11 Simple Steps for Working with the
Create Realistic Expectations of
No more than 2 key points
Tell a story
Visualize the conversation
What to Wear
Chat with the reporter before the
Turn OFF your cell phone
Talk to the reporter, not the camera
How to ask for support
The Tip No One Tells You
Leveraging the Interview
A reporter from the local news has just called. He'll
be there tomorrow to do a story on your work! Great news! So why are you scared
The media make most people nervous. We know a story can
help bring our missions to the attention of thousands of people, but we are
afraid of what might happen once the camera is on us.
Relax. An interview with a reporter is just a
conversation about your work. The following tips should help that conversation
go smoothly and make your news story terrific.
Having Realistic Expectations
Before we dive in to the how-to's, the following 2
disclaimers are required reading:
Realistic Expectations about Public Relations -
the news is not a direct link to money and it will NOT bring in big donations.
If you are hoping wealthy folks will watch your story and whip out their
checkbooks - they will not.
are looking to raise funds, the first step should be a comprehensive Community
Impact Plan, outlining what your organization intends to accomplish for the
community. The next step is to create a plan for overall organizational health
and wellness, to ensure you can accomplish what the community needs you to
accomplish. From those 2 master plans, it will be important to have a resource
development plan (preferably an asset-based plan - for information on creating
that plan, CLICK here) and a Community Engagement plan (for
information on creating that plan,
CLICK here) Your success in sustaining your
mission will directly correlate with the extent to which you are thoughtful in
planning for both the present and the future.
have created those plans, you will see that public relations will be a part of
those efforts. But it is important to be very clear: PR alone is not a magic
pill to bring in dollars.
Public Relations is a tool for communicating with
the public. It provides credibility for your work, reinforcing a positive image
in the minds of those you wish to engage in that
only real magic pill is hard work, strong planning, and a very large bag of
resource development and community engagement tools. And public relations
should definitely be one of the tools in that bag.
Crisis Public Relations - Disclaimer
of news story discussed in this article is a feature news story - the type of
feel-good story you might see at the end of a ½ hour news show. Feature
news is the exact opposite of "crisis" news, when life is skidding downhill
organization is facing a crisis, the organization should designate one single
spokesperson authorized to speak with the media. That person should be coached
by a crisis PR firm and the organization's attorney, and should be in close
communications with the board's leadership. Seriously. Do not use this article
for that purpose.
those 2 disclaimers out of the way, you are ready to tackle that
Take Control Before
The first step in an interview is to be prepared. Being
prepared will eliminate some (not all) of your nervousness, because a big part
of why you are nervous is uncertainty. "What do I say if they ask me about
By doing a little prep work, your sense of uncertainty
will be reduced.
1 - Create Realistic Expectations of
The most critical part to a successful interview is to
know what you want the piece to accomplish. And if you already know the piece
won't bring in tons of money, what can you expect the piece to accomplish for
Put yourself in the viewers' shoes. The story that
would pull at your heart, sitting in your living room, is the story of how your
organization makes positive change in people's lives. Seeing a story like that
would certainly reinforce the credibility of your work..
And that is the very best goal for your media
appearance - letting the community know about the critical work you are doing,
so that when you DO ask for support of any kind, they have heard about you and
are thinking well of you. Keep that goal in mind, and don't let your mind slip
and think this piece is about raising money.
2 - In Two Key Points or Less, Why Is this Program
Now lets step out of the viewer's shoes, and let's try
on the reporter's shoes. If a reporter does 2 stories a day, five days a week,
that's 10 stories in a week, sometimes more. When she arrives at your office,
it is likely she has come from another interview where she's had to learn a
completely new subject in ten minutes.
If you want the reporter to do a great job for your
mission, make it easy for him or her to quickly understand what's important.
Don't bury the reporter in a ton of information, hoping he will find something
that strikes his fancy. If you bounce from point to point to point, he will
just get lost.
final piece may only be 1-2 minutes long!
Choose no more than two key points that illustrate why
your work is so important. Not four, or even three. Just two. And one would be
The points should answer this question: What difference
is your work making in your community and in the lives of individual people?
Your answer should tug at peoples hearts.
1,000 teens in our community are homeless, and
most of them were abused before they ran away. We can only help 20 of them at a
You know your most important issues. Focus.
3 - Tell Them a Story
After you have chosen your two critical points, find a
story about an individual who has experienced your program. Your program is
about changing people's lives; those lives are the story.
Write down this story using only 3-4 sentences, in the
1) Here's what the problem / opportunity was
2) Here's the situation now
3) Engage the public in helping you create
If the whole story is only be 1-2 minutes long, that
doesn't leave a lot of time for a rambling story. It is, however, just enough
time to make an impact.
"Mary was 16 when she came here. She and her baby were
living in her boyfriend's car. Now Mary has a job and an apartment, and she is
going to college. That's the kind of impact the community helps us
The important point is the end result for this
individual. They were in bad shape; they are now in great shape, thanks to
With so little time to tell your story, the 3-4
sentence format "Problem / Result / Engage" will stop you from
rambling. You will create the sound bite, rather than the station taking your
long rambling story and cutting it down themselves! It's just one more way of
taking control. (And by the way, this same story works well for your "30 second
elevator speech" - the one you use to introduce yourself at networking or other
4 - Visualize
This is a step that helps many people who get nervous
Remember this is just a conversation, nothing special.
This is not a performance you have to rehearse for. An
interview is simply a conversational chat.
So visualize yourself chatting with the reporter. It is
a casual chat. The camera happens to be there, but it is not focused on you as
an individual - it is simply watching the conversation, like a photographer at
a charity ball. You and the reporter are both involved in the subject. You are
both comfortable. It is the same conversation you have had many times, every
time someone wants to know about your work.
Spend some time thinking of the conversation in this
way, because truly, that's all it is.
5 - What to Wear
If you have time to dress for the interview, there are
some old stand-by rules for dressing for the camera.
Wear solids, preferably muted colors - light blue,
beige. White will flare up on the screen, and busy stripes / tweeds /
herringbones create distracting squiggly effects on the screen.
If you dont have time to dress for the interview
- if the tv crew is on their way - dont worry. The important thing will
be what you say.
When the Reporter
6 - Chat with the Reporter
Before the Interview
the day of the interview. The cameraman is setting up. This is a great time to
begin talking casually with the reporter. Share your key points with him/her,
OFF camera. This will warm you both up, bringing
the reporter up to speed and allowing you to get to know him/her and to feel
free to ask questions yourself at this time. How much do you know about
this issue? What was the last story you just came from? Is this a busy day for
you? Chit chat. Get comfortable.
reporter may take notes at this time. While you are in this pre-interview
conversation, tell the reporter directly: "Be sure to ask me about _____." If
he/she doesn't want to look like an idiot when the piece airs, they'll
is specific information you want shown in text on the screen, give that to them
now. A phone number where
people can get information. An address to drop off donations, etc. Then you can
forget about it and just enjoy your conversation with the
you are helping the reporter by providing what he/she needs. Give them good
solid information while making their job easier, and the interview should go
7 - Turn Off Your Cell
Phone / Pager
Dont just set it to buzz, turn
it off. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, some buzzers are almost
as loud as ringers. But secondly, if you are nervous, the buzz will distract
you. It may make you startle mid-sentence, just as you are at your most
eloquent. So turn it off. Period.
From the Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Did Department:
I had just come from an intense two-hour facilitation, and I was running late
for the ½ hour radio interview I was about to do. My mind was still
reliving the difficult facilitation, and I was definitely not focused on what I
was supposed to be talking about.
about 10 minutes into the interview - too late to ask them to re-tape. And my
cell phone started to ring - loudly. I was in mid-thought on a serious issue
when it happened, and as my mouth continued talking about the issue,
heres what my brain was saying:
Oh geez, you know better than that! I wonder if
its my kid? Are they going to be able to edit out the noise? Youre
an idiot - I cant believe you left that on! And oh, by the way, what on
earth am I talking about?
To say I
got flustered is an understatement. I was lucky - I am used to being
interviewed, and this was a subject I had spoken about so often I could wing it
until I got myself re-composed. Listening to the interview afterwards, I
managed to pull it off, and they managed to edit out the noise.
you dont want to be caught on camera with your mouth saying one thing
while your brain is thinking a million other things (most of those things being
expletives), turn your cell phone off.
camera is set up. Your microphone is on. The reporter is standing in front of
you, and you are about to start.
8 - Talk to the
Reporter, Not the Camera
Remember what you visualized? The conversation, the
give and take? You cant do that if youre thinking about the camera.
So just talk with the reporter,
and ignore the camera. If you look right at the camera and think about the
folks at home, you WILL get tongue tied. You will get nervous. You will lose
your place. And
thats because the camera is not a person.
just talk to the reporter as if you were at a social gathering. This person
wants to know why you care so much about your work and why you are so excited
about it. If you think about the conversation in this way, the reporter will
start to care about what your group does, and so will the folks at home.
focused on your 2 main points. Tell the reporter why this place means so much
to you and to the people whose lives you save every day. Tell him your story.
One on one, friend to friend. Forget the guy with the camera.
the end of the conversation, the reporter may ask if there is anything
youd like to add. This is where you can cover the topics on your list,
that the reporter didnt ask you.
This is NOT the point to go off topic.
Stay with your plan. Yes, Id
like to tell you a story about a girl we were able to help. With your
preparation, you will be ready!
9 - Now You Can
Pitch for Support
Weve talked about the fact that
a media interview is not a great place to focus on money. But there is a
difference between focusing on
money and asking for it as part of the
interview there is a time to ask for support, and that time is now.
covered the key points about your organization, and you've told your story. The
reporter sympathizes with your group and the great work you do, and so will the
public. Youve tugged at their hearts.
ONLY NOW can you talk about how tough times are, and that you are afraid the
center may have to close (or whatever your real need is) and that there is no
other organization that does the good work you do, etc.
ironic when we look at the incidence of teen violence nationwide, that if Mary
came here today, we're not sure we could help her." Or whatever the real story
you ask for money, the story isnt about the money. Its about
showing folks the problem and asking for their help.
Our building is bursting at the
seams, and were not sure well be able to continue to serve the
community. We are looking to the community to help us raise the $2million the
new building will cost.
to the cause. Stick to the people you help. And talk about imminent need.
probably wont get the big check you were hoping for. But people will
remember your more important message.
10- The Tip No One Tells
tip has saved me time and again.
unlikely that your interview will be broadcast live. Most interviews are taped. The tape
will be rolling through your whole interview, and the editors will take the few seconds
they need to make the story work.
interview is being taped, this is one of those rare times in life when you DO
feel you are getting tongue tied, stop, take a deep breath, and say to the
reporter, while the tape is still rolling, "Let me start again - what was the
question?" and then start your thought fresh. This will give you time to come
back to your main points, to rephrase that story, to bring the question back to
what you need to accomplish, etc.
cameraman will keep the tape rolling till you're done, and later, back in the
newsroom, they will throw away everything but the good stuff. The more
articulate you sound, the better the piece will be for them, so it is in both
your best interests to do it over and get it right.
11 - Leveraging the
benefit to being on tv isn't all about that one shot in front of whomever
happens to be watching at the time. There are a number of ways to leverage that
interview. Before you embark on a formal media campaign for your organization,
take some time to brainstorm ways your organization can get further mileage out
of your television appearance.
interviewed on television is what most organizations wish for. If you remember
no other tip, remember that a Human Interest Interview is simply a
conversation with someone who cares about your community. Relax and have a