How should I prepare for an interview with a journalist?
It’s important to prepare well for an interview with a journalist because, as we explained in the previous post, your responses will determine the external portrayal of your company. Interviews over the phone, on a video-conferencing platform, or in person can be more difficult to writing responses in an email. You need to respond to the journalist as you receive the questions. Your time to consider your response in the moment is limited.
The best way to overcome this time limitation is through good preparation. The same basic principles we described in the preceding post still apply too. In this post, we’ll explain how you can best prepare.
It’s important to highlight at this point that anything you say to the journalist can be published. Some celebrities or high-profile executives working for the world’s biggest brands might require journalists to give them more control over the outcome. For you, as an early-stage startup founder, this is not the case. You should only say things that you would be happy for the journalist to publish. You can ask the journalist to speak ‘off the record’, but this does not mean anything until the journalist has agreed (preferably in writing.) A journalist must make you aware that he or she is recording an interview before doing so.
1. Ask for more information
The first thing you should do before preparing for an interview is to ask the journalist for more information about what they intend to ask. People do not often think to do this, but it’s an easy way to improve your preparation.
If it’s not already obvious from the journalist’s initial email, ask what topics they would like to focus on. You can also ask whether there are any specific details or piece of information they need to know. These can be added to your preparation list to memorise. You can ask the journalist to provide specific questions. They may provide some in some cases, but most of the time journalists want to have a natural discussion supported by spontaneous questions.
You should also ask what the journalist intends to use the content from your interview for. You might find that they do not intend to use it for anything specific, or ‘for background’, in which case you’ll want to consider whether it’s worth your time providing an answer. This will depend on who the journalist is and which organisation they work for. Sometimes it’s worth offering the interview to build a relationship with the journalist, even if they do not intend to publish anything from it. The journalist might also tell you that the interview will be used for a specific series their organisation is running, which will help you prepare.
2. Study the publication and journalist
You’ll want to study the content of the organisation the journalist works for first. This will help you to understand the company’s overall approach, including its political tendencies. But once you’ve gathered a basic understanding by reading a few articles or watching a programme, study the relevant section or programme that the journalist interviewing you works on. If your interview will be used for a specific series, study that.
Freelance journalists often work for multiple organisations. You can often find a selection of their work through their website or Twitter account.
Here are a few considerations to support your research:
Do the stories focus on advice? What format do the articles/episodes take?
What subjects do the articles/episodes focus on?
Who have the journalists interviewed for previous articles/episodes? What have they said?
Some organisations, series, or programmes will require you to disclose financial details about your company as proof of success. You’ll need to decide whether you’re willing to do this with your colleagues. You may need to turn the interview request down if you’re unwilling, although journalists will sometimes allow you to use percentages instead of monetary figures. We always advise out clients to stick to what they’re comfortable with.
3. Draft your response
You’ve done your research. You now know all about the type of content the journalist will be trying to produce based on your interview. Now it’s time to draft a set of questions (around five usually works well) to prepare some responses. These preparatory responses will not always cover everything the journalist asks in the interview. They’ll get you as close as you can get though.
Highlight any information about your company that you’ve included in the responses. Discuss with your colleagues any details that you might not want to tell the journalist and establish anything that you would be happy to disclose. You can also include a conclusive section to your preparation document that includes any controversial or challenging topics that might arise. These will prompt you to be cautious if they do.
Interviews with journalists can be daunting. And you should approach them with appropriate caution because anything you say could be published and, as we’ve now highlighted, this will determine your company’s reputation. That can provide a very good opportunity if you prepare well.