How to Ace a Reporter Interview
Here at Pear the Agency, we service early stage startups, who are of course led by dedicated, motivated founders who are always looking to sharpen their skills. As their PR agency, one main ask that we consistently get from clients is to help them perform at their best during an interview with a reporter.
We deliver comprehensive prep documents and follow up analysis for each interview that our clients have, and we’d like to share some of those insights here for reference.
Here’s our three part method to acing your next media interview…
Part 1 - Getting Prepared
Gain a strong understanding of the reporter.
The first step to acing a media interview is to gain a deep understanding of the reporter.
- Research their beat - what’s the specific angle they lead with in their work? If it’s artificial intelligence for example, and AI is a part of your business, be prepared to focus more on that piece of your story.
- Understanding their audience demographic - is it a more knowledgeable audience? Is it more mainstream? You have to know who they’re writing for so you can match that in your content that’s delivered.
- The tone that their stories are in - is it more friendly/casual or is it more analytical?
Do they like to do a deep analysis? Do they like to just kind of get it out there? When they quote executives and their stories, are they shorter or longer quotes?
These are all questions you should know the answers to before going into the interview. If the quotes they provide for executives and their stories are longer and take up a majority of the stories that they write, you know you’ll have a bit more of your interview clipped for the story. If it’s only a few lines, be prepared to deliver shorter, punchier responses.
Gain an understanding of the nuances of the reporter. Writing style, what they write about, and more specifically, how they write about their topic. It's important to master the reporter's style, tone, and direction because you'll be able to mirror those things during the interview. This will make the reporter feel more comfortable because you will be more closely aligned with how they operate.
Understand the outlet.
- Is the outlet mainstream or is it a niche publication?
- What’s the location of the outlet? Are they on the east coast or west coast? This could impact their coverage.
- What are the pressing needs of their readership?
- Have they put on a conference recently? Do they have a podcast you can listen to?
These are important questions to note because they will frame your approach with regard to the audience of the outlet you’re about to speak with. For example, if you have an interview with a political outlet, be prepared to be asked about the political implications of the topic you’re discussing. If you have an interview with an industry trade publication, be prepared to go a little bit deeper on the subject matter, as their audience is more educated on the topic.
Prepare the reporter for the interview.
You are going to want to send any and all relevant background information over to the reporter with enough time for them to review it in advance. Educate the reporter before they get on the phone with you so the call will be more efficient.
Send over any previous updates your company has put out, background information, and slide decks or presentations to the reporter at least two days before the interview. Preparing your reporter for the call will ensure a more productive conversation about your company and your thoughts.
Also, see if you can get questions in advance. Reach out to the reporter to see if they'd be willing to share any questions that they have before the call.
Don't take this lightly.
Take the interview seriously, no matter what outlet.
- Make sure that you have optimal audio and visual set up. Test to make sure that you have a good working camera and a good working microphone.
- Make sure you have a stable internet connection and that you won't have any technical difficulties when you get on the call.
- Do a few deep breathing exercises before the call to get yourself centered.
- Mentally prepare yourself. Make sure you're not hungry and that you have water nearby.
Double check all of these things before you start the interview. Things can go a myriad of ways on a call and you want to make sure you're in an optimal condition. Also, just remember, regardless of the size of the outlet you’re speaking to, what you say WILL live on the internet forever!
Part Two - Nailing the Actual Interview
Show up two minutes early.
You don't want to show up after the reporter or keep them waiting.
The first question.
Without fail, the first question they'll ask is for you to introduce yourself and the company. Be prepared to have a punchy 30 to 40-second introduction that will hook them in. Practice this and be sure to bring good energy here.
Sometimes the questions can be open-ended or sometimes they can be very direct. Be prepared to answer both types of questions.
Whenever you're answering a question, you always want to give a quotable answer in your response. For example, if I was asked “do you like public relations?” I'd say, “Of course, I love public relations. It's been a big part of my life.” Then get into the explanation of why I like public relations.
The middle of the response is the explanation or rationale for your response.
At the end of the response, you should reiterate your quote. I would say “again, I just want to reiterate how much I love public relations and how important it’s been in my life.”
Bookend your answer with a quote that you'd like to see as it relates to that specific response. If you feel like you're rambling, you can wrap up the ramble with a quotable punchy line.
Have a calm, friendly demeanor, and try to keep your answers relatively tight. Remember that you’re on the record and everything you say can be used in the story.
You shouldn’t feel like you have to over explain your answers. You can always follow up with the reporter, but that's why it's good to prep ahead of time. Feel free to have some notes next to you to reference as you are going. You can check off what you hit, and see if you feel like there was something you missed.
Don't oversell your company.
Don't feel like you have to plug the company into every response.
If you feel like there's something that's relevant and useful that adds value to the response from your company, then you can include it.
The end of the conversation.
The reporter will typically always give you an opportunity at the end of the call to go back and add anything you may have missed. You should take this time to reiterate something that you feel you said strongly, or fix something that you feel was a weaker, inaccurate answer.
Taking the opportunity to reiterate something shows that you're a seasoned media spokesperson, which the reporter will appreciate.
When the conversation is over, it's always good to ask what their intentions are with the interview. Ask if they plan on using this for an upcoming article or something else they may be working on. They'll usually give you some clues as to when the story is coming out or if they just needed this conversation for context on the topic for a possible future piece.
Part Three - It’s Not Over Once the Call Ends!
The first thing you should do after the call is reflect on the interview. A good way to do this is to record the interview on a separate device.
What did you hit?
What did you miss?
What do you think you could have done better?
Note this for your next interview so you don’t make the same mistakes twice.
Do you say “ummm” or “like” a lot? Most people struggle with this problem.
The follow up.
You want to follow up with the reporter within a few hours of the call ending with a thank you and your contact information.
Then you’ll want to set up a Google Alert with the reporter's name so you can monitor for the story coming out. Once the story comes out, share it on social media. Reporters love for their articles to be shared and get more views.
Finally, thank them again when it comes out and let them know that you can be a resource on future topics.
After reading this, you should be able to handle reporter interviews like a seasoned media spokesperson! Best of luck out there and remember, have fun with it!