When a journalist knocks on your door looking for a comment, it is tempting to simply answer their questions. But you need to be much more organised if you want to build and protect your brand and reputation.
1. Ask what they want: Don’t assume you know what they want to talk to you about.
2. Ask what they already know: What information do they already have? Do they have a concrete basis for the story already or are they on a fishing expedition?
3. Ask who else they have spoken to: Knowing this can help you figure out what other people may have already said. Have they spoken with someone who is likely to be critical of you or an action you have taken?
4. Ask what angle they are taking: Okay – many journalists aren’t going to tell you, but it’s worth asking the question anyway.
5. Ask what their deadline is: You need to know how fast you need to move. Making them miss their deadline is not conducive to building a good working relationship.
6. Tell them you will call back: That’s right – never do an interview on the spot. You need to do some homework first. While journalists on a tight deadline won’t be happy, they will appreciate the fact that you can talk to them armed with facts.
7. Do your homework: Gather the facts, Google recent news stories on the topic and prepare yourself for the interview. Look at what is being said on social media, particularly news Facebook pages. Think about questions the journalist might put to you and prepare answers.
8. Practice with a friend: It doesn’t matter whether it is a work colleague, your partner or a media advisor; it makes sense to have at least five minutes practice before you head into the real interview. Other people will also think of questions that slipped your mind.
9. Call the journalist back: Even if you decide you are not going to provide any comment on the story, have the courtesy to let the journalist know before their deadline has passed.
10. Review the result: Make sure you watch the news or read the paper to see the result. Critically review your own performance so you can do better next time.
Tracy Jones started her career as a journalist 30 years ago before moving to public relations. She is principal of Creative Territory and runs the company’s Intensive Media Training for Executives course.