Conducting a Press Interview

As part of the public relations process, executives are often called upon to be interviewed. Although the questions are up to the reporter, it is possible to guide the direction of the interview if you are prepared with talking points that ensures that you discuss the issues that are important for your company. Below are some guidelines that might be helpful in having a measure of control in a press interview.
Preparation

The purpose of media relations is to represent your point of view in an editorial context. To the extent possible, you should control the interview in the sense that the key points and messages are clearly defined, and that those messages are the ones that get transmitted and written. Here are some possible steps to take prior to the interview to assume control.

  • Press Release. Prepare a press release and fact sheet articulating the particular messages you feel are important and submit them to the interviewer before the interview.
  • Background on the Reporter. Find out as much as you can about the interviewer including the last article(s) they’ve written, their “beat,” their general point of view and their position on the subject on which you are being interviewed.
  • Talking Points. Talking points are the key messages you want the interviewer to represent as your message or position. They can be a series of bulleted points or short statements that might be used as quotations. Talking points are YOUR notes and should never be shared with the interviewer.

The Context of an Interview

All interviews are not the same. They fall into a number of categories:

  • Supportive. The interviewer is predisposed to present the interviewee in a positive light, with no interest in criticism. The writer is on your side.
  • Informational. The interviewer may not know much about the subject and is relying on the interviewee to provide a structure and message.
  • Confirmational. The interviewer is interested in confirming assumptions the writer may already have, or has learned from other interviews or writing
  • Oppositional. The interviewer may have a particular point of view, for example consumer advocacy, where the purpose is to “expose” particular facts or information.
  • Confrontational. the interviewer is “in your face” about particular facts and demanding an explanation or rational. This is usually related to crisis situations.

Guiding the Interview

Control of the interview is not always possible. However, to the extent possible, the following guidelines will enable you to have a great deal of influence over the direction of the interview and the particular issues the interviewer covers and writes about.

  • Agenda. Define the agenda of the interviewer: this can be easily done by beginning the interview with an inquiry such as: “Before we get started, and so I can be most helpful, I’d like to better understand some of the things your most interested in. Do you have a particular set of issues that you’d like to cover?”
  • Listen. Actively listen. Then, summarize what they’ve said in a few key points. For example, “Let me make sure I understand. It sounds like you’re most interested in…” Then summarize the points.
  • Confirm their interest by saying: “That’s good. I think I can address that (or those) issues. It may make sense to give you a bit of background, and then I’ll review a few points that address those issues. Would that be helpful?”
  • Review your talking points. You now have the opportunity to set the agenda by defining the context, the issues and the main message points without having to respond to a series of questions.
  • Solicit Feedback. After you’ve presented your position and message points, ask, “Is this helpful? Do you have questions about anything I’ve mentioned?”
  • Buffer Answers. Before answering (or asking) a question, use a buffer statement such as:
“That’s a good question,” or “I’m glad you asked me that.” Buffers can give you a second to prepare an answer, put the interviewer at ease and keep you in control.