How to Speak to the Media: Tips & Best Practices
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The news world is fast-paced, and it can be challenging to speak to a journalist if you have never done it before. While the press provides a public service and strives for fairness and accuracy in their reporting, a person in direct contact with the media should be as prepared as possible.
Whether you are an individual or a business owner or a CEO, it is important to give yourself time to prepare. After all, a CEO reputation tends to be correlated with the reputation of the business. Unfortunately, there are numerous reasons why the news media is reluctant to remove online news articles, so it is paramount that you present a polished version of yourself (or your business) the first time around.
As experienced online reputation management attorneys, we have helped over 2,500 clients put their best foot digital footprint forward. We know the ins and outs of dealing with media representatives and how to best preserve you or your business’s reputation.
To ensure that you or your business puts your best foot forward when speaking to the media (and reduce your chances of being misquoted) follow these ten tips:
- Know your deadline
- Ask for the questions ahead of time
- Understand the rules of media
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Avoid getting ambushed
- Never wing it, and do not ramble
- Avoid jargon and acronyms
- Tell the truth
- Avoid saying “‘no comment”
- Do not open yourself up to legal liability
Read on for a discussion of the challenges of speaking with media representatives, how to limit the potential of being misquoted, tips for speaking on and off the record, and how to contact the media to make an announcement.
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Challenges of Speaking to the Media
Speaking with the press can be intimidating and challenging for those who do not do it on a regular basis. But do not worry! If you follow the below tips and approach your media interview (or press release) with a strategic game-plan, you can greatly improve the efficacy of your message and reduce the chances of something going awry.
How Do You Handle Difficult Questions by Media Representatives?
Figuring out how to handle the media and their difficult questions takes practice and experience. If you are asked a question by a journalist or reporter that catches you off guard, here are a few ways to handle those difficult questions:
- Practice – Your best bet is always to prepare and practice. Do not just practice the easy questions, either. You need to prepare for the hard and unexpected questions too! Do not let the first time you answer a hard question be in front of a camera.
- Clarify – If you ask the interviewer to repeat or clarify the question, they may reword the question or be more direct. This will hopefully give you some insight into their motive for asking that specific question. Of course, it also gives you extra time to prepare your answer.
- Take control – If things go into uncomfortable territory, try to regain control of the conversation and steer it towards a different topic. This is called “bridging.” Bridging is done by using a transition statement to talk about the points you want to make. Common bridging statements include, “Let’s not forget…” or, “The real issue here is….” This skill takes practice (and it never hurts to get media training by a PR professional).
- Avoid Getting Defensive – Sometimes a tough question can throw you for a loop, and our natural reaction is to put up our defenses. However, this reaction can come across in all the wrong ways—and it is the last thing you want to do when being interviewed by the media. Remember to stay calm and keep your “game face.”
- Be Truthful – Always be honest. Never try to make up an answer to a difficult question if you are unsure of the answer. It is okay to say “I don’t know”; just let the journalist know that you will contact them as soon as you have an answer for them.
Online Reputation Management Tip: One way to manage your reputation online is to create your own content through a blog or social media sites. Many online reputation management companies use this tactic, called “suppression,” to keep unwanted or negative content from appearing in your search results by creating your own content that paints your business in a positive light.
Why Should You Engage Media Representatives?
Engaging with media representatives and media outreach is an important component of modern-day business. Engaging with the media by doing interviews, giving quotes, and even becoming a regular commentator has its advantages for someone who is looking to make their business or brand successful.
You may want to consider engaging with media and their representatives for many reasons, such as:
- Expanding your brand: Get the word out there about your business!
- Positioning yourself as an expert: Become a lead or authority figure in your area of business.
- Building relationships: Relationships can increase trust and loyalty with customers, which can lead to increased sales!
- Increasing your followers: Build up your social media presence and following online.
- Boosting your business: The points mentioned above can all lead to increased sales because they involve increased brand awareness and publicity for your business.
Engaging with the media is not only important for those with businesses, but it can be beneficial to individuals as well. For one thing, think of how many people read, watch, and listen to the news every day. Getting your point of view or key message out through the media can increase your brand’s reach by ensuring it is brought before more eyes (or ears).
Another good reason for engaging with the media is that it gives you some measure of control over a situation. If you are dealing with a reputational crisis, engaging with a journalist or reporter allows you to control the message and get out in front of an issue before it spirals out of control.
How Do You Prepare for Media Appearances?
If you have never appeared for an interview on live or recorded television, you probably have several questions about how to do it successfully. Below, we address four of the most common concerns people have about preparing for a media appearance.
1. Do I Have to Agree to Appear on TV?
In a word, no. If the interview is not going to serve your best interest or if your attorney advises you not to, you can simply decline the interview.
2. What Should I Wear?
Plan on wearing solid colors; stripes and plaids almost always look bad on camera. Also, avoid large or distracting jewelry pieces.
Before going on air, take a quick look at yourself in the mirror to catch any hair that may be out of place or that pesky piece of food in your teeth.
3. Where Should I Look During the Interview?
In a TV interview, look at the reporter, not the camera. In an interview done over Zoom or Skype, look directly into the camera (or ask a producer where to look if you are unsure).
4. How Do I Prepare for a Zoom Interview?
These days, it is likely that your interview will take place remotely. There can be benefits to this format, including being in the comfort of your own home and feeling more at ease.
However, a remote interview means that you will miss out on the benefits of a television studio, like professionally-managed sound and lighting. Prepare your at-home “studio” by:
- Turning off your phone to avoid interruptions,
- Choosing a quiet room that is away from outside noise,
- Making sure you have a good internet connection so that your interview is not interrupted by technical issues,
- Using flattering lighting techniques such as natural light, lamps, and proper camera angles,
- Tidying up the background; less is more. A blank wall or a background with a few tasteful items will keep the audience focused on you and not on your environment.
For more information on how to prepare for media interviews, jump down to our ten tips on speaking with the media.
How to Limit the Potential of Being Misquoted by the Media
Being misquoted by a media outlet can be a public relations nightmare, but there are ways to limit the potential of being misquoted:
- Make sure to speak slowly and clearly when speaking with a reporter so that they can take down your quote accurately.
- After an interview, if you feel that you may have misspoken, contact the writer immediately and let them know.
- You can always offer to send the journalist your quote by email so they can make sure they get it right.
- Ask the reporter to show you your quote in writing before they publish the story so you can double-check it for accuracy.
What Should You Do if You Do NOT Wish to Speak With the Media?
Keep in mind that you do not have to speak to the media, and you do not have to answer any questions, even if the reporter is pushy. Always be polite, but firm.
A popular method to avoid speaking with the media is to say “no comment.” If you want to shut down the conversation, saying “no comment” is a great way to do that—however, it might give the wrong impression (see our #9 tip below).
If you are approached by a media representative that you do not want to talk to, here are some phrases to keep in mind:
- “I do not wish to speak with the media at present.”
- “Thank you for offering me the opportunity to comment. I am unable to say much at this stage; however, I will comment more when I can.”
- “When I have all the facts, I may consider doing an interview, but until then, I am not able to talk about it.”
- “For legal reasons, I cannot comment on pending matters.”
Another way to avoid speaking to the media is to refer the reporter to your attorney or PR specialist if you have one. That way, you can leave the questions to the professionals.
What Should You Do If You DO Wish to Speak With the Media?
If you do wish to make a comment or be interviewed by a reporter, it is important that you prepare—regardless of if you are an individual or a business. Our ten tips below go into greater detail on how you should prepare yourself to speak with a reporter, but in general, you should:
- Know the reporter’s deadline;
- Practice what you are going to say;
- Be calm and courteous;
- Avoid nervous habits (especially if it is a live or recorded segment for TV).
Note: If you wish to speak to the media for a news article removal, we recommend first reading our article ‘9 Reasons the News Media Doesn’t Remove Online Articles‘.
Also, take a look at our segment below that discusses how to contact the media to make an announcement.
What Should You Do If You Are Misquoted By the Media?
If you have been misquoted by a media representative and you want to set the record straight, you can do that by:
- Reaching out to the reporter to try to correct the error;
- If the reporter does not respond, writing a letter to the editor or news producer (with the help of an attorney or public relations specialist);
- Creating and publishing a post on your website or social media stating what you meant to say and explaining your point of view.
10 Tips For Speaking to Journalists
While no one can be perfect all the time, there are a few habits to implement if you want to avoid blunders when dealing with the press.
Below are ten tips to help you speak with the media both on and off the record.
1. Know Your Deadline
Be sure to ask for the journalist’s deadline so that you know how much time you have to prepare.
Knowing the deadline and being responsive will work in your favor. For instance, if you respond on time, you can avoid any negative connotation in a story such as “XYZ could not be reached” or “So-and-so failed to respond to our requests for comment.”
2. Ask for the Questions Ahead of Time
You have a right to ask for a list of the questions the journalist plans on asking so that you can plan your answers. Practice your answers and keep them short (more on this below).
It is also a good idea to ask the reporter if the interview will be pre-recorded or live so that you can prepare accordingly.
3. Understand the “Rules” of Media
Make sure you understand the meanings of “on the record” and “off the record.”
Some people make the mistake of believing whatever they say to a journalist is off-record unless the journalist explicitly states something is on-record. This incorrect assumption has led to many PR nightmares.
What Does “Off the Record” Mean?
When information is “off the record,” it means that the person providing the information does not want to be publicly identified or reported.
Just because a journalist says that statements will be “off the record,” it does not mean whatever you say will have no news consequences. For instance, the information you provide could lead media professionals to additional sources of the same information.
If you want to remain anonymous or speak “off the record,” make sure you tell the journalist before your conversation.
However, it is best to assume every interaction with a journalist or reporter is “on the record.” You should be cautious of what you say in front of the media, and never assume you are just having a conversation.
No matter how nice, respectful, or casual the reporter is, they have a job to do and a deadline to meet.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice!
Practice speaking clearly and consciously. Use short sentences and simple language. Try to avoid one-word answers, but do not ramble (see tip #6 on this list).
Prepare and practice answers to the list of questions you asked the reporter to provide (see tip #2). And try to be aware of nervous habits and body language (such as saying “um” too much, or fidgeting with your hands) if you are going to be on camera.
5. Avoid Getting Ambushed
It is important not to let yourself be ambushed by the media. Just because someone appears with a microphone and camera, that does not mean you must speak to them at that time.
If a reporter or journalist shows up at your home or work, politely decline to speak, then schedule an interview once you have had time to prepare.
6. Never Wing It — Do Not Ramble!
It is never a good idea to “wing” an interview. If you do not have a good idea of the points you want to get across, you can easily talk yourself into a corner or down a conversational path you do not wish to travel.
Try not to let yourself ramble. Remember that when speaking with the media, less is more. Have a few points prepared that you want to make—and do not make the mistake of talking too much.
People often think providing a lengthy quote will give the journalist enough information to explain their individual perspective fully. But in reality, long quotes rarely yield positive results.
When you provide a large quote, you are giving the writer a wide breadth of power to select the quotes they think are most important. This may lead to a situation in which a few of your words are taken out of context from the larger picture you intended to portray.
7. Avoid Jargon & Acronyms
You should avoid jargon, acronyms, and technical terms when speaking with a reporter. Jargon is defined as “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.”
For example, doctors and medical professionals commonly use the term “script” to refer to “prescriptions.” Using medical jargon when speaking to the media might ultimately confuse or isolate a non-medical audience.
You want to come across as educated, but you do not want to isolate the audience.
Do not dumb the information down, but find a balance so that the audience and reporter can understand what you are saying.
8. Tell the Truth
Lying to the media can backfire and cause a lot of harm—and it can also ruin your credibility. Even telling “white lies” is not a good idea.
The media often knows more than you think. When speaking with the press, it is best to accept that “honesty is the best policy.”
9. Avoid Saying “No Comment”
Often, “no comment” implies guilt and could sound defensive. Instead, say something like, “It is our policy not to comment on pending matters,” or “I cannot answer that because I have not seen or read what you are referring to.”
Use this opportunity to redirect the conversation and focus on the positive.
10. Do Not Open Yourself Up to Legal Liability
When speaking with the media, make sure not to defame an individual or a business, since this could come back to haunt you.
Stating your opinion is one thing, but you want to make sure you are not making false allegations or statements. If you make false statements to a reporter or journalist and those statements are published for everyone to see, you could open yourself up to legal liability, and be on the receiving end of a defamation lawsuit.
If you are the target of individual or business defamation by someone in a news article, it is critical to reach out to an experienced business defamation attorney to remove the defamatory content and explore your legal options.
If your media interview or appearance goes wrong, or a negative article was published about you or your business, we can help! For more information about our news article services, visit our articles below:
- 9 Reasons the News Media Doesn’t Remove Online Articles
- How to Get Something Taken Off the Internet
- Why Suing the Media For Defamation is Usually Not Your Best Option
- How Much Does It Cost to Remove a News Article?
- 4 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Removing Negative News Articles
Reputation Management Tip: If you want to monitor your reputation online, you can use Google Alerts, a free tool offered by Google. Google Alerts is an excellent tool to track what is being published about you or your business so that you can respond quickly to any negative content.
How to Contact the Media to Make an Announcement
What happens if the press is not contacting you or your organization for a quote or interview, but you want to make a public statement or get the media to cover a story or event?
Many companies issue press releases, which are announcements to the media and other publications for PR purposes, mainly for informing the public of company information and events.
Below, we cover what makes a press release newsworthy, how to get your press release out to the media, and how to get media coverage for an event.
What Makes a Press Release Newsworthy?
No one wants to publish a press release that is not interesting. Sometimes what you think is newsworthy is not, or vice versa; the things you think are not newsworthy sometimes make perfect subjects for a press release.
A good way to ensure that your press release is newsworthy is to ask yourself these questions:
- Does this press release matter to people outside of my organization?
- Does it answer questions that my customers or clients are asking?
- Is it about something current (i.e. not something that happened a year ago)?
- Are there celebrities or public figures involved?
- Is my press release going to capture the interest of readers?
- Would I want to read this if it were not about me or my organization?
- Does my press release cover a new product, special deal or pricing, grand opening or re-opening, awards, charity drive, or event?
If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, your press release is probably newsworthy!
How Do You Get Your Press Release Out to the Media?
Not everyone has a media relations firm working on their behalf, which is why we have put together four simple steps to get your press release out to the media without the help of a professional:
1. Make a List of News Agencies Where You Will Submit Your Press Release
Some examples include:
- Traditional newspapers and associated websites;
- Local TV stations;
- Radio stations;
- Non-traditional sources like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
There may also be a Facebook group or forum out there that fits your industry and that might be a great place to share your press release.
2. Follow the Submission Guidelines or Find Their Contact Information
If you are submitting your press release to a news station or newspaper, they may have a submission page dedicated to receiving things like press releases.
If you are trying to contact a specific journalist or an administrator of a Facebook group, look for their contact information on articles they have written or within a Facebook group’s contact information.
3. Write a Submission Email or Message to Go Along With Your Press Release
Your submitting message should explain the press release and why the publication should cover it or release it. Remember to keep it brief and professional; you do not want to waste anyone’s time with a long-winded email.
And of course, do not forget to attach your press release!
4. Follow Up on Your Press Release
We do not recommend spamming someone’s inbox with multiple follow up emails, but many experts agree that one follow-up would be appropriate. Give it at least 3–5 days for the recipient to respond (or longer for larger publications, which get many emails every day) before you send a follow-up email.
In your follow-up, indicate that you are available for questions, and explain again why you believe your press release is newsworthy.
How Do you Get Media Coverage For an Event?
If you want media coverage at your next event but are not sure how to get them to attend, here are some tips and tricks to make your next event media-friendly.
1. Update Your Media List
This means having a list of media representatives that you want to invite and securing the correct contact information. A good rule of thumb is to follow the media representative(s) on Twitter or Facebook so you can build a good rapport with them ahead of time.
2. Send a Media Advisory to Your Media Contacts
A media advisory is a shorter version of a press release and serves as an invitation to your event. It includes the who, what, where, when, and why.
Here is an excellent sample of a media advisory if you need help creating one.
Remember to put aside complimentary tickets for the press if your event is not free.
3. Following the Event, Send Photos, Videos, & Follow up!
Post photos and videos to your organization’s social media marketing accounts, then consider tagging or sending those to your media contacts.
Work With an Experienced Online Reputation Management Law Firm to Get Your Message Out
Dealing with the press can be a stressful and time-consuming job. Unfortunately, in 2020, it is often impossible for businesses or prominent individuals to avoid interactions with the media or journalists.
To keep your reputation and your business’s standing intact, it is imperative to practice smart media communication strategies that help you avoid gaffes, misunderstandings, or negative impressions.
“Melanie was absolutely fantastic. Six years ago, someone wrote something terrible about me online and it followed me wherever I went! Jobs, relationships, etc. I finally got in touch with Minc, and Melanie was so courteous, professional, and diligent about getting the post removed. Thank God for Minc Law because I’m getting married next year, and I finally feel comfortable using my full name on my wedding announcements! Thank you, Minc!!!”
HCP, Sept 28, 2020
Rather than deal with the challenges of speaking with and contacting the media on your own, you may want to hire a professional to help you. Check out our post, “Why Hire an Attorney as Your Online Reputation Expert?” to learn more.
And if you would like to schedule a free consultation about your reputation management needs, contact us by calling (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.