Grilling time by Miroslava Kostadinova I 2010-02-22

If you are brave or foolhardy enough to agree to go one-on-one with a journalist and risk having your words cut, chopped, edited, misinterpreted, re-arranged, taken out of context and then published in the media alongside a mugshot of your beaming features, you must have a clearly defined set of goals and a clear strategy to help you attain those goals before you lock intellectual horns with a reporter.

Media interviews are in fact an excellent way to generate understanding of your company or organisation, to explain your activities, and to transmit messages to your target audiences. They are also vital, if the need should arise, to put your side of the story, to counter accusations, or to put the record straight.

There are several types of interviews – people profiles, advertorial, straight Q&A, face-to-face, telephone, email, TV or radio (live or pre-recorded) – and to address them all is beyond the scope of this short article. But the following tips may help to ensure that your words are fairly and accurately reported, properly understood and interpreted, and placed in a balanced context.

Before the interview
Make sure that you have received appropriate media training, something that your PR agency should deliver. Develop your key messages, not too many and not too complex, and put them into simple, readily understandable language.

Have the facts and figures about your company, organisation or product ready – on paper or disc – for the reporter at the interview.
Make sure that you are familiar with the media organisation that wants to interview you, so read the particular newspaper, magazine or website, and watch or listen to the particular programme. Get familiar with what your interviewer has previously written or broadcast.

Set some ground rules with the journalist ahead of the interview: venue, time allocated, subject/s for discussion, on the record/off the record, the need for a photographer or interpreter to be present, whether the interview will be tape-recorded, publication deadline, whether it will be possible to see the interview, or some of the quotes used, before publication.

During the interview
The idea of the interview is to get the messages out while you are answering the reporter’s questions. Remember your key points and refer to them when answering questions.
Never lie. Do not exaggerate. Never speculate. Be open and assume that everything is "on the record," even if the camera is not rolling or the reporter has put away the notebook. If you do not want to see a comment made public, do not make it.

Be polite and friendly, and keep your tone professional. Give short answers and try to simplify your explanations. Talk in lay terms, using as little professional or technical jargon as possible. Use analogies to help explain difficult concepts.

If you do not know the answer to a question, say so and let the reporter know that you will provide more details as soon as possible after the interview.

After the interview
The interview is not over when it is over. Stay in touch with the reporter, and promptly provide follow-up materials or information if asked to do so. Monitor the published or broadcast results and review your performance. If the coverage was inaccurate, damaging or unfair, complain calmly to the reporter first, and if needed, to the reporter’s supervisor.

Miroslava Kostadinova is Country Manager (Bulgaria) at Cook Communications
Tel: 02/ 980 7185

Th earticle was published in Sofia Echo newspaper on 19 February 2010.

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