If you are an expert in your niche, a reporter may contact you for an interview. The interview may be all about you or the reporter may call on you to offer expert advice about a particular topic or news story.Always remember this about reporters — they’re given an assignment, typically from an assignment editor and may work with one or more reporters if they’re working on a major story. Your interview may be used as is, changed or not included at all. The latter can leave you devastated, but you must know that the reporter himself likely had little to do with that decision. Typically, a chief editor or a publisher makes the final decision on what comprises a story or not.
To ensure that you’re prepared for an interview and have a better chance that what you say is included in an article, the following tips can help you get ready.
1. Accept the interview — If you believe that you have the answers a reporter wants, then accept the interview request. If you can’t talk immediately, set up a time that is convenient for you both.
If the reporter is on a deadline, he may move on to a new source. But, even with a deadline the reporter may allow you just 15 minutes, enough time for you to collect your thoughts.
2. Learn about the reporter — What do you know about the person that wants to interview you? This person may be a stringer or a freelancer, an individual that may or may not be credited with contributing to the story. Or, she may be a features reporter with an assigned story desk such as local news, sports or fashion to cover.
You’ll want to search Google to learn more about this individual, pulling up recent articles and uncovering her writing style. If this person has a habit of bylining sensational stories, then at least you know where she is coming from before you are interviewed.
3. Craft your message — With little time to prepare, you may not be able to build a complete message before the reporter contacts you. Nonetheless, you can jot down two or three points and direct the reporter accordingly.
You are helping the reporter to have a successful interview when you have prepared yourself. A few years back, a reporter from AOL Autos contacted me about the trend of people to keep their cars longer. Before he called, I confirmed with a source what I already knew, that the average number of years a person kept a car had increased to 10.6 years. I cited the source and we discussed the trend as well as my opinion about the effects this had on the auto industry overall.
4. Always be helpful — Remember, unless the interview is about you, then the story is about someone or something else. Don’t overplay your role in the interview.
Just the same, you’ll want to show your knowledge by also sharing with the reporter people you know not just what you know. This means you’re willing to share sources, people that might be willing to help the reporter craft his story.
Don’t name a source that wishes to remain anonymous, unless you can keep quiet the relationship you have with this individual. For example, your source may have uncovered an accounting scandal with a larger PR firm. Your reporter doesn’t need to know what he shared with you, but you can mention that your source is a senior vice president with a strong public relations background, someone who should be contacted for an insightful angle.
5. Offer yourself for other stories — A relationship with a reporter is one that does not have to end when the interview is over. If you’ve been particularly helpful in the interview, the reporter has already determined that you are effective communicator and a reliable professional. Never underestimate the value of what you know.
Reporters will frequently turn to a trusted source for follow up stories. You can be one of those sources by simply asking the reporter to contact you for comments about future stories. I have a colleague who seems to always get press exposure from major news outlets — he knows the car industry well and always presents a unique and dignified angle that adds value to every story.
6. Give the reporter your information — How do you want the reporter to mention you? I am known formally as Matthew C. Keegan and informally as Matt Keegan. I’m happy with either designation, but I do want the reporter to get that information right as well as mention that I am a freelance automotive writer, a business journalist or web editor, depending on the story.
You can send your biography information to the reporter separately. Include a recent photo, something the news outlet may use.
Notes and Such
The reporter may be interviewing you, but feel free to ask questions too. “How can I help you?” is a good place to start and can lead to you sharing other information of value to the reporter.
Most interviews these days are conducted over the phone and some may ask questions of you via email. In-person interviews can happen too, especially at public shows or settings. How you present yourself is important so always go into each interview dressed accordingly.