In our last post, we wrote about preparing for a press interview and how it provides a prime opportunity to balance the needs of the journalist with the needs of the client. Here, we are going to look more closely at the role the public relations professional plays during the interview itself.

The primary task when hosting an interview (or a meet and greet) is to make the necessary introductions and get the conversation underway. Ideally, you will then be able to listen quietly and participate only should the need arise. But the crucial skill is knowing when to step in and keep the conversation on course.

One of the most common scenarios actually occurs in the run up to an interview, whereby one of the parties needs to cancel or reschedule at the very last minute. By stepping in quickly, you can help to diffuse any tension and reschedule the interview at a convenient time for both.

Provided both client and journalist do make it to the scheduled interview, you can kick things off by building a framework for the conversation and by reiterating the focus of the discussion to keep it on target. For example, during a first interview or meeting, the client may want to give a brief background on the company and the spokesperson’s role to provide some context, but it makes more sense for the PR professional to suggest this when making the introductions.

With introductions made, it is best to let the journalist ask their questions and drive the flow of the conversation. The PR professional’s job at this point is to listen, take notes on action items (and potential materials for future pitches or content ideas) and only jump in if needed.

So, when should you step in?

Knowing when to interject is somewhat of an art form and comes with experience. However, below are some pointers on when it may be appropriate, and how to redirect the conversation:

  • If the spokesperson references commercially-sensitive information about a client or something the company does not wish to be made public, it is vital for the spokesperson to make it clear from the outset that the answer is ‘off the record.’ You should then reiterate this to the journalist once the client finishes their response.
  • When the interview is veering in a negative direction, or it appears as if the journalist is misinterpreting a point that the spokesperson has made that could appear in print, it can be useful to ask the journalist their thoughts on what is being discussed and ensure nobody is talking at cross purposes.
  • Should the conversation stray off-track or the journalist sound disinterested, redirect the conversation back to the topic at hand, but also look for opportunities to offer something extra to the journalist – exclusive comment or some facts and statistics to strengthen the story, for example.
  • When specific materials are referenced – such as headshots, marketing documents, previous press releases, or statistical data as proof points etc. – confirm that you will provide these following the call.
  • If there is a key point or message the spokesperson wants or needs to get across but has not done so effectively, a subtle way to remind them is to ask a follow-up question or make reference to a prior conversation that points them in the right direction.
  • When the call is running up against a set time constraint and one of the parties involved has a hard stop, you should look to jump in about five minutes before the end of the call to remind everyone they are running close on time and need to start putting together final thoughts.

If the journalist asks whether there is anything else to discuss that hasn’t been covered thus far, this provides a great opportunity for the client to not only recap on their main points, but also to add-in any messaging they were unable to cover within the remit of the questions.

The key however, is to avoid diluting the messaging or confusing the journalist by attempting to cram in too much information. The post-interview follow-up is where all the hard work should be converted into a hard-hitting story for the journalist and quality coverage for the client.

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