Friday, April 18, 2008

Brass Tack #14. Offer them a chance to interview.

You may have sent the same information to every journalist on your distribution list and each of them will be aware that the information is not exclusive. If they run with your story, they may want to turn it into a unique news item with its own angle and geared to the interests of that readership or audience. Offering a chance to interview one of the story’s protagonists is one way if helping them achieve this.

Interviews are popular with editors as they can add colour and human interest to stories. Don’t assume however that all journalists are straining at the leash to fire questions at your interviewee. It really depends on who that person is and whether they actually have anything interesting to say. There’s a big difference between a top Hollywood actor passing through the area and a local shopkeeper complaining about a lack of parking spaces.

Interviews can be time-consuming, especially if the reporter has to travel across town to a hotel room and give up half the day to gain access. The story has to be worth the effort.

For promotional stories, a frequent tactic is to offer an opportunity to interview someone over the phone at a pre-arranged time. This is a handy way to talk to a touring musician, for example, who may well be in a different country at the time the journalist is preparing the story.

Alternatively, if the interviewee is willing, you might set up a series of 10-minute interviews for individual invited journalists at a mutually convenient location. (As a music journalist I was one of three writers selected to interview the American folksinger, Tom Paxton during one of his rare UK tours. He was an experienced and eloquent interviewee and our conversation proved highly productive, giving me enough material for an extended newspaper article and the main feature item for a national music magazine.)

Here are a few points to consider when setting up interviews:

  • Will your interviewee do more harm than good? Being interviewed is a skill, especially if it is on radio or television. He or she should be a good, articulate speaker with something interesting to say. It is a good idea to prepare some exclusive anecdotes or ‘factoids’ to feed to each journalist; these could well determine the angle or headline of the final story.
  • The interviewee may be the voice of your organisation and what they have to say in the heat of the conversation may make a big impact on that organisation's reputation, especially if the topic is likely to be contentious. Preparation is the key. Think of the three most difficult questions that may be asked and have the answers prepared.
  • Make sure the speaker knows in advance who is going to interview them and which publication or broadcast organisation they work for. It always breaks the ice to start the interview on first-name terms and journalists respond well and produce better stories if they feel that the interviewee values the opportunity to speak to them.
  • Provide background information in advance to the journalist, for example, in the form of easy-to-read bullet statements. The chances are that the journalist will not get round to preparing for the interview until the last minute (many journalists work best when they’re up against the deadline!), so accessible background that is simply expressed is always appreciated and can establish the sort of questions you would prefer to be asked.

    There are many more useful tips on giving successful interviews, including here, here and here.

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media relations       press release       journalists      interview