
interviewer in the eye. Pretend you are simply
having a dialogue in a living room. You will
appear more relaxed and credible.
You may meet some hostile interviewers like these:
- Machine Gunners fire several questions at
once. Choose one question in the barrage that you
feel most comfortable answering. Or say,
Bill, youve asked me three questions.
Which one do you want me to answer first?
- Interrupters can either be ignored while
you continue talking, or be acknowledged but
asked to let you finish your statement.
- Paraphrasers who inaccurately summarize
your points can be corrected by saying,
Im sorry, let me say it again
clearly. Interrupt if necessary.
- Dart Throwers must be challenged directly.
They throw out barbs within their questions.
Question: Why did your company, like some
heartless robber baron, fire 100 workers?
Response: Before I answer you, I must take
exception to your characterization ...
Here are three mistakes people often make in
interviews with reporters:
1. Treating the interview as a conversation,
2. Overloading the system, and
3. Merely answering questions.
- News interviews are not conversations.
- Interviews are about content; information is the
goal, not rapport and friendship.
- Dont overload the system by
talking too much or by using jargon.
- Talking too much leaves your part of the story to
chance like giving a reporter a thousand
words and daring her to find the most telling
- Take the initiative.
- Dont wait for the interviewer to get around
to asking the right questions.
- Act like the expert: Bring up things you think
are important or interesting.
* * *
If media get your story at least
half right, count your blessings, and send them a thank
Module 6: Crisis management: what to do
in a PR emergency.