10 golden rules for press interviews – part one

In today’s changing media landscape, executive interviews still remain a journalist’s ‘bread and butter’ when it comes to producing copy. A journalist also lives and dies by their contacts, so give them one good interview and expect to see them coming back for input on future stories.

It’s crucial that B2B company executives are able to provide the journalist with what they need, while protecting the company’s interests.

Over the last month IBA has been organizing press attendance at events in Stockholm and Bangkok, with journalists flying in from North America, Europe and Asia. Yet the advice to attending executives remains the same.

Here’s the first three of IBA’s ten golden rules when speaking to the press:

1. Formally control within your organisation who deals with the press and make sure that the people with the press are aware of the disciplines involved

Journalists like clarity, not just in their copy but also in their dealings with a company. After the primary PR contact, in-house marketing managers make great contact points for dealing with the press. Their skill set as content marketers puts them on the front foot in understanding the needs of the journalist – and company knowledge helps easily match up which executive is best to help them with a particular topic.

A company should have subject matter experts (SMEs) clearly defined by both region and topic area. This SME should be well trained in talking to the press, and well briefed ahead of any interview – this includes the journalist and publication background, as well as likely questions. The marketing manager and PR can then work between journalist and executive to arrange and, if necessary, chair interviews.

2. Don’t feel forced to give an instant response. Always give yourself time to think. Remember the larger and more important your organization, the less likely that the person involved will have an immediate answer for a journalist

Once an executive says something in an interview, it can’t be retracted. Rushing an answer to a question is worse than pausing for thought. Sometimes an executive may have written information to hand which fits perfectly to an answer. Trade and tech journalists want their articles to be as accurate as possible, so sharing these documents following the interview is actually more useful to them than a quick verbal response.

Sometimes a journalist may ask questions that could be better answered by other company executives. We’ve seen interested journalists conduct follow-up interviews with other SMEs within an organization. Resulting coverage can take the form of a double executive Q&A, or quotes from both interviews attributed to one spokesperson.

3. Ask a journalist what their news slant is, in order that you may produce the most useful information. If you are phoning back, always check their deadline and respond within that time. Do this, even if it is only to say that you have not been able to assemble the information

Expectation management is key when dealing with journalists. They work to strict deadlines so after conducting an interview they may have to turn around resulting copy very quickly. Any follow-up information needs to be shared as soon as possible post-interview.

If you can’t get material to them ahead of the deadline let them know as early as you can. Sometimes there are ways of working around this. Non-communication and then sharing of material after their deadline can mean no coverage. Alternatively the journalist may be working on a long lead time for a future issue, but expectation management remains key. Staying in contact, following up with useful materials will keep your organization front of mind when the time comes to finalize the piece.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more interview best practices.

Jamie Kightley is Head of Pitch&Place at IBA International

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