Media interviews: Know the context and your goal

Know what to do when asked for a media interview. Startups need to master media skills in order to promote, sell and share their messages. This series discusses what you need to know. See the introductory overview as well as the full series list below.

Getting a call for a media interview can be exciting, but you need to ensure you leverage the opportunity to bring value to your business. Despite the adage, not “all publicity is good publicity,” and it’s your responsibility to control and protect your company’s reputation in the public realm. This is why you need to understand the situation and context before you can properly prepare your key messages.

Generally, a journalist or producer is interested in a story if it includes one of three things:

  • Controversy (such as a staff departure), change (share price), something apart from the norm (performance relative to industry), human interest (inspirational or emotional)
  • News: something that hasn’t been reported on previously
  • Information with a fresh perspective

Media interviewers have common traits. They:

  • Are driven by the “why” (e.g., why now, why is it important, why should our audience care)
  • Speak to a specific audience
  • Are skeptical—they will always want you to support your points with facts or examples
  • Prefer the underdog over “big business”—it makes a more emotive story
  • Expect to be treated like a professional contact

First contact with a media outlet

  • Do not allow yourself to be pressured into doing a media interview on the spot. Take the time to stop, think and plan your key messages.
  • Be courteous and establish a time to return or have the call (if the request was made through email).
  • Remember that you are not obligated to answer any questions.
  • Check the contact’s credentials, make sure they are legitimate and quickly review their other work to get an idea of tone and editorial direction.
  • Maintain the media contact by putting it in an Excel file. Tip: Make note of any details that could help you or your team pitch them a story in the future.
  • Look them up and follow them on all their social media channels.

What to ask about the media interview

  • When is the interview?
  • Is it over the phone or in person (if in person, where will it take place)?
  • How long will this media interview take?
  • What is the proposed content and why?
  • Why do you want me to do the interview?
  • What was the source of your information about me?
  • Who will be the interviewer?
  • Are there any other people involved as guests or subjects? Who?
  • What is the format of your program or article?
  • Do you have any idea of the line of questioning at this time? Are there any numbers I can make sure to have ready?
  • What, if anything, should I bring with me?

Before your media interview

  • Know the audience and familiarize yourself with the media outlet.
  • Determine your communications objectives and develop the key messages.
  • Find ways to support your key messages using MBA (Make your point. Back it up. Add colour.).
  • Develop and practise questions and answers.
  • Promote your appearance—through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and your blog, if applicable. Make sure you tag the interviewer and outlet.

Articles in this series: