How To Do A Successful Print Interview

by Tom Egelhoff

Sooner or later a newspaper or magazine reporter is going to show up on your doorstep requesting and interview. Sometimes it will be positive other times you may be defending your business or industry against negative publicity. Once again, as a business owner, you will find yourself out of your "comfort zone." What if you say the wrong thing or they print a comment out of context? You begin to sweat and your stomach fills with butterflies.

I have found that, in most cases, fear is nothing more than a lack of knowledge. We fear saying and doing the wrong thing because we have no idea what the wrong thing is. In most cases a reporter will contact you to arrange an interview so you have some time to prepare. Here are a few things to help you destroy the fear and make your interview a benefit rather than a liability.



Establish Contact With The Reporter

If the reporter leaves a message to call them do it as soon as possible. Most of us assume that if a reporter is contacting us it must be something negative. This isn't always the case. The reporter may just need some background information about your industry as it pertains to your town or state. He may be looking for a local perspective on a national issue concerning your business or industry. If this is the case that may mean some free publicity for you as a recognized expert on the subject and put your business in a more positive light in your community.

An even more important reason to contact the reporter is that they are probably going to contact your competition if you aren't available. They may anyway and use the most interesting quotes in the article. Just because they've also contacted the competition doesn't mean you are out in the cold.



Consider The Location Of The Interview

There are times when you may want the reporter to see your place of business and other times you may not. Don't feel that you must succumb to the pressure of the reporter. When they call you also don't assume that you must begin the interview on the spot. If their call comes out of the blue and you are unprepared tell them that you are with someone at the moment and can you call them back in ten minutes. This will give you some time to gather your thoughts, relax and mentally clear your mind.

I like to do interviews over lunch if possible. It's a non threatening location for both me and the reporter and there are no ringing phones or other interruptions. And, although is sometimes happens, it's really hard to ambush someone over a friendly lunch. It's also your time to interview the reporter.

Read some of the reporters past columns if possible and comment on them. This will also give you an idea of their journalistic style. Are they looking for the next "Watergate" or are they really interested in presenting the facts correctly. They are not necessarily the enemy.



Set Time Limits If Necessary

The longer you talk the more chances there are to get yourself in trouble. Particularly if the interview deals with a negative about your business or industry. A half hour for a phone interview and an hour for an in person interview should be enough time.

If the interview is going well and you want to allot more time you can. Times up is an excellent way to end an interview that is becoming too negative or is just a rehash of the same information. Always remember that this is not just an interview it's also an ad for your company. The newspaper of course wants it to be news and for all intents and purposes it is. From your standpoint a positive mention of your company in an article on the front page that everyone will read makes your business look awfully good.



What Is The Scope Of The Article?

Before you commit to do an interview make sure you know the total focus of the article. Your part of the article may be a positive but the scope of the article may be negative. You may have a successful automobile repair shop. If the article is about repair shop ripoffs there may be a concern as to how you are going to be portrayed in that article. You certainly don't want readers to have the perception that you are a dishonest establishment.

If people only read the headline and your picture is in that article they may assume that you are a dishonest shop. Pin the reporter down as much as possible as to what they are looking for. If your instincts tell you they are biased against your business or industry refuse to do the interview.



Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

I know business keeps all of us pretty busy each day. But an interview can bring a major boost to your small business. Take (or find) the time to prepare for the interview. Here are some things to consider:

  • Write down points you want to cover during the interview and have them with you. Don't rely on memory.

  • Type up those points and supporting information to give to the reporter.

  • If the reporter tries to take the interview to an area that you don't wish to talk about gently lead them back to the points you typed.

  • Make a list of all the questions you can think of that the reporter may ask.

There's an old saying that I subscribe to that says, "The person asking the questions is always in control of the conversation." So your answers are going to have to direct the conversation back to your points. Politicians are masters of this technique.

Don't even think of saying anything that you don't want to see in print. And don't apologize for any part of your business. You should only express positive thoughts. For example, if the reporter says, "You are very successful." you might be concerned about looking self centered or egotistical so you might respond with, "Well, I've been lucky." Luck has nothing to do with building a successful business. If you are lucky chances are you made your own luck by working hard.



Who, What, Where, When and How

The above are the guidelines reporters learn on the first day of journalism school. How does this affect you and your interview? You need to be specific in your answers. Instead of, "We did a little better in our second year than our first year." say "We had a 25% increase in our business in the second year due to....."

Reporters aren't going to print common quotes like "When the going gets tough the tough get going." If you have a quote that you base your business philosophy on then use it and tell how it relates to your business. Don't try to be funny. Most of us aren't very good at it and most reporters will ignore those kinds of quotes.

Also, reporters don't always listen well because while you are talking they are often thinking of the next question they want to ask. So don't worry about repeating your points over and over again.



Don't Speak In A Foreign Language

This doesn't mean English only. It means that each industry has it's own language that an outsider doesn't always understand. Terms that may be common to you are like a foreign language to those outside your business or industry. For example in the printing industry the space between each line of text in this article is called "leading." In the old days of mechanical typesetting strips of lead were placed between each line of type that determined the spacing.

If you are going to have to use certain terms to describe your business then include a list of definitions for the reporter so they can explain to readers what the item or procedure does.



The Last Word On Print Interviews

Reporters have a tough job. They rely heavily on sources for their material. The less legwork they have to do the better they like it. If you can make their job easier then they are more likely to deal with you in the future.

Also fax or deliver any material that you think will assist them in their article. You have a lot of material from industry studies and trade publications that will make their story better. And after all isn't that what you are both looking for.


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