So You Have to Talk to the Media: What to Know

Sep 6, 2017 | Jessica Ogilvie

The good news is, you’ve landed an interview with a newspaper, radio station, podcast, or TV show! You’re going to talk about your product in public! The bad news is, you’ve landed an interview with a newspaper, radio station, podcast, or TV show and you’re going to have to talk about your product in public. Don’t panic. Many have gone before you, and there are a few key tenets of dealing with the media that will ensure you stay on good footing and that your brand comes across great — no matter what. Here are the top three things to keep in mind leading up to the interview:

1) You Catch More Bees With Honey

First things first. If a journalist approaches you for an interview, remember what you learned in kindergarten: Be nice! This is partly because, hey, you should be nice to everyone. But it’s also because — and I’m speaking as a journalist myself here — journalists are people too, and if you’re disinterested or rude, they will respond in kind. The difference is that journalists have the power (like it or not) to publicly disparage you. They might not do it on purpose, but if you behave poorly towards them, don’t be surprised when a backhanded compliment about your business shows up in the paper.

The same goes for politely declining interviews. If for some reason you don’t want to do the interview, won’t be available, or are trying to dodge bad press, never leave a journalist hanging. Simply reply with a very polite, “I’m so sorry, but I’ll have to decline this time. Thank you for thinking of me!” If you know someone else in the field who might be better-suited for the opportunity, go ahead and offer up their name. And unless you absolutely have to, avoid replying with “no comment.” Have you ever read “no comment” in a newspaper? What does it make you think about the person who said it?


2) What to Wear

If you’re going on-camera, you’ll want to think carefully about what to wear. Fortunately, there are some hard and fast rules, so you don’t need to think too hard. A couple caveats: If you have any tendency whatsoever to sweat, think lightweight fabrics and short sleeves. Also, remember these are suggestions to do with what you please; feel free to tailor them to your own personal style and brand!

  • If you have time, try to find out the general vibe, dress code, and set color so you don’t look out of place.
  • Try to avoid whites and patterns. They’ll look blinding on television.
  • Remember to clean and iron your clothes, because HD.
  • Unless it somehow pertains to your brand, steer clear of overly shiny or distracting jewelry. Think small and matte.
  • Greys are always a good bet, as are dark pastels and neutral tones that flatter your coloring.

3) Answering Questions: The Basics

You might not be the next Tony Robbins, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do a great interview. Here are some things to remember when you’re finally face-to-face with the journalist.

  • The journalist wants you to do well. Unless you’re appearing on Meet the Press, this is all about having a pleasant conversation with another human. It makes the journalist’s job easier if you do well, and it also makes them look good. Win-win! Plus, the more relaxed you are and the more prepared you are, the more likely you’ll be to get asked back.

  • Plan your answers in advance. You can never be completely certain what a reporter will ask, but you can anticipate certain questions based on why they’ve asked to interview you. For example, if you’re being interviewed about the business you just started, you can count on being asked how you came up with the idea, when you started it, and what your biggest challenge has been so far.

And here is an advanced media trick: You don’t have to answer the question you’re given. This is a response you’ll often see deployed by politicians, and it goes something like this: “That’s a great question, but what I really want to talk about is…” In the media world, this is known as a pivot. Not necessarily recommended for beginners, but hey, if you’re feeling confident, now you have it in your back pocket.

  • Keep it short and sweet. If this is your first time being interviewed, it might feel awkward to end your answer after just two or three sentences; most of us want to hem and haw and add additional thoughts for a little while. And while that might be fine at a cocktail party, it’s not so fine when you’re on the record. After all, it’s not your job to keep the conversation going; it’s the reporter’s job. So just answer the question, get in and out in two or three sentences, and then Shut the Hell Up. (I promise, you’ll thank me later!)