Monday, 30 January 2017
How to make everyone happy when you're interviewed by a journalist
I was listening to Clive Anderson interviewing Mark Thomas and Ken Hom on Radio 4 at the weekend. It didn’t occur to me until later but I then realised that I have interviewed both (in 2011 and 2004 respectively and that they are both in my top ten interviewees.
Despite being completely different, they shared some characteristics that made them easy to interview and meant that we were able to write a positive piece promoting a show and a new restaurant and book (guess which one is which). It’s not difficult, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to get wrong. I was a regional journalist and can count hundreds of times that people made life a little more difficult when they needn’t have done, leading to an interview and subsequent write-up that possibly didn’t portray them in the best light. We are all busy people, but just employ some basic common sense and everyone gains –whether you’re in bands (I won’t name and shame!) to businesspeople and councillors and politicians.
Here are some things to think about if a journalist wants to talk to you about your business:
1. Answer the phone – particularly when you’ve agreed that a journalist can call you at a set time
I once battled for weeks to get a local business in the paper based on a time-sensitive hook – possibly International Women’s Day. The journalist agreed to call her at 3pm but got no reply. I left a message reminding her that deadline was fast approaching and she texted me to tell me not to interrupt as she was in the cinema. If you do want press coverage, then do all you can to help. Journalists don't have time to keep chasing you if you don't appear enthusiastic.
2. Be helpful
On that note, try to give as much information as you can. Don’t answer “yes” or “no” and leave it at that. Try to expand and give interesting information that brings the piece alive. Also, ensure that you don't waste time talking nonsense, and that you are able to get all of your points across. I vividly remember once receiving a press release in very dense, technical jargon from a leisure manufacturer. Most people would have hit the delete button instantly, but I thought it might be interesting and called the person who’d sent it. They shot a barrage of abuse at my stupidity at not knowing what kind of plastic he was referring to. This was in 2002, but it still rankles now! On other occasions, a managing director wanted us to write about his company, but wouldn’t reveal his first name. “Mr is adequate”, he said. Er. It isn't. Other people have got shirty when asked their age, or if they have children – even which town they live in. All of these things add colour to the piece. The more relevant information you can give, the better. And if you don’t want to give your age, just decline politely rather than snarling “what’s that got to do with anything?”
3. “Send me a copy”
A journalist generally won’t know when it’s going in, or even if it IS definitely going to be printed, so don’t get annoyed if they can’t give an exact date. Buy the paper and when it goes in, encourage others to do so rather than simply sticking a photo of the finished article on social media.
4. Say thank you.
And not (and these are all real):
-"Why is it in black and white?"
-"I didn't like the fact that it was next to a story about xxx"
-"It's all wrong. Typical journalist!" (It wasn't all wrong - I'd asked her which town she was from and reviewing my notes, it seems she'd misunderstood the question".