You just received a call that a journalist wants to interview someone from your company about a story they’re pursuing. The adrenaline starts flowing and you quickly begin imagining all the great things a good interview will lead to like raising awareness about your brand, building thought leadership for your executives and even connecting with new customers or clients. You can’t wait to jump off the phone and start sharing the excitement with everyone else on your team, but take a breath because you’ll want to remember these five questions to ask journalists before an interview takes place.
When is your deadline?
This may seem basic, but reporters frequently forget to say when their deadline is for an interview or story. Their answer, though, can mean the difference between you running a victory lap to tell everyone about the upcoming interview or scrambling to connect with the right people before you run out of time. Regardless of the news outlet, deadlines can range from five-minutes to five-weeks or longer.
Even local TV and radio reporters focused on daily news stories sometimes work on long-term projects. You need to know what a journalist’s deadline is up front so you can gauge how much time you have to prepare and make an interview happen. Also remember that if the topic of the interview is more general and not related to your company only (i.e. they’re probably asking others for the same interview) your deadline means getting back to them with a confirmed interview before anyone else, regardless of when the story might publish.
What is the story about?
Make sure you get as much information as possible about the journalist’s broader story, not just about the specific interview topic. Ask follow up questions to clarify things. Sometimes this will be obvious from the very beginning, but if the journalist is asking to interview someone for their expertise on a more general topic, ask questions. This could help you identify the best person from your company for the interview. It could also help you avoid a huge mishap if the final story is actually related to negative news about a client, a bad customer experience or even another department or person within your organization.
Go a step further and ask what specific topics the journalist wants to discuss in the interview as well. Are there any statistics you will need to pull ahead of time to prepare? Any sensitive issues you’ll need to train the interviewee on before they go on the record? Remember that few journalists will send you an official list of questions before an interview, but they will all offer a list of topics they want to discuss. The journalists want you and your company to be prepared as well.
Where will the interview take place?
Get details on where the interview needs to take place ahead of time to save time later in the process. Can a TV reporter come to your office? Does the guest need to travel to the radio station for the interview? Can a newspaper reporter speak with them on the phone? If you’re speaking with national broadcast media, they may need the guest to travel to a local studio for a live broadcast interview. There are lots of possibilities, so find out what you’re working with first. There’s little worse than confirming someone is available for an interview just to find out they have to travel to the other side of town and suddenly can’t make it.
Who will do the interview?
In a lot of situations, the person calling you will be the journalist conducting the interview, but not always. Sometimes they’re coordinating for someone else. Maybe the broadcast journalist is on the phone, but has to send their camera person on their own to record the interview. This may or may not impact the nature of the interview itself, but knowing who you will sit down with for the interview helps everyone prepare and feel more comfortable once it actually takes place.
How can you stay in touch?
If the journalist called you, make sure you get an email address to stay in touch and save for your records. If they emailed, try to get an office or mobile phone number. If they Tweeted at you (yes, this happens a lot), try to get everything else. Ensure you have all the contact information you need to follow up and stay connected throughout the interview process at the very beginning to avoid any confusion or communication lapses later on down the road.
Conclusion and Next Steps
Now that you know what questions to ask a reporter before an interview, don’t wait around for the next call. A little preparation ahead of time goes a long way in media relations, especially once you realize you may not have much time to pull details together when you actually get that call.
If other people could answer the phone when a journalist calls, make sure they know what to do and which questions to ask as well. Consider making an interview call checklist and having it by the phone to capture all the necessary information quickly. If your office is all digital, perhaps you can tie the checklist to a hotkey so they can quickly put together an email with all the details.
Then make sure you log the request, news outlet and reporter information. That way you can track the story when it publishes, follow up quickly in case there are any errors and remember who you spoke with for the next time you reach out to pitch another story idea.