You’ve gotten a call from a television news reporter and he or she is on the way over to interview you about a trending story and it’s something your nonprofit cares about. It’s not hard to mess up a television interview, and if your goal is to screw up, here are five easy ways to do it.
Don’t tell your public relations staff, so they can’t help you prepare for the interview, talk to the reporter to handle any background logistics, or watch for the story when it airs. If you have a communications staff, you should be telling them about any press inquiries you receive. They need to keep media lists up to date, brief you on any other inquiries related to the topic (if it’s trending there may be more reporters than just this one) and can help you get ready.
They can assemble materials or a press kit for the reporter, may know if the reporter has interacted before with the organization, or how the reporter typically approaches a given topic. They can also help provide background material or meet the person in the lobby and help set the context for the interview.
They can also help prep other office staff so there’s not a sudden office ice cream party five feet from your door during the interview, or the rest of the staff aren’t surprised by a camera person collecting b-roll as they stuff envelopes, answer the phones, re-organize the warehouse or whatever they do on a daily basis.
You are more worried about what you are wearing and how you will look on camera, than what you will say. How you appear on camera is very important, but what you say in an interview will be critical to how your organization’s position and information are conveyed.
Review your 3-4 talking points and practice them in advance of the interview. If the interview is about a new report or statistics, make sure you know them well in case the reporter needs you to state them, not just your position about them.
If the interview is taped and not “live” you can ask to re-phrase a response to a question. Don’t do this excessively, but if you would like to take a second try at a response, a news crew will often accommodate your request.
It hasn’t even occurred to you to think about how you might look on camera. You don’t want for your appearance to detract for your message – so ignoring your appearance is also not an option. In the nonprofit sector, no one expects for you to look too well-off or slick – so don’t feel you need to race out and mortgage your home to buy a three-piece Armani suit just for an interview.
Looking professional and presentable is good enough. A collared shirt usually does better than a non-collared one. A V-neckline can help slenderize you. Big and busy patterns should be avoided. Solid colors almost always look better on camera than anything with a pattern, unless you are super skinny and gorgeous, which unfortunately, most of us are not. Your hair should be neat. Jewelry and makeup should be conservative and not overly flashy.
Don’t mention the name of the nonprofit organization you represent in the interview and don’t do anything to include the organization’s name in the interview. Try to mention the name of the organization in at least one of your responses to a question. Wear a polo shirt or pin with the organization’s logo, or do the interview in an office with a banner, sign or photo for the organization behind you. Don’t feel you have to hose the place down with the logo and branding, but try to include the agency visually and in what you say.
Make sure the reporter has the agency’s name, website address, Facebook/Twitter/YouTube handles, phone numbers and any other information needed in case he or she can post this information on the news outlet’s website or broadcast it on air. This should all be available in a brief and small press kit that you give the reporter.
If the story is about your organization’s response to a breaking news event, or your reaction to a story, and not necessarily about your services and programs overall, less information about your organization may be included in the final story (hopefully at least a caption with your title and a visual element will make it), but it’s still worth sharing it with the reporter.
Unfortunately, sometimes reporters will not realize that including a nonprofit’s name in an interview is important (this is how people can get help, get involved, etc.) and they will sometimes cast a nonprofit leader as an “advocate” or “activist” and omit the nonprofit’s name.
Conversely, some people would view spending limited nonprofit staff time on a media interview that doesn’t reference the organization as a “waste of time” because it returns no value back to the agency.
I would argue it is not a “waste of time” to build a relationship with a reporter and see a story run that matters on issues you care about, but a story without “a mention” does represent a lost opportunity for the organization. Essentially, the reporter consumed time and energy from the organization without the organization directly reaping anything from the resulting story – in the form of new people knowing where to get help, greater public awareness about the organization’s work, etc. Unfortunately, that does happen sometimes with media interviews.
Even if your organization is not mentioned by name in the story, you can reap benefits from the exposure by tweeting about it or posting the clip on your website, so you connect your organization to the story. Make sure you include the news agency’s Twitter handle in your tweet or drop the reporter an email note with a link to your blog post about the story – they might re-tweet it or share it on their social networks.
You should always ask if the reporter will include your nonprofit organization’s name in the story and explain why it is important. If they don’t, you should follow up, gently explain why it was important to include the name, and try to build a bridge so that next time around, things will go differently.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.