By Leigh Ann Hubbard

Want to reach out to the media but nervous about interviews?

Wonder if you’ve trained your leadership tin all they need to know about dealing with press?

Truth is, dealing with the media is usually pretty simple, if you know a few things. After two decades of working in this realm — interviewing and being interviewed — here are my top tips all leadership teams need to know.

During the interview, do …

  1. Take deep breaths. Most reporters are fellow human beings. After witnessing all the vitriol in the national press these days, you may expect hostility. But if you’re dealing with a local reporter especially, in a smaller market, that person is your neighbor. They want to do a good job and tell a good story. (Caveat: This is for general interviews. Also see the “for crisis interviews” section below.)
  2. Keep everything you can on the record. If you constrain the reporter, you’re weakening the story.
  3. Before sharing something “off the record,” ask if that’s OK. Try not to share something first and then say, “Don’t quote me on that.” Most reporters will respect your request anyway, but it’s not the most respectful or prudent way to approach things.
  4. Share specific stories whenever you can (HIPAA and privacy issues considered), because they’re engaging. You may get better coverage.

For print interviews, do …

  1. Pause and think, if you need. “Good question. Let me think about that.” It’s OK not to have an answer at the ready.
  2. Rephrase if you want. But don’t worry too much about “sounding like an idiot” — a common fear. Reporters want their stories to make sense. They’re usually not going to publish a quote that doesn’t.

For video and podcast/radio interviews, do … 

  1. Be concise. For most interviews, try to keep your answers to 30 seconds or less. For longer-form media, like many podcasts, longer answers might work fine, but if you find yourself rambling or repeating yourself, stop talking.

For crisis interviews …

  1. Be transparent. When there’s a negative story — when you’re dealing with a crisis — one of the most important things is to be as transparent as you can. Shutting down communication makes things worse. Be honest. People can sense sincerity — and being given the runaround.
  2. There’s more to crisis communications, but the first step is to plan before anything happens. Have a chain of command. Tell the team what to do if a reporter comes knockin’ with a negative story. This isn’t to shut down communication. It’s to streamline it and ensure your message is getting out clearly.

Don’t …

  1. Expect all exact questions to be sent to you in advance. You can ask for them, but often, you’ll mainly have a roadmap — topics that will be covered.
  2. Ask to read an article before publication. Pros know better than to ask. In most cases, it’s unethical for reporters to say yes. This isn’t an advertorial. Don’t worry — they will (or should) fact check anything in question with you.
  3. Be extremely stringent on the details post publication. This is a hard one. If you’re a stickler for facts, you and I are kindred spirits. But sometimes, it’s best to let a small error go — especially one that doesn’t matter in the long run, or that only you will notice. Choose to be easy to work with, so the reporter will come back.

Especially, Do … 

  1. Celebrate the coverage! Even if everything is not perfect (and it rarely is), you got your organization out there and on people’s minds! Great work! Now, on to the next.