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Ask How To Meet the Press

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By | May 26, 2012

Dear Toolkit,

Help! A reporter from a local weekly called and asked if I'd do an interview about how it is to do business in our community. How do I handle this sort of thing?

Tongue-tied in Tallahassee

Dear Tongue-tied,

Relax. This sounds like a great opportunity to get some good publicity for yourself and your business. As the Coast Guard and the Boy Scouts know, the key to success is preparation. Here's a little laundry list to help you prepare to Meet the Press:

  • Find out what the reporter's agenda is. Ask if you might receive a list of questions in advance. (If this isn't possible, prepare your own list of the FAQs you feel a reporter might ask.) Carefully prepare your succinct answers to each question, using pithy, quotable phrases. Refine and rehearse these much and often.
  • Decide what your own agenda is. What do you hope to gain from doing this interview? What information would you like to see published? Make a list.
  • Position yourself as a resource. Prepare yourself mentally to play the role of an expert and reliable "source." Don't limit your image to being a salesperson for your product or service. You're an important member of the business community, knowledgeable about all aspects of local commerce. That's why you're being interviewed.
  • Be brief. During the actual interview, don't babble on and on. Stick to your pithy quotes.
  • Avoid jargon and buzzwords of any kind.
  • Be positive. Turn negative questions or topics into positive quotes. It's often useful to ask to have a negative question rephrased.
  • Be enthusiastic. Be upbeat, but without gushing.
  • Think locally. Remember that, like politics, all news is local. Try to present a local angle on every topic that's discussed. For example, if you're asked how the sales of widgets (your star product) are going, it's okay to say they've broken all records but it's even better to say that sales are so strong that they've enabled you to employ two more local folks and sponsor the Little League team as well.
  • Never say "no comment" or "off the record." Nothing is ever truly off the record and you should never say anything you wouldn't want to see printed smack dab in the middle of the front page. And a "no comment" retort is lame. Always be courteous enough to explain why you'd rather not comment. "That's an important point but not in my area of expertise..." is always useful.
  • It's always okay to say "I don't know." If you don't know an answer, don't make one up or try and bluff. Say, sincerely, "I don't the answer to that but I'll find out and get back to you." And then be sure you do.

Building a good relationship with the reporter can pay big dividends in the future. Be cordial and forthcoming. Be available. If the article comes out making you look like a champ, send a thank you note.

Keep in touch by sending clippings or items of interest to the reporter if you find any that might be helpful. This will help to establish you as a resource not just in the eyes of the newspaper, but in the eyes of its readers and your entire local market.

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