Talk to journalists

How to talk to journalists: a guide to a successful interview

You’ve done it. Your company has caught the attention of a journalist and your PR team has secured you an interview. When used wisely, talking to journalists conveys expertise and demonstrates positive attributes about the kind of company you are. However, speaking to journalists requires a different language than you’d use in a sales pitch or general marketing material.

Here are five key pieces of advice about speaking to journalists that you need to remember ahead of your interview.

Have your story ready

Journalists usually work on multiple stories on any given day, so probably won’t have time to thoroughly research you or your company. The first thing they are likely to ask you is to introduce yourself and your business, so be ready to do this concisely and impactfully. Refer to assets such as your key messages, mission, vision and one-liner.

However, it’s not just your own story and facts you need to know. Before the interview, make sure that you are up-to-date with your industry’s latest developments, whether technological, economic or legislative.

Think about what the journalist is actually interested in

Journalists have limited time, so make the most of it. Remember that an interview is not a marketing promotion, so think about the value you can bring to them and their article first and foremost.

Whoever is in charge of your PR and communications activities should prepare you ahead of the interview. This briefing should provide you with key information about the journalist, as well as the topics they’ll want to discuss.

Think of an interview as completing a jigsaw puzzle. The journalist already has parts of it figured out, with your role being to provide the pieces they’ll need to complete it. It can be new information about a topic, impactful statistics, unique insights or even a controversial opinion they haven’t heard yet.

Furthermore, have hooks ready that will inspire follow-up questions and stir the conversation in a favourable direction. But most importantly, keep in mind that although a journalist won’t want to trick you, they don’t want to be a promotional outlet either.

Be understandable

As previously mentioned, your team should have provided you with a journalist brief ahead of the interview, so you can get an idea of the extent of their knowledge on your industry and topics they’ll want to discuss.

If you don’t have this document ready, or if you’re unsure, assume that the journalist knows nothing. Do not mention something technical without asking if they want it explaining first. They will be honest and tell you what they do and do not know.

Answer questions as helpfully as you can while remaining short and concise. It’s easier to speak in three easy main clauses than one long sentence with sub-clauses. It will also help you stay focused and avoid going off on a tangent or down a road you didn’t mean.

Present yourself under your best light

The most important thing to remember is that an interview is never just a conversation, no matter how informal the setting or conversation topic. Take a deep breath and organise your thoughts before providing answers. While being yourself will be one of your strongest assets, you should also keep in mind a couple of things.

You can be bold and ambitious, but do not oversell your company or technology. An experienced journalist will detect this from a mile away and it could lead to follow-up questions you are not ready to answer.

As more and more interviews happen online, first impressions are becoming even more essential. If you are meeting face-to-face or on camera, this means dressing up in clothes you are happy for you and your company to be represented in and paying attention to your body language. The journalist isn’t trying to trick you, so don’t be defensive. You know your facts and what you want to talk about: relax and trust yourself.

Finally, do not make boastful remarks about your competitors, as well as current or potential customers. Remember that working in cleantech means that we all have the same end goal in mind and we are all on the same team.  

… and know when not to overshare

One simple yet crucial thing to remember: if you don’t want to answer a question about your company, then you do not have to. Be aware of what is on or off-the-record as this varies culturally.

In the UK nothing is off-the-record, so it’s best to be cautious and not disclose sensitive information you do not want to be used later on by the journalist. However, in Germany there are quite strict yet informal rules about off-the-record conversations, so it might be beneficial to occasionally say things off-the-record.

You know which questions can be sensitive to your company, as they probably arise quite often. Those in charge of your PR should have an FAQ ready for you to prepare a statement in advance that you feel comfortable using.

Before you go into this interview, know your projects’ current state, plus make sure that your customers are happy for you to discuss your relationship with them in the public domain. You can also ask the journalist if they’d like to speak to your customers. This is particularly helpful as it will give your company strong references and further amplify your key messages.

Finally, don’t assume that you will have the right to edit or change your quotes after the interview has taken place and before its publication, so don’t say something you think could cause a problem further down the line. Reviewing quotes is a journalist’s prerogative.

One final piece of advice: manage your expectations. Parts of your interview may not be used, it may end up just being a paragraph in a larger article, or the interview may never be published at all. It’s essential to manage your expectations and keep in mind that one of the most important aspects of being interviewed is helping build and nurture a relationship with the journalist to benefit your company in the future.

I hope this will help you feel more confident about talking to journalists. If you need help with your PR activities, email me at jan@lifesizemedia.com.  We specialise in building strategic campaigns that deliver powerful results and will help you achieve your commercial goals.

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