Five questions to ask before committing to a media interview

Businessman being interviewed by the media

If the circumstances are right, being called to participate in a media interview can be a great boost for your business on many levels. Your inclusion in an article is an ideal way to generate awareness of your business, position yourself as an expert, set you apart from the competition, reinforce your key brand messages and secure third‐party endorsement.

Although most media interviews are beneficial, there can be a downside. Your input in the wrong story at the wrong time can damage your personal and professional reputation in a way that can take a long time to recover. Here are several questions to consider before you say, ‘yes’ to your next media interview request:

1. Are you prepared?

Always prepare for a media interview. Try to resist speaking to a journalist who has called you unexpectedly. Either refer them to your PR representative if you have one to gain more information or ask them if you can call them back (as soon as possible) and make sure you do. If you don’t know the journalist, get to know them and their work before you speak to them. Have you got some good statistics you can share? Do you know what you want to say? Don’t just come to an interview to answer the journalist’s questions. You need to be clear about what you want you want to communicate, ideally with two or three key messages.

2. Is the media opportunity right for you and your organisation?

If you’re selling enterprise software to large banks or multi-million dollar companies, then you’re probably not going to get much out of speaking to a publication aimed at small businesses. Learn as much as possible about the story the journalist is working on. Although you’ll rarely get a list of questions – most are willing to share the basics.

3. Are you the best person to speak to?

There is little point in trying to answer questions you can’t. Can one of your colleagues provide a better insight? It’s much better to politely decline and pass the opportunity onto someone else within your organisation if the subject isn’t in your area of expertise.

4. Is the issue too controversial?

Another question you need to ask yourself is whether you want to comment on the topic. Is the topic controversial enough to get you or your organisation into trouble? You have to also accept that you actually don’t have a personal opinion. You are speaking on behalf of your organisation and will be quoted as such so if your opinion differs from that of your organisation, you need to think twice about doing the media interview.

5. Have you got something interesting to say?

It’s obvious but journalists are looking for a story. They’re not calling for a chat, although there is a time and place for those, but in general, you need to tell a compelling story. Journalists receive large numbers of stories every single day and they’ve chosen to speak to you because they think you can provide valuable insights or that your story is of interest. Don’t waste the opportunity. Make sure it is.

  • It’s nearly always best to engage with the media if you can, but there are exceptions – for instance if you work in an industry where there are controversial practices. I run media training courses in the UK, and tell my clients that even if you believe you are the ‘good guys’ and all the bad practices are down to your rivals, you can find some of the mud sticking to you. It may be better to keep your head down in these situations, rather than taking avoidable heat.