Working With the Media
How to Make a Good Impression
Imagine you're asked to give a television interview about your company's new "green" initiatives. Does the thought make you nervous? What if you say the wrong thing? What if you have no idea how to answer a question?
Or, what if your boss tells you to write a press release, and send it to local media outlets? How do you craft a compelling story or statement that journalists will actually want to write about?
Many people may feel daunted about working with the media. If you've never done an interview or written a press release, you may feel as though you want to avoid putting yourself in the spotlight.
The right kind of media exposure can help your organization, and at some point, you may be put forward as a spokesperson, especially if you're an expert in your field.
If you work for a large company, you might have a communications department to help you write the press release or coach you through the interview process. If you're part of a smaller company, however, there may be no one to offer advice. If so, this article is for you. Read on to discover the basics of writing a press release and how to prepare for an interview.
Writing a Press Release
Many companies issue press releases all the time. A press release is simply a structured "announcement" about something that's happening in your organization. It's a way to gain exposure for your company – but only if it's a story that's interesting enough to publish.
Press releases usually follow a specific format, so use these guidelines to create a successful one:
- Know your topic – Before you begin writing, make sure you know exactly what you're writing about. Don't digress from your subject, or talk about several different points. Focus on one product, one person, one event, and so on.
- Write a great headline – Start with a headline that gets attention. It's worth spending time on this, because it's what makes an editor or journalist want to read your press release in the first place. So, make it interesting!
- Summarize everything at the top – Use your opening paragraph to summarize who, what, when, where, and why. Think of this paragraph as an island – it should stand by itself, and tell the reader exactly what you'll discuss in the rest of the document.
- Write about one topic per paragraph – The rest of the press release can go into further detail about your new announcement. Talk about one point or detail in each paragraph. When you move on to another point, start a new paragraph.
- Add your boilerplate at the end – This is the "tagline" for your company. Include your name, contact information, and a very short (one paragraph) description of what your company does, where it operates, and when it was founded. These details are often included in the "notes for editors" section at the end of the press release, and often serve as helpful background for the journalist writing the piece.
More Press Release Tips
- Keep it short – Make your press release one page, if possible.
- Remember the media's perspective – Editors and journalists aren't interested in giving your company free advertising, they're just looking for a good story. So, write your press release with their perspective in mind.
- Don't make it sound like an advertisement – Keep your sentences to the point, and don't use a lot of "fluff" words, hype or adjectives that you would normally use in sales material. Most importantly, steer clear of jargon.
- Use the correct contact information – If editors want to write a longer story, they should be able to contact someone easily in your company who can help them.
- Start with the most important information – Editors are usually on tight deadlines, so are often short of time. To have any chance of an editor reading your press release, don't hide your most important point in paragraph seven; include it right at the start.
- Quote the experts – If you have permission, include quotes from experts or important people in your company. This can add credibility to your press release, and make it more interesting.
- Attach a photo – Sometimes including a picture or photograph in your press release can increase the chances that an editor might be interested in it. This is particularly the case with local or regional press.
- Include links – If you're emailing a press release, then remember to include links to your website, email addresses, and any other background information that will make the journalist's life easier.
- Let go of the outcome – You have no control over whether your story will make it into print, or whether it will appear with the angle you'd intended. Remember that the editor's decision is final.
Giving a Television or Radio Interview
If you're asked to handle a television or radio interview, then preparing in advance will help you to feel more confident. Get yourself ready for the microphone by doing the following:
Develop your answers, and research your data, in advance – If possible, find out what the reporter will ask you. This gives you time to prepare your answers, and research any statistics you might need to know. It's helpful to write down your main talking points, in case you need them during the interview.
Keep in mind that, although the reporter or news editor might provide you with a list of questions, there's a good chance they'll ask follow-up questions. So, don't be surprised if you get some questions that aren't on the list.
Know the intended audience – This will help you know what type of language to use in your interview, and how detailed you should be in your answers.
For example, if the show is for other industry insiders, you can use basic industry terms – because people will probably know what you're talking about. If the program is for a more general audience, then try to avoid using jargon, or industry-specific words and phrases that viewers or listeners may not know.
- Establish a good rapport with the interviewer – Viewers and listeners can usually tell when people are uncomfortable, so try to be warm and friendly. Remember, interviewers usually don't want to "trick" you into revealing something you don't mean to say. They want to do a good job, just like you. Be sure to use positive body language – sit up straight, talk slowly, smile, and look interested when the reporter asks you a question.
- Keep your key message short and clear – Think in terms of "soundbites" when you answer a question. In other words, make brief statements at the beginning of your answer that are easy to remember, and easy to repeat.
Make your answers stand alone – Pretend that the audience didn't hear the question, so you have to answer in a way that makes your message clear all on its own.
For instance, consider the question "Why does your company want to go green?" One response could be "Because we really believe our customers will like it, and we think that our decisions impact the environment."
But a better response would be "Our company is going green because we really believe that our decisions have an impact in the world, and that our customers are going to like it."
The second answer doesn't depend on the interviewer's question; it stands by itself. Answers like this can be much more useful in the editing process (when the interviewer's questions are sometimes edited out), and they make it easier for the audience to follow what you're saying.
More Interviewing Tips
- Remember that everything is "public" – You might not always know if the reporter's microphone is on or off. Never say anything "off the record," and never give information that you wouldn't want to be on the news.
- Watch your "um's" and "uh's" – Try not to say "uh," or make other sounds as you're thinking of what to say. This rarely sounds good to the listener.
- Be pleasant – Media interviews are a great way to build your reputation. Smile, have lots of energy, and keep eye contact with the reporter. This person is talking to you for a reason – you're the expert.
- Dress appropriately – If you're going to be on television, consider what you'll wear. Avoid anything that might take away from your message (for example, big jewelry or bright clothing). Block colors generally work better than loud patterns. Whatever you wear, dress professionally.
- Don't move around a lot – Keep your movements to a minimum. Small things – like rubbing your hands, or tapping your feet – tend to be much more noticeable on camera. If you're nervous, keep your hands together, and your feet crossed.
- Don't talk too much – It's not your job to fill up all of the interview time, so you don't have to keep talking. Some people get into trouble because they continue to say more and more. Say what you need to say to make your point, and then stop.
- Never lie or guess – If you don't know the answer, or if you shouldn't give the answer (due to confidentiality, for example), then be honest and tell the reporter. If you're asked again, be firm. You have the right not to answer every single question.
- Correct the interviewer, if necessary – Don't let the interviewer say something that's inaccurate, or misinterpret something you or the company said or did. Correct it immediately. Don't become angry, but be firm and assertive.
You can make the media work for you. Most of the time, reporters just want a good story. If you prepare in advance, you can give them one – and you can also help build your reputation and your career. If you deliver a good interview, you may even be invited back!
Know the audience, and try to get interview questions in advance. During the interview, sit still, smile, and make your points clearly. Say what you need to say, and then stop. And always dress – and act – professionally.