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We are often asked on our media training courses how much research and preparation a journalist will carry out ahead of a media interview.
The answer, of course, is that this varies from interview to interview and will depend largely on how much time the journalist has.
But there are a number of online checks they will carry out in the majority of cases and spokespeople need to know what that research will uncover.
To give you an example, I’ll take you through the online digging I do ahead of the interviews I carry out on our media training courses.
I’ll start by taking a look online at what is already being reported on the subject my interviewees want to discuss. What are other people saying about the topic? Has the coverage been favourable?
I’ll then Google the company the spokesperson works for and see what other coverage it has attracted recently.
I’ll also look at its website and see what press releases and announcements it has put out and what its public position is on key issues, such as Brexit.
I will also look at what the organisation, its bosses and its spokespeople have been saying on social media. This is a key one as there have been numerous cases of old social media posts being dug up and coming back to haunt people.
And I’ll look to find out a little about its competitors, what they have been saying and what the wider issues currently are in the sector.
Company review sites, like Trustpilot, are also worth checking to get a feel for how customers feel about the service a brand is providing.
Now, I’m not just saying this because my boss will read this blog, but that is pretty thorough research. I believe that people much cooler than me might refer to this as a ‘humblebrag’.
It is possible that time-pressed journalists working in a busy newsroom may not have time to carry out all those checks, or do them in any great detail.
But if I was a spokesperson about to be interviewed – a position I have been in on numerous occasions – this is the research I would be looking to carry out. I’d rather do too many online checks, than leave some out and live to regret that short-cut in the interview.
The reason is simple - you can’t control what a journalist might find online, but you can prepare and know how you will respond if any of this wider information is brought into the interview.
This research will not only help you prepare for those tricky ‘unexpected’ questions and wider issues which might be brought in to the interview, but it can also help avoid any contradictions with previously stated public positions.
There was a great recent example of how something which had been said previously can come back to haunt a spokesperson and put them on the back foot.
It came during an interview between LBC presenter Eddie Mair and Conservative politician Liz Truss.
A question about a second referendum on leaving the European Union led to a very awkward exchange:
Mair: People can change their minds, can’t they?
Truss: But they were told in the referendum in 2016 that their vote would be implemented.
Mair: What about people who have changed their minds between then and now?
Truss: I don’t think people have changed their minds.
Mair: You have.
Truss: I have, that's true.
Your online preparation, however, should not stop there.
On our media training courses we recommend spokespeople research the journalist they will be speaking to.
Their social media accounts are likely to include links to recent stories they have covered and will give you a feel for the tone and angle they may take.
Some journalists, particularly those who double up as presenters and commentators, are likely to have strong views on topical events and social media is likely to provide a good insight into what those might be.
Similarly, it is worth looking at the social media accounts of the media outlet you will be talking to. Many accounts belonging to broadcast media channels chop interviews into small parts for posts throughout the day, particularly if something contentious has been said or a spokesperson seems evasive.
The key here is to assume that the journalist will have done their research and be prepared. But rather than worrying about how prepared they might be, carry out your own online checks and make sure you are prepared for any question.
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.
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