How to handle a media interview

The press and broadcasting media can offer great opportunities to publicise a positive aspect of your organisation. They can also cause problems and create embarrassment when they find that something has gone wrong. These are the two sides of the media coin - and you must be prepared for both. So you could find yourself talking to journalists when you send out a press release and the media respond to it, or when the media themselves have nosed out a story about your company. Are you prepared to cope with such interviews? The following suggestions will help...

1. Know the medium.

When providing an interview for any medium, it's important to know its peculiarities. Newspapers cover stories in greater depth, need more backgound material, and seek human-interest items with local angles. Television newsrooms rarely send crews on good-news stories without first making an appointment; but they can disconcertingly arrive unannounced when something more sensational breaks. Television is an immediate visual medium. Radio news does not have the visual impact of television but commands a larger audience. Radio interviews take various forms - a notebook interview (information sought for a story to be read on air), tape-recorded (for replay later), or talkback (live to air).

2. Be clear about the purpose of the interview.

When invited to be interviewed, ask about the context - What is the issue? Why ask me? - and about the format. Will the interview be live or recorded? For news or for a magazine feature or program? Studio-based or on the run? If time permits, study the style of the interviewer. Is it likely to be a relaxed, entertaining, or difficult session? What will be its duration? Know what you are letting yourself in for so that you can prepare adequately.

3. Do your homework.

Preparation is the key to performing well. Never go into an interview without thinking about what you might say. If necessary, tell a radio interviewer that you'll ring back in ten minutes; or ask a TV journalist for a few moments to think the issue through before the camera rolls. Focus on three or four main points and how you intend to make them simply and clearly. Check your facts and figures: it's too late after the event.

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