I advise media training clients not to conduct the interview the moment the reporter calls. Instead, I advise them to
prepare for the interview the moment the reporter calls, beginning with asking them a few questions before agreeing to the interview. Journalists are generally willing to share the basics about the stories they are working on and any insights they offer will help you better prepare. They are also generally willing for you to call them back within an hour or two after you've had some time to prepare to clearly, concisely and consistently answer their questions in a thoughtful, compelling, and memorable way that tells the story you want to tell. There are nine questions I recommend they ask the reporter before agreeing to a media interview.
Reporters probably offer some of this information on their own anyway, so just fill in any gaps by asking the most relevant of these questions:
- Who are you? No, you shouldn’t ask that question verbatim, but collect the basics—their name, the name of the news organization for which they work, and whether they cover a particular topic.
- Can you tell me about the story you’re working on? Keep this question open-ended and remain quiet while the reporter speaks (the more they say, the more you’ll learn). Feel free to ask follow-up questions and to clarify any points you don’t fully understand.
- Are you approaching this story from any particular perspective? Some reporters will bristle if you ask, “What’s your angle?” This question aims to elicit the same information in a more subtle manner.
- Who else are you interviewing? Reporters often play it close to the vest on this one, but it’s worth asking. You’ll be able to get a sense of the story’s tone by learning whether the other sources in the story are friendly or antagonistic toward your issue or cause.
- What’s the format? For print interviews, this question will help you determine whether reporters just need a quick quote from you or whether they’re writing an in-depth piece that will focus extensively on your work. For broadcast interviews, you’ll be able to learn whether the interview will be live, live-to-tape, or edited. For television, you might also ask if the format will be a remote, on-set, or sound-bites interview.
- How much time do you expect the interview to take? Plan to speak for 2/3 of the length of the interview and be prepared to be brief and to the point. Keep to the important ideas you wanted to make sure you expressed when you were preparing for the interview.
- What do you need from me? Ask the reporter how much time the interview will last and where the reporter wants to conduct the interview. Also, ask if you can provide any press releases, graphics, photos, videos, or other supplementary documents. You can often expand your presence in a news story—and influence the narrative—if the reporter chooses to use your supporting materials.
- Who will be doing the interview? For many radio and television interviews, you will be contacted initially by an off-air producer rather than by an on-air personality. Ask for the name of the person conducting the interview so you can research their approach to stories similar to yours.
- When are you publishing or airing the story? Review the story as soon as it comes out. If it’s a positive story, share it with your online and off-line networks. If it’s a negative story, consider issuing a response or contacting the reporter or editor to discuss the coverage and correct any misunderstandings.
One final note: Before an interview, tell reporters how you prefer to be identified. Include your title and company name, and spell your full name. Nothing is worse than seeing your name or company’s name misspelled.
You'll be better prepared to give a great interview if you know the answers to these questions beforehand.