Tips for Handling Media Questions

Turn an interview into a business opportunity with these guidelines.

When you see a TV camera coming toward your job site, is your natural instinct to run and hide? Don't worry — many people have the same feeling. But by following some simple guidelines, you can turn a media interview into a media opportunity for your company.

Why would a media person visit your or your company in the first place? On the good side, maybe it's to help you get publicity for a special project you're working on or to interview you on your thoughts regarding trends in the building industry. On the bad side, perhaps an accident occurred at your job site or a worker problem is drawing attention. Either way, media members have a job to do — they need to find and report stories — and you may find yourself involved in an interview.

You can make your life easier and potentially enhance the coverage your company receives by keeping the following guidelines in mind when dealing with members of the media on the phone or in person:

  • Take time to listen carefully to media questions. Think about your answer before you respond.

  • Ask the reporters questions, both to clarify what they're asking you and to find out more about the story they're working on.

  • Reporters are on deadlines, so their calls should be returned promptly. Missing a reporter's call means missing out on potentially positive free publicity.

  • Never say "no comment" to a reporter. It sounds terse and makes it appear that you have something to hide. Instead, offer a statement like "We're not prepared to discuss that today. Let's move on to something else and we can always revisit that issue at another time." With this statement you sound more cooperative.

  • When in doubt, find out. Never lie or make up information. It's perfectly acceptable to ask a reporter for a few minutes so you can determine the correct answer to a question. Reporters value this greatly and will be happy to give you extra time.
  • Relax — and smile! Your calmness during an interview will show in your voice and manner and will help communicate a positive image on your company and business.

  • Keep your answers short and complete. Answer in full sentences, but don't run on and on.
  • Talk in simple language. Remember, you're the expert. Make the reporter understand your answer by using common terms, not technical jargon or industry-specific language.

  • Speak naturally and clearly. Stop from time to time to ask the interviewer if he understands what you're saying and if you're providing the necessary information.

  • Be available for follow-up. End an interview by offering to be available for additional questions if necessary. Always make sure the reporter knows how to spell your name correctly, along with your title and the name of your company.

More information on media relations is available in the book PR Power: Public Relations for Building Pros, by Kathleen S. Ziprik.

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