It is always interesting when we ask for delegates’ perceptions of journalists and the media at the start of our media training courses.
Those who have had little interaction with the media often think journalists set out to trip people up.
They worry they will be made to look silly and that they will be tricked into saying something they will later regret. They are concerned journalists take comments out of context and that they are only interested in bad news.
The responses are rarely complimentary and some of these fears can seem entrenched.
Gradually, through the training, which is now being delivered face-to-face and through videoconferencing, we change these views and show that in the vast majority of cases they will not face a Jeremy Paxman-style inquisition.
Of course, hard questions will be asked – that’s their job – but spokespeople will not be bombarded with tricks and traps from start to finish.
We thought it would be helpful to break down some of these perceptions before people come on our media training courses, by exploring what journalists want from their interviewees.
The key thing to remember is that journalists are ultimately looking for good content, whether it is for print or broadcast.
They want to take stories forward, gain more detail and context and be able to inform and entertain their audiences.
Although we have all seen so-called ‘car crash interviews’ trend on social media, it is not in a reporter’s interest for a spokesperson to produce a poor interview, dry up, or not bring anything new to a story.
And most of those interviews that have gone memorably wrong have done so because of avoidable mistakes the spokesperson had made, rather than as a consequence anything the journalist has done. Things like poor preparation, dodging difficult questions and PR advisers intervening.
When spokespeople struggle it can leave the journalist high and dry. If it is a pre-record, they may have to desperately find someone else to speak to about the story (easier said than done).
If it is live, they may opt to bring in wider topics to the interview in an effort to get the spokesperson to say something interesting. Or they may just bring the interview to a premature end.
More for less
Newsrooms are finding themselves under more and more pressure.
Staff cutbacks mean those who remain are often being asked to do more for less.
Not only will they be carrying out the interviews and putting the reports together, but it is also likely they will be looking for images to help illustrate their stories and post regular updates on social media channels.
Journalists like spokespeople who can help them meet these their expanding list of demands.
Let’s say you give a live radio interview and get your message across through a strong soundbite.
That soundbite could then be used in later bulletins throughout the day in shorter versions of the story.
It could be used in the station’s social media posts.
And it might be used in quotes on website copy about the story.
This means your message gets seen by a far wider audience and the journalist is more likely to want to interview you again in the future as they will be confident they will get plenty of good material.
If you go into an interview feeling the journalist is out to get you or being completely pre-occupied about what they are going to ask, it will not go well.
They want you to be relaxed and sound like you are eager and willing to speak to them.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should let down your guard, suddenly lose all control of what you intend to say, mindlessly answer whatever the reporter asks, speculate wildly and be easily led off-topic
But if you can relax and feel confident in your ability and what you want to say, you are far more likely to produce an interview that has the conversational style they are looking for, which typically leads to strong soundbites and memorable quotes.
And, if you have something interesting to say and can present it with enthusiasm and support it with examples, the focus of the interview is far more likely to remain on that topic.
Say something different
A journalist does not ask you for an interview simply to repeat what has already been said in a press release or statement. That is a waste of everyone’s time.
As we mentioned earlier, they are looking to move the story forward.
This means you or your spokespeople need to say something new or different.
Bring something surprising to the conversation or something that conflicts with what others have said about the issue. It will be far more widely used.
This is something we cover in our media training courses when we look at what makes something newsworthy. The ‘unusual’ element is crucial, and if you don’t provide it, journalists will go looking for it.
Make the complex simple
Sometimes spokespeople will need to discuss complex subjects in media interviews.
When this happens, the journalist is looking for the interviewee to make what is being discussed understandable and show what it means for the those watching, listening and reading.
You need to be able to put technical terms into everyday language. Industry jargon must be avoided.
Spending time telling us how the technology works, for example, isn’t going to make many of us sit up and take note.
Showing us how it will improve our lives might stop us getting out of the car because we want to keep on listening, or stop us making a cup of tea, or switching TV channels.
People like people – most of the time anyway.
Journalists know their audiences like it when interviewees can bring some of their personality to the interview, express feelings, show emotions and share personal stories and anecdotes. It adds conviction to what is being said.
They do not like spokespeople who sound like a corporate talking robot sticking rigidly to a script.
So, if you want your quotes and soundbites to be used, you need to sound human and use your own words to get across your organisation’s message
Journalists and their audience want interviewees to show passion and enthusiasm for their subject.
It makes what is being said compelling and suggests the spokesperson believes what they are saying and isn’t regurgitating a press release or corporate message.
Just don’t fall into the trap of using clichéd phrases such as ‘we’re really excited to announce’ or ‘I’m passionate about’.
Show, don’t tell.
It sounds pretty simple, but journalists want to speak to spokespeople who are easily available.
Deadlines are getting tighter as journalists and newsrooms are asked to do more for less.
If a spokesperson does not have the flexibility to meet their time frames, the opportunity to get your organisation’s story across could disappear.
Of course, it is not always possible for a spokesperson to be available.
That’s why we recommend organisations have several media spokespeople who have had recent media training so they can respond quickly to interview requests.
Do you want to find out more about preparing for a media interview? Download your copy of our free media interview preparation eBook.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
Click here to find out more about our journalist led media training courses.
Subscribe here to be among the first to receive our blogs.