Newsworthy Narratives: ABCs of Interviews

Written by Renee Sanchez

7 March 2024


When I was a reporter, I used to call people in public relations flacks. Now that I am in PR, I refer to them as storytellers. The transition has been quite a journey. With insights from my colleagues, this blog series will offer tips, anecdotes and best practices from someone who has seen the world of PR from both sides. In this edition, we talk about interview tips.

What could go wrong?

We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Everyone in the newsroom looked on helplessly as the anchor tried to pull information from a guest in a rare sit-down interview during a live broadcast. I was silently willing the guest to say something – anything. People think that 30 seconds is not a long time, but 30 seconds of dead air feels like a lifetime. Unfortunately, all that came out of the guest’s mouth was a “whuh whuh” sound. The anchor took over and asked a series of yes or no questions and then went to a commercial.

This was a worst-case scenario. The guest became tongue-tied while searching for the “yearbook answer” and simply forgot to be human. Some preparation and deep breaths can help shake off interview jitters and empower you to talk to reporters with ease.

The ABCs of how to talk to the media

Ask for help: Let your PR firm give you a media briefing with the reporter’s background, examples of previous work and questions from the reporter. Go over talking points and general “dos and don’ts.”

Be yourself: Be authentic when you are talking to a reporter. Answer the questions to the best of your ability. Keep it simple and avoid industry jargon. Be personable and share anecdotes. Never say, “no comment.” Use a bridging technique by acknowledging the reporter’s question and then go back to your key messages. Example: “That’s a great question. While that topic is important, it’s also important to remember that…”

Contribute calmly: Do not panic. Too often people are cautious because they believe the media is there to catch them out. This is not the case. Breathe, and share what you know. A smile can be heard in your voice so remember to smile.

When I was a reporter, I often asked the person I was going to interview to provide B-roll, photos or if they could demonstrate something. One of our clients used props during a live interview to great effect. Another client familiarized himself with a program before he went on it as a guest, so he knew the audience and aced his interview. The list of positive client interactions with the media goes on and on.

Last tip: An interview is not a sales pitch, so do not be overly promotional. Share your information with the journalist in a balanced and factual manner.

Stay tuned to this series for more insights on how to capture a reporter’s attention and tell your story.