Below, we have listed some of our top tips, from how to write a press release, to how to handle TV and radio interviews. However, you cannot beat practical experience and we strongly recommend you take part in one of our Media Training courses, to experience what it is really like to face the media!
Press releases / Questions to ask / Interview techniques / Print / Radio / TV / Press conferences / Crisis
Writing a press release
Keep your press release simple, bearing in mind what makes a good story. Give it broad appeal. Do you have a celebrity or dignitary you can invite to an event? Dress up or do something to capture the imagination.
- Your press release should be topical, quirky, contain human interest or be controversial.
- Try to keep to the equivalent of one sheet of A4 or two at the most, and send to your media contacts embedded in an email.
- Give the release a strong eye-catching heading. Add the date and say if embargoed. Though few media outlets observe embargoes these days.
- Make sure you answer the following: What, Where, When, Why, Who.
- Add some colourful quotes, giving the spokesperson's title, add facts, avoid jargon.
- If there is a photo/filming/recording opportunity, say where and when.
- It is useful to send in your own photos, emailed as a 300dpi jpeg, approx 4" x 6".
- Write the word "ENDS" to indicate further information, e.g. contacts, is for the reporter only.
- Give plenty of notice about an event, follow up with a phone call to see if they're interested.
- If your press release isn't used, send another with a photo, saying how things went.
Questions to ask
Whether you have been approached for an interview or whether you are putting yourself forward for an interview, make sure you ask the following questions:
- Where are you from?
- Is the conversation on or off the record?
- What is the interview about?
- Where will it take place?
- Where will the interview be used?
- Will I be quoted by name or as a spokesperson or source?
- Who else will be interviewed?
- How will the material be used - as a news story/feature/clip/head-to-head/package
- If radio/TV - is the interview live or pre-recorded?
- Will the interview be edited?
General interview techniques
- Ask for time to prepare a response, checking the reporter's deadline.
- Plan your answers with key messages and try to second-guess supplementary questions.
- Arrive early for an interview, be well prepared and relax.
- Don't use notes, but make bullet points to jog your memory (except for TV).
- Don't say "no comment". It appears you have something to hide.
- If the story is negative, make each answer end on a positive note.
- Don't lie - people usually get found out!
- If you don't know an answer, say you don't have the details and make another point.
- Stand your ground and refute incorrect statements.
- Don't agree to an "off-the-record" discussion, unless you trust the reporter well.
Newspaper/magazine/trade press interviews
- Be proactive and draw up a contact list, deciding who to target with a press release.
- Chase reporters up, phone them, interest them in your story.
- If interested, they may interview you in person, over the phone or at a press conference.
- Try to plan ahead with what you want to say, remembering to be positive.
- Think of some interesting or creative answers to make your key points.
- Type up facts and figures for a reporter to ensure accurate information.
- If a photographer is coming, think about your appearance and a good location.
- Try to avoid boring photos, e.g. cheque presentations.
- If you can't get coverage, write about an issue or event to the letters page of your local paper.
- Once you have made contact, keep developing your message or image.
- A presenter or reporter will chat to you "off air" first, to talk things through.
- They should always warn you if they are recording an interview.
- There are different kinds of interviews:
- On locations, using portable recording equipment/outside broadcast facilities.
- From home/office/other location over the telephone.
- In the main studio, "head-to-head" with the presenter/reporter.
- In a remote studio, "down the line" (e.g. ISDN) with the presenter/reporter.
- Make sure you know if you are live or being pre-recorded.
- Is it a 30 second clip ("soundbite")/3 minute news item/8 minute feature/20 minute phone-in?
- Make each answer strong as a longer interview is often "clipped" for bulletins.
- If you want to make a point, lead the interviewer there. Don't expect to be asked.
- Be confident, keep calm and don't rise to the bait!
- If you fluff (and if you're not live), then don't be afraid to ask to try again.
- The tone of your voice is important - don't be rude or condescending.
- Think about your appearance, e.g. powder your shiny face, comb hair, avoid bold patterns.
- Dress accordingly, e.g. a country park warden in a park wouldn't wear a suit.
- Ladies - dangly earrings and bright red lipstick are very distracting.
- Men - don't put your hands in your pockets and jangle keys and loose change.
- Watch out for glasses with photochromatic lenses.
- Put your hands in front of you or to the side, not behind your back, or your jacket will gape.
- For interviews with a reporter, look at them, not the camera.
- For "down the line" interviews with the main studio, look directly at the camera.
- Don't be over familiar with the interviewer, eg calling them by their first name.
- 10. Don't make any unguarded comments near microphones - they may be on.
If something very important or big is happening, hold a press conference. This could be for the launch of a new initiative or campaign, or if you have a new book or report out. You may have an important visitor or are holding a demonstration. Or you could be dispelling rumours or dealing with crimes or disasters.
- Check the location. Is there enough space for the media and their equipment.
- Think about lighting. Does TV need to bring lights. Strip lighting can be noisy.
- Think about sounds, e.g. noisy traffic/heaters/clocks/computers/air conditioning.
- Do you have a good backdrop, e.g. something with the organisation's logo on it.
- Put out name cards and make sure everyone knows where the key speakers are sitting.
- Are the interviewees well prepared as they may be cross-examined by reporters.
- Have you prepared press packs, photos or videos, and identified other filming opportunities.
- Have you a quiet room nearby for one-to-one interviews.
- Don't plan a press conference late in the afternoon, because of deadlines.
- Think about parking arrangements for people carrying heavy equipment.
Ten things to think about when facing a crisis such as a tragedy or serious incident:
- Take control immediately and put your crisis management plan into practice. If you don't have one, quickly draw up an action plan.
- Decide who is going to do what. Assign tasks to individuals, e.g. someone taking incoming calls, someone making outgoing calls, someone giving media interviews, someone setting up interviews and faxing out press releases.
- Work closely with the emergency services, who will take the lead role in a major incident. Help their press officers by providing up-to-date information and support.
- Set up a telephone hotline to enable worried family members/colleagues to phone in.
- Be pro-active (where appropriate) and contact your local radio stations. They can issue a public service broadcast immediately, e.g. to inform people a telephone hotline has been set up.
- Keep control over the media by organising a press conference. This will keep them in one location and prevent them trespassing or roving where you don't want them to.
- Make the media's job easy to stop them causing a nuisance, e.g. by providing photos of people who have died or statements from relatives (in both cases, with the relatives' permission).
- Often, once the media have got something from you, they will go away and leave you alone. Remember, television relies on pictures. If you can help them, try to do so.
- Prepare yourself for an interview. Make sure you have all the facts and figures to hand, and concentrate clearly on your key messages. Avoid reading a statement for the broadcast media. It is better to memorise a 20 second answer
- Remember to turn each negative question into a positive answer. Even in the face of adversity, it is possible to leave people with a positive lasting image, demonstrating you are a caring organisation.