How to Prep for a Media Interview

It’s another workday in digital PR paradise: you’re running outreach for a hot new client campaign and pitching journalists around the nation. A journalist, impressed with your outstanding pitch, replies with an interview request.

What do you do?

Media interviews are a great way to improve brand awareness and build brand trust. They can also be a bit daunting to participate in if you (or your client) have no media background.

Fear not: this blog post is full of media interview tips to help you on the path to success.

Question 1: “What Terms Do I Need to Know?”

Upon receiving your interview request, the first thing to identify is the type of interview the journalist would like. Is it going to be recorded or live to air on television? Is it for a radio show or podcast? Is it a newspaper journalist looking for quotes? Or is it a reporter looking for information “on background” for a story. Will it be a phone interview, virtual interview, or live interview?

The first step in the interview process is simply to get a grasp of what you’re getting yourself, or your client, into.

There’s a lot of technical language that often gets used over the course of arranging for a live or video recorded media interview. Here are some of the most common:

Types of Interviews: Taped, Live to Tape, Live

There are three main types of media interviews: taped, live to tape, and live. 

  • Taped: Taped interviews are pre-recorded segments done either via Zoom, Teams, or in-studio (if you’re local). Taped, or pre-recorded, interviews can be used later and edited into stories for broadcast on-air. They often result in transcribed quotes in accompanying web articles. Taped interviews are the most forgiving if you discuss things beforehand with the journalist. If you , as you can pause the interview to chase down a statistic, or redo a response if you feel your initial attempt wasn’t sufficient. 
  • Live interviews happen in real time “on air” – there’s no pre-production or editing, you simply are interviewed while the broadcast occurs. These interviews are the most “on the spot” – radio interviews especially tend to happen live, in which you call or zoom in to be interviewed on air, with no opportunity for redoing a take or editing your responses. Adequate preparation is paramount in this case. 
  • Live to Tape interviews are conducted in one take as if they were live, as it were, but edited on tape later into digestible sound bites. It’s best to treat this like a live interview.

Medium and message: Ways to be interviewed

Generally, remote interviews can come in three forms: phone call, videoconferencing (typically Zoom), or email interviews.

When interviewing, always make sure your WIFI is robust and, if possible, you’re able to connect directly via ethernet or, in the case of calling in, landlines.

As you confirm arrangements for your interview, be sure to determine what type of interview this is and what the logistics of connection will be. Many journalists are racing against fast-paced deadlines while putting together interviews and often forget to state exactly what interviews will entail. While working in TV news, members of Digital Third Coast’s DPR team said it happened more than once that an interviewee logged onto a Zoom interview having no idea that it would be live! 

It’s up to you as the PR on staff to make sure that you have all the logistics and additional information figured out. No one wants a surprise live interview in front of hundreds to thousands of people! 

Question 2: “How Should I Prepare For a Media Interview?”

The first step towards success for any interview, from the New York Times to a smaller niche blog, is to prepare, prepare, prepare. 

If you’ve been pitching the content, chances are you know it well and could list the major talking points easily without even having the page up. But can you say the same while doing a live interview and the pressure is mounting? This is why one prepares.

Most importantly, consider your messaging. Focus on the study you’ve been pitching and consider what its overarching message is. Hopefully, this should already align with the pitch you used to pique journalist interest anyway. Lack of preparation can mean failure to answer the question in the best light for your client.

Make a media cheat sheet that condenses your talking points and aggregates data from across your content page to create narratives- oftentimes you can follow multiple storylines across a page with different statistics.

Media prep sheet sample

Generally we start at the top with frequently asked questions:

  • “Why did you do this study?”
  • “What’s the most interesting statistic in this study?”
  • “What can people from [state of media outlet origin] take away from this?”

Then, take brief notes on method- how many people were surveyed (or what data was used to rank or evaluate search trends), a so-called “elevator pitch” of the survey writ large (can you describe it in one sentence? You should be able to for the interview!), and then some standout statistics from the content campaign. 

Consider your pitch and start with those stats, since they’re what’s getting media attention in the first place. Scan your content page for more statistics that take the story deeper. Do you have time to pull data from the state you’re interviewing in? It’s always a good idea! 

Consider also the vertical of the journalist: a personal finance journalist will be much more interested in statistics around money than they will be more subjective statistics, while a consumer affairs reporter might be most interested in consumer attitudes towards a given product or action.

As such, knowing both your journalist and your audience will help you prepare your best

If possible, try and have your content page up on your computer as well for quick reference, especially if your interview is audio-only. 

Question 3: “What is an Appropriate Media Interview Background?”

Cast your mind back to 2020 for a moment and consider those first Zoom calls and news broadcasts with Zoom interviews: from children running around in the background to being on/off mute to some people looking like they’re tuning in from a cave– none of these are looks you want to channel for media interviews. 

Consider your space: Is it free of distraction, in a quiet part of your home that has good wifi signal? If you’re doing a radio interview, do you have access to a landline or at the very least a quiet room? Ensure that you can get away from chaos and find a tranquil space. The right environment will both keep the nerves at bay as well as create a clear environment for your talking points to shine.

How to prepare your space for recorded interviews:

In your space, for video interviews, don’t skip on lighting: think about a ring light or, if you’re unwilling to invest, at least test what lighting works best for the space to keep you well lit. 

sample of a poorly lit zoom background with a darkened figure

Avoid setting up your camera in front of a window where the light can blow out your picture and make you look more like a shadow than an interview subject. Check on what’s visible in the background and assemble some quality Zoom backgrounds if necessary, or at least make sure you have a nice picture up in the background. 

Question 4: “How Do I Field Unexpected Questions?”

Some journalists replying with an interview request will have very straight forward questions. Others may come at you with tough questions. It can be difficult to predict which journalist type you’ll face, but the best way to prepare is to have your key messages well rehearsed and confidence in your familiarity with the subject.

A great way to ensure a solid, useful sound bite for journalists to leverage is to partially repeat back the question they ask- if asked what the average home temperature is in New England, begin your answer like so: “The average home temperature in New England is….” 

Particularly if you have a taped interview, don’t be afraid to pause and call up relevant data to further reinforce your points. Often reporters are especially interested in data germane to the community they serve, so having state or city-specific data handy will always do you favors. 

Inevitably, a  question will come out of left field, or, more frequently, reporters will ask you to editorialize your data. 

For many reasons, it’s best to avoid drawing conclusions unless explicitly confirmed in your data. In cases like this, return to this refrain: 

“I can only speak to the results of the study, but…” 

This keeps you grounded in the study and allows you to point out further data points that further the narrative the reporter might be looking for without giving you opinions. It’s important to stay on message and only speak on your expertise (i.e., the study) rather than editorialize– it’s possible that might displease the client.

Media Interview Training Complete!

With these tips and tricks at your disposal, you’ll be on track to crush every media interview that comes your way while staying cool, calm, and collected. With adequate preparation and the right space (both physical and mental), interviews aren’t nearly as scary as they might initially feel. Best of luck and break a leg! 

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