Thursday, July 2, 2009

Top 10 tips on how to ace a media interview

By Lori Kittelberg, inside douglas editor

I was recently at the College Media Conference in Baltimore, home of the Orioles. A big part of this conference – attended by people working in communications, public and external relations at post secondary schools across the US, along with little ol’ me – was dedicated to promoting your faculty, administration and employees to the media. We have a lot of resident experts here at Douglas.

As the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics approach, there’s a chance I’ll be knocking on your door, calling, emailing, tweeting or facebooking you to see if you’re willing to talk to a reporter. This is a great way to promote your program and the College. Here are some tips on how to make sure you make the most of your time with a reporter.

1. Be available! Reporters have deadlines. If you can’t fit their schedule, they will call the next person on their list, no matter how terrific your bio.

2. If returning a call to a reporter, ask if they are currently on deadline – i.e. “Is this is good time to chat?”

3. Practice your answers, ideally with someone in CMO. Though we probably won’t know word-for-word each question you will be asked, we’ll have a pretty darn good idea and can prepare you accordingly. This is especially important for TV interviews. Whatever the medium, you will be expected to be concise and informative.

4. Know the audience you’ll be reaching. If you’re talking to a community paper or station, keep your focus local. If it’s a national or international audience, form your answers accordingly.

5. Don't blow off a pre-interview, a standard practice in TV news where a reporter or producer does a practice interview with you. Pre-interviews are often used to weed out iffy experts. Treat it accordingly.

6. Never, ever speak with a reporter off the record. This includes giving a reporter a really juicy quote and finishing with “but don’t publish that!” Frankly, off-the-record conversations do not exist. I should know. I used to be a reporter.

7. Be aware of breaking news – for example, if you’re a political scientist and you’ve been asked to do an interview about the latest Conservative ad campaign, it’s good to know what else is going on in the world, such as the post-election situation in Iran. You could be asked about it!

8. Don’t ask to see the story before it goes to print or airs. It’s not going to happen. Working with me on a story for the blog or a media release is an entirely different ball of wax. I’m trying to promote you and the College, so I have a vested interest in ensuring you’re happy. A reporter wants a great story, on time, period.

9. Know what profs at other institutions are doing. Not only does this make it easier for you to plug your unique expertise, but it also allows you to give a reporter suggestions on other sources if he or she asks for them. This is all about building relationships.

10. Have a thick skin. Don’t be hurt if your interview doesn’t make the cut. There could be multiple reasons you didn’t ultimately get used in a story – space may be tight, your quote may not have provided the context the reporter needed, etc. Time speaking with a reporter is never wasted. If you provided a good interview, the reporter will remember you the next time your expertise is a better fit.

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