Build Your Reputation as an Expert with Media Interviews

Media interviews are the way journalists obtain the information they need to prepare news coverage. In that sense, as the owner of information, you are their supplier. Your goal is to become one of their preferred suppliers.

How many times have you sat in the car, listening to the radio, when someone came on as an “expert” in your field? Have you thought to yourself that you could do better? Or wondered how that professional was identified as an expert by the journalist?

With 24 hour news on TV and radio, staff cutbacks at struggling print publications and a massive increase in Internet traffic, local public media are constantly looking for ways to fill air time and print space. With some understanding and simple "tips of the trade," you can become perceived as the local expert in your field and invited into media interviews on a regular basis. As part of a PR strategy to create name awareness, participating in media interviews can be the most time-efficient PR tactic you use, putting you in a position to talk with authority to thousands of potential clients or patients. As with all news coverage, it is free.

Things to consider before you promote yourself as an expert media source:

  • Are you willing to make yourself available at short notice? The media moves fast, they need to know they can get in touch with you quickly. Calling back two days after they have contacted you is two days too late. It is advisable to take a few minutes to consider the request, so saying “I need to check my schedule” to give yourself some thinking time is fine, but saying you will get back to them in a few days means they will never call you again.
  • Can you speak clearly and confidently, sounding like you know your subject? This is particularly important when doing radio interviews.
  • Can you avoid using interviews as an advertising opportunity? The journalist should introduce you and your company. They do that to show their audience that you are an expert; that is enough. Do not mention your company in every sentence or your first media interview will be your last; they will not ask again and will probably put you on the "do not approach" list.

To shorten the process of becoming a preferred media supplier, or what PR professionals call a media source, all you really need to do is let your target media know you are available, give them some topics you are willing to speak about and then, if contacted, conduct a great interview. To land those first media interviews:

  • Get to know the media outlets that affect your business. Your easiest entry will be in those media outlets in your local area, but do not overlook trade journals and the Internet.
  • Know your local journalists. Study the local newspapers, radio and TV to see which journalists cover topics that relate to your business. Begin collecting their email addresses and phone numbers. Call and introduce yourself, giving them a succinct bio establishing your expertise.
  • Be proactive. When a story starts to break and it relates to your business, call your local media outlets, beginning with radio if you are comfortable with that medium, and offer your expertise. You would be surprised how many times you will end up in the story.
  • Write to the editor of your local newspaper and tell them when you think there is another angle to a story.

Now you are ready to consider the next step, commonly referred to as pitching. This simply means asking a journalist to cover a story or presenting them with a story idea or an angle on a current story. For example, in the event of an incident such as a major fire or natural disaster, experts such as builders, insurance agents or lawyers might approach the relevant media and offer to provide advice to readers, listeners or viewers. Things to bear in mind when considering pitching an angle to media are:

  • Know the publication or broadcaster. There is no point pitching an angle to a publication that does not cover the topic or is not covering a particular story.
  • Target your pitch to the right person. This is when the list of contacts you have been accumulating over time will be invaluable. If you are not sure, you can call the media outlet and ask them. They would rather you call than have you send it to the wrong person.
  • If it is a national story and you have an angle on it, go local first. Many local stories get picked up nationally and it is easier to pitch to local journalists than nationals.
  • When pitching to a local newspaper, offer to write an article yourself. This is called a bylined article, which simply means getting your name and company printed as the writer. If they would like to print your story but without the byline, a great alternative is to quote yourself in the article. (Note you cannot do both.)

Media Interview Tips

Once you have landed a media interview, what else do you need to know to make it a successful one? Days could be spent in training on that topic, but here are a few tips:

  • Always prepare. Journalists will ask questions you were not expecting.
  • Do not be put off by the hard questions. Buy yourself some thinking time by using phrases like “You know, that is a really good question.”
  •  Do not speak too long in response to a straightforward question. Give as much information as is necessary but beware the desire to over answer. They are not experts and may miss your main point. Give them a succinct response they can quote without having to edit a lot of other words from it.
  • Never go “off the record.” Be aware that every word you say to a journalist may end up in public. It is not that they will deliberately disclose the information, but they are only human and can overlook an agreed “off the record” comment. In any case, they are never obliged to honor an “off the record” request if it comes after the information has been supplied, only if you ask for it before you provide the information.
  • Do not criticize your competition. It is unprofessional and unnecessary. A reporter may try to provoke this because it makes a good quote and more interesting story, but keep your end goals and your image in mind.
  • Get feedback from family, friends and colleagues after any media interview. Keep copies of any coverage to revisit before your next interview.
  • One way to help a radio or TV host is to prepare suggested questions for them. They will always have some of their own, but if yours are good they may use a few of them too. This not only helps you get your desired information covered, it reduces their prep time and may help get you invited back.

The goal of any media interview is to raise your profile as a professional expert. Unless you work at a national level, local media are your preferred targets. Although appearing in a national story would certainly raise your profile locally, your results for time invested will be much higher from focusing your efforts locally.

Media interviews are one of the easiest and least time consuming methods for getting media coverage. I say easy because after you have done it a few times, it will require less preparation time than many other methods. Although it takes some initial effort to get it started, once journalists come to view you as a local expert, they will be calling you when they are doing a story relevant to your area of expertise.


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