We’ve looked in some detail in this media training blog about how coronavirus has changed the broadcast media landscape.
What we haven’t covered to the same extent until now is the impact it has had on print media and, in turn, what that means for your spokespeople.
The short answer is that the pandemic has had a bruising impact on an industry that was already struggling.
Circulations and revenues have fallen and this has resulted in job losses.
Reach, the country’s largest local newspaper publisher, which also owns the Daily Mirror and Daily Express, recently announced it is cutting 12 per cent of its workforce – around 550 jobs.
News UK, the publisher of The Times and The Sun, has announced it needs to “streamline the business” and that it will be “saying goodbye to some valued and talented colleagues.”
The Guardian has announced it will be cutting 70 editorial jobs with revenues expected to be down by £25m.
I could go on with these examples.
But what does this mean for you and your organisation’s spokespeople?
Well, those journalists who survive the culls are going to be asked to do more for less and this is likely to accelerate a move that has been happening for the past few years, where more print interviews are carried out on the phone.
We’ve included increasing numbers of telephone print interviews in our media training courses over the past few years and we believe they are going to play an even more crucial part in the current media landscape.
These interviews can be particularly tricky for spokespeople and present some unique challenges. The good news is we’ve got some tips to help you make a success of them.
For your telephone interview to be a success, you need to offer something interesting to the topic and help the journalist move the story forward.
If the interview has been triggered by a press release, don’t fall into the trap of repeating what has been said – you are unlikely to see your quotes in print if you follow that approach.
Put the message into your own words and use your own examples and anecdotes to help bring it to life and make it relatable.
If this interview is part of a wider news story, think about how you can add to what has been said. Those who say something unusual or that conflicts with what others are saying are more likely to make the final cut.
While colourful, descriptive language helps the audience to picture what is being discussed, you need to avoid long-winded, rambling answers.
Similarly, avoid talking too fast.
If the journalist hasn’t properly got down what someone is saying, or can’t make it out when they listen back to a recording of the interview, then they can’t use the quotes.
How you deliver your message in a telephone interview is almost as important as what you have to say.
The phone quite often deadens the voice slightly, so adding extra energy and enthusiasm, without shouting, of course, will help to counter this.
Standing up during the interview will also help add to the energy that you can put into your voice.
There is nothing wrong with having a few notes, containing your key message and any important facts and figures at your side in your telephone interview.
But keep them short. You don’t want to be rustling through pages of notes trying to find an answer.
Equally, you don’t want to appear scripted – as with all interviews, you need to be striving to create a natural-sounding conversation.
Many journalists will still use shorthand to write down everything you say. This can lead to some silences as they catch up with their notes.
On our media training courses, we often find these silences make delegates feel uncomfortable and compelled to talk.
This sees them move away from their messages and say something they did not intend to say. Don’t fall into this trap.
Simply wait until the reporter asks the next question however awkward the silence feels.
When you are being interviewed on TV, you know you will typically be talking for around 3-5 minutes. A radio interview may be even shorter.
Telephone print interviews, however, don’t necessarily have the same time constraints.
While journalists are increasingly time-pressed, sometimes, particularly if you’re offering strong opinions, they may look to keep the conversation going and explore some other areas.
The risk here is that this becomes the focus of the article rather than what you had set out to discuss.
If you feel you’ve got your message across, don’t be afraid to take control and politely bring the conversation to an end.
“So, what is the focus of your article going to be?”. This is a question our telephone journalists are asked at the end of an interview.
Our advice is to turn this question around and for spokespeople to use the end of the interview to provide a summary of the message they want to get across.
So, instead of asking this question, say something like, “Just to sum up, the key point I want to get across is…”
Treat it seriously
Telephone print interviews may not seem as stressful as a live radio or TV interview.
But they are not an easy option and you need to prepare as thoroughly as you would for a broadcast one.
Make sure you know the message you want to get across and carefully consider the difficult questions that could be asked.
Also, do your homework on the reporter and their publication.
Try and find a nice quiet place for your telephone interview.
If you are in the office, book a meeting room. Doing the interview from your desk could see the background noise of your colleagues become an issue and if you are sat in front of your computer, emails could see you momentarily lose your concentration.
If you are continuing to work from home, try to find a room where you can get away from everyone else in the house and make sure they know not to disturb you.
If you can, use a landline for your telephone interviews.
It takes away all the signal and connection issues which can be frustrating for both you and the journalist.
You don’t really want to start your interview by asking “can you hear me now?” repeatedly.
If you are working from home and don’t have a landline, consider doing the interview on video conferencing software, but be mindful of your body language if you are going to appear on screen.
If your mobile is the only option, make sure you have a strong signal and there is not a lot of background noise.
Finally, avoid doing telephone interviews on speakerphones – it really does impact the sounds quality and can lead to the journalist struggling to hear what you want to say.
Delegates on our media training courses are often surprised how different a print telephone interview can feel and not being able to see any reaction from the journalist often leaves them wondering how well they have done.
Following these tips will certainly help you and your spokespeople adapt to this increasingly used format, but the best preparation is to be put to the test by one of our current working journalist tutors.
Get your media interview homework off to the best start by downloading your copy of our free media interview preparation eBook.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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