4 Ways to Prepare for Media Interviews with the Unprepared Reporter

Preparing for Media Interviews with Unprepared Reporters

How to Prepare Your Execs to Help the Unprepared Reporters image: iStock/philsajonesen

Once upon a time, I staffed a phone interview with a tech reporter from a coveted national outlet.  The reporter was late, and after calling a couple numbers, we finally connected. He was unfortunately stoned or at least on heavy medication and nearly incoherent the whole 12 minutes we managed to stay on the line for the media interview.  Luckily, our CEO had a good sense of humor, and just said, “Well, that’s a first and I hope he doesn’t write anything because I don’t think it would be coherent.”

More recently, my employee connected a client in an email conversation with a reporter. This reporter had responded to the introductory email, complete with links to the web site and a couple paragraphs about the client’s business, that he was very familiar with the client, followed their social feeds and would love to meet.

Then, in the 3rd email exchange with a vice president, this reporter stopped to ask what the company actually did.  Ummm. Hello?? You have an email full of working links and a brief description in an email from Vibrance. You jumped up and down and said you loved them. You have been chatting with this exec knowledgeably about the industry over email for two days. Today, you made an ass of yourself by asking that question. And, luckily, we have the email to prove we told you exactly what the company does.

The Bad Pitch Blog and the Non-Existent “Stupid Journalist” Blog

You have likely heard of various news reporters, tech outlets, or read The Bad Pitch blog, highlighting the stupidity of unprepared, over-green or just plain thoughtless PR folks. Trust me, I weep when I read the brainless things some people in my profession do, but the truth is, stupidity and unpreparedness cut both ways in the reporter/PR polarity—and you have to expect the unexpected when preparing for your next set of media interviews.

I searched and there is no “Stupid Journalist Blog,” because we all know that anyone submitting, “Real Stories of Bad Reporting, Names Included,” would never get another interview. You rarely see the truth that reporters and bloggers screw up, lose notes, are late and get their facts wrong, too.

Oh, sure, when there is a bright flaming star of a screw-up, like the spectacular Lauren Greene interview on Fox a week or so ago with the Muslim scholar who wrote the book on Jesus—the whole world crowed when she couldn’t get him to stick to her attack storyline.  Nor could she recover and ask him real questions or refute his claims of his scholarly credentials—which he clearly overstated, because she did not know. That’s what happens when you let the intern do your homework.

In reality, there are thousands of Lauren Greenes and worse out there, mostly very nice people and usually smart reporters having very bad days. You will eventually run into them, and they may write incorrect facts in stories that you will have to politely correct in order to save the relationship.

 How an Executive or CEO Needs To Prepare for Media Interviews

  1. Expect that the reporter has read nothing, and don’t be offended. Unlike you, your business isn’t the most compelling part of his day,
  2. Have grilled himself or submitted to a grilling by his PR team with a rude Q and A to respond to a negative line of questioning,
  3. Be able to kindly and calmly halt the reporter and suggest that there are stronger topics of discussion or to clearly state that the reporter has missed something and you need to back up. For a great example, watch President Obama kindly correct Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the View: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/obama-view-elisabeth-hasselbeck-gay-marriage_n_1518366.html
  4. Review the resulting article, and if there are factual errors, ask for a change. If the tone is not to your liking, just cool your jets. You are better off sticking to factual corrections. You are more likely to build trust with a reporter if he or she doesn’t feel you are whiny about an angle.

What You Need to Know About Good PR

For potential clients, let me tell you something about most good PR people. Unless you have hired a 24-year-old who never worked with any supervision, (and if you are paying a very big agency a very teensy, tiny amount of money that may be exactly what is happening), we bend over backwards to make sure every detail is right in a pitch and that reporters are fully vetted before having a media interview. Don’t assume that lack of knowledge on the reporter’s side equals lack of trying on your PR team’s side. You can trust but verify, of course, but we can’t make reporters read everything we send them.  Your best bet, like the Boy Scouts, is to “Be Prepared.”