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When a Reporter Calls, or Prepping for Your 15 Minutes

When reporters are on deadline, they want two things:

No. 2: A great source.

No. 1: A great source who understands their needs and the media in general.

Here’s a checklist for how to be that person.

Gather the Basics

  • Write down the reporter's name, media outlet, phone number, and story deadline.

  • Ask what the story is about and how the interview will be used.

  • If it’s a TV or radio reporter, inquire about the interview format (live, taped, etc.).

  • If you're not the best expert, refer the reporter to someone who is. This is one of the most gracious and generous things you can do for a reporter, and it will be remembered and repaid.

Compose Yourself

  • If you aren't prepared to talk, set a later time with respect for the reporter's deadline. Even 15 minutes of planning will help you prepare a better message.

  • Keep in mind what the public needs to know, and how the topic impacts people's lives. Adding context to the piece will assure you are quoted.

  • Take a few minutes to write down the brief message(s) you want to convey. Limit your contribution to one or two main points, unless the reporter wants more.

  • Be ready to support your message with a few examples and facts.

  • If you are a party to the case, and especially if you are on the losing side, anticipate the tough questions the reporter might ask. If you are an observer or analyst, consider counterpoints.

Smart, Perky, Articulate

  • Offer brief background on the subject at hand if the reporter seems to need it.

  • Speak with authority and energy, particularly for TV or radio interviews. If you are a fast talker, be sure to slow down. Practice and get feedback if you are unsure.

  • State your position in positive terms, even if a reporter's questions turn negative or sound loaded. Don’t take it personally; very few reporters actually try to trick sources. Those new to being interviewed are the most susceptible to this thinking.

  • If the reporter's questions seem to veer off track, politely steer the interview back to your message(s). That said, do not try to control the conversation.

  • Keep your points clear and succinct.

  • Check out my post on preparing for video interviews if you need more guidance.

Just a Reminder:

  • DO NOT MULTITASK. Don’t look at email, etc. Stay focused and grounded in the moment. Listen carefully, and don’t interrupt.

  • Assume everything you say is on the record, from the time you meet or talk with the reporter until you say your good-byes.

  • Avoid technical jargon; use lay terms. “Estoppel,” “sui generis,” “de jure,” and “de facto” are verboten.

Don't be these guys. Nobody likes these guys.

Remember, if your interview yields great content, the reporter is more likely to call on you again or refer you to other journalists. Staying in the media's eye is the surest way to gain greater visibility in your practice area.

Susan Kostal is a legal marketing and media coach specializing in the Bay Area legal industry. Find more great content on Twitter @skostal.

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