Module 1.

Module 2.
PR events

Module 3.
Understanding the media

Module 4.
Effective media releases

Preparing the newsmaker

Module 6.
Crisis management

Module 7.
Campaign strategy

Module 8.
PR tool kit




Module 5: Preparing for media interviews

Keep in mind the medium; newspaper reporters will approach your story different than broadcast reporters. But be assured they will all ask the same sorts of questions: who, what, where, when, why, how. Most important is to ask yourself hard questions before the reporter arrives — what do you least want to answer? Be prepared for it.

Ten steps to successfully managing the interview with a reporter.

  1. Understand why the reporter is there. Is it to find the “hidden story” or simply get more information than was in the press release? Reporters are like the publications they write for. If it’s a muckraker or gossipy publication, have your public relations counsel or attorney present at all times. But if a reporter is coming at your invitation or following up on a media release, it’s likely he or she is looking for interesting angles to write about — not attempting to dig up secret information.

  2. Understand the basic truth about most reporters: they’re overworked, underpaid, and usually facing a deadline they don’t know how they’re going to meet. To be on their “good side,” don’t push them. Give them as much information as you can. Provide your home phone number in case they want to ask you a follow-up question as they’re writing the story. Often, even though they may ask good questions, they don’t really understand what they’re writing about. Find out what they know coming into the interview and build their base of knowledge from there. They can’t be instant experts on everything, and chances are they’ll have done little research on your business or topic before the interview starts.

  3. Understand the limitations of journalists. For example, they cannot show you the article before it goes to press. They may include interviews with your competitors in the same article. And they often don’t know when the article will appear. They’re typically too busy to send you clippings of the article after it is printed.

  4. Sometimes you will be asked a question you don’t want to answer. It’s okay to tell them you don’t want to provide that information. For example: “How much profit did you make last year?” or “How many customers do you have?” may not be public information. Instead, stop the interviewer when one of those questions is asked and firmly tell the reporter that the information is private and will not be provided.

  5. Mistakes occur. Reporters are human. Something you said will likely show up in the article wrong. Maybe the reporter wrote it correctly and an editor changed it.

  6. Anticipate reporters’ questions and have materials ready. The reporter probably has a fixed time for the interview and then must go. Brainstorm the kinds of questions a reporter is likely to ask ahead of time. Remember the basic formula for a reporter’s questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. If you’ve got your papers or other resources ready, you’ll be able to respond quickly.

  7. Tell everyone who should know ahead of time that a reporter is coming. To see your business the way the reporter will, walk through your office or business space as though you were there for the first time. Is everything neat? Organized? Are people dressed appropriately? In most small businesses, reporters seldom come — so it’s understandable that your employees may have questions or concerns.

  8. Understand journalistic ethics. Lying is not acceptable. Reporters feel a responsibility to their readers and you cannot provide false information to them.

  9. Get the reporter’s name, address, telephone and fax numbers — most will usually be on their business card. You may find information after the interview to send along or fax. At the very least, you want to write the reporter a “thank you” note immediately after the interview. Don’t wait until the article is printed — that’s time for a second note.

  10. Don’t expect too much from the interview. After your preparation, you may feel let down when the hour is past. And the article may not be perfect. Understand that publicity creates more publicity, and that future articles can spring from previous ones. Publicity is powerful, but you cannot always control it. If you want total control, buy an ad. Publicity is not free advertising — it’s more for the reader’s benefit than yours. But handled well, it can be a powerful way for more people to learn about you and your business.

Here’s something I tell clients when they’re about to be interviewed. It’s named the “Rather Rule” after Dan Rather, a US network news anchor, who reportedly laid the rules down.

“There are only three legitimate answers to a reporter’s question:

1) Yes, I know the answer and here it is.
2) No, I don’t know the answer but I’ll try to find out.
3) Yes, I do know the answer, but I can’t tell you.”

Inevitably, some stories will contain inaccuracies; some may be minor, others major. Sometimes a “Letter to the Editor” will be the best remedy. At other times, direct contact with a reporter or editor is called for. Informing the media of errors will help the publication correct the mistakes for its readers and to avoid such errors in the future. Even if you are not successful in getting a correction printed, you have at least gone on record as trying to establish the facts.

Special tips for broadcast interviews

  • Broadcast interviews are short. Know this and use it. Choose one or two key ideas to work into the interview. These are your communication objectives. The burden rests completely on you to introduce them.

  • Anticipate key questions. Prepare by writing your answers to worst case issues. If such a question is asked, answer it simply and directly. Rehearse a potential interview out loud, several times if necessary. It is a good idea to ask someone to question you in a strenuous practice.

  • A good way to sound lively and interesting: pretend you just called your best friend with important news, saying “hey — guess what?”

  • Find out in advance as much about the interview’s format as possible. Will it be taped or live? How long will you need to talk? Will you be speaking alone, or will there be someone else with an opposing view? Can you bring visuals? Is the reporter or host out to get you for some reason?

  • One key to your success is to manage the interview. Listen intelligently to the questions. Be alert to the direction the reporter is heading. Turn negatives into positives. Answer a slanted question briefly and honestly, then go on to make the question work for you by expanding on good points. "Yes, that’s correct. But I’d also like to point out that ..." Take your time. Think before answering.

  • Don’t look at the camera. Instead, look the interviewer in the eye. Pretend you are simply having a dialogue in a living room. You will appear more relaxed and credible.

You may meet some hostile interviewers like these:

  • Machine Gunners fire several questions at once. Choose one question in the barrage that you feel most comfortable answering. Or say, “Bill, you’ve asked me three questions. Which one do you want me to answer first?”

  • Interrupters can either be ignored while you continue talking, or be acknowledged but asked to let you finish your statement.

  • Paraphrasers who inaccurately summarize your points can be corrected by saying, “I’m sorry, let me say it again clearly.” Interrupt if necessary.

  • Dart Throwers must be challenged directly. They throw out barbs within their questions. Question: “Why did your company, like some heartless robber baron, fire 100 workers?” Response: “Before I answer you, I must take exception to your characterization ... “


Here are three mistakes people often make in interviews with reporters:

1. Treating the interview as a conversation,
2. Overloading the system, and
3. Merely answering questions.


  • News interviews are not conversations.
  • Interviews are about content; information is the goal, not rapport and friendship.
  • Don’t “overload the system” by talking too much or by using jargon.
  • Talking too much leaves your part of the story to chance — like giving a reporter a thousand words and daring her to find the most telling ten-word quote.
  • Take the initiative.
  • Don’t wait for the interviewer to get around to asking the right questions.
  • Act like the expert: Bring up things you think are important or interesting.

* * *

If media get your story at least half right, count your blessings, and send them a thank you note.

Module 6: Crisis management: what to do in a PR emergency.