As a journalist-turned-media relations manager, I’ve been on both sides of media interviews. And while both roles have very different demands, they share two simple cravings: communication and accuracy.
Think of an interview as good customer service. If you make a call because you are seeking information and are bounced around from menu to menu without speaking with a competent representative, chances are you’re going to come away from the call frustrated. You may cancel the service or abandon the product based on that bad experience.
But if you were immediately connected with a person who can quickly and accurately answer your questions, you would have a completely different outlook. You’ll come away feeling empowered with new knowledge to accomplish the task at hand.
For you, a member of the occupational therapy profession, media interviews can be very similar to customer service. Journalists want to talk to an actual person. They don’t have time to submit questions in advance and wait for your response. They want a live interview so that they can ask follow-up questions in real time and get their job done as quickly and accurately as possible. Now think of yourself as a good customer service representative.
If you’ve ever wanted to promote OT in the media, chances are intimidation has crept in to a degree. (If not-good for you!) I’ve compiled some basic tips for a successful interview:
Journalists thrive on availability. If a journalist calls and you don’t answer the phone, they will move on and your chance could be lost. If a journalist calls you at a bad time, see if you can reschedule, preferably within the next 24 hours. Unless they are up against a hard deadline, chances are they’ll have some flexibility and as long as they can report back to their editor when you’re scheduled to connect, all will be happy.
Relax! You’re smart. You know what you’re talking about. (You can do this!) Don’t be afraid to ask journalists questions as well, especially if you feel they may not be grasping your message. When it comes down to it, journalists are people too, just trying to do their job in the best way they can. (And if you remember nothing else from this post, remember these words from my grandmother: “They put their pants on the same way you did this morning.”)
You are the expert. There’s a reason why the reporter has chosen you to speak with. You’re the one with the answers. And not only are you the one with the information, you’ve been deemed the BEST one to dole out the information. You’re the one worth the reporter’s limited amount of time. They need you as much as you need them.
You have control of the conversation. You may not realize, but you are the one controlling the interview. No matter how snarky or abrasive a reporter may be, you’re the one that decides the content of the conversation. The reporter is at your mercy, NOT vice versa. If you get to the end of the interview and feel that you have not been asked a question that gets a particular point across, don’t be afraid to interject it.
Make sure you understand the question. If a question is worded oddly or does not seem to make sense, ask the reporter to repeat it or give a definition. Don’t be afraid to rephrase the question and then answer it. This will allow both you and the reporter to be clear on the course of the conversation.
Avoid jargon. This is one guideline that you and the reporter have in common. The best way to get quoted is to speak in plain terms. Think of the journalist’s audience – if it is a medical journal, feel free to talk scientifically. If it’s a newspaper, try to decode acronyms and scientific-speak.
Don’t agonize over every word. If you are constantly pausing or re-wording your thoughts, they will sound jumbled and will most likely not be used. Reporters seek out clear, concise quotes. The goal of using a quote in, for example a newspaper article, is to make a point or opinion with an expert’s voice.
Never assume. Just because the reporter you are speaking with may have 25 years of experience in healthcare reporting, never assume they know everything. Don’t be afraid to take the time to explain background, previous studies, developments, etc. to make sure the reporter completely understands the subject. More information is usually better than too little and the reporter will be grateful.
Spell, spell, spell! Be sure to spell your name, your credentials, the name of your organization, practice, university or area of practice. All reporters will ask you your name. A great one will ask, “Is that John or Jon?” for example.
Don’t set high expectations. You may spend an hour in an interview. Unfortunately this does not mean that an hour’s worth of work will be published. It also does not mean that the journalist will use any of your information at all.
Keep in touch. Be sure to ask for a phone number or email address in case you remember an additional detail afterwards. Also, make sure the reporter has your contact info in case he or she has additional questions during the editing process.
Katie Riley is the media relations manager for the American Occupational Therapy Association. She is a former newspaper managing editor, copy editor and reporter. This blog is dedicated to media relations issues. Do you have a topic you'd like explored? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.